Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why It’s Called Pinot Meunier

I’ve arrived back home in Champagne after being away for a few weeks, and the vines have certainly been busy while I’ve been gone. The vineyards on the slope behind my house in Dizy are planted with both meunier and chardonnay, and it’s a joy to see them in full, verdant vigor. It’s also easy to distinguish between the two at this time of year.

Pinot meunier, or simply meunier, as it’s often referred to here in the region, derives its name from the downy white flecks on the underside of the leaves, making them appear as if they’ve been dusted with flour (the word meunier means “miller”). The young leaves are also particularly white and fuzzy, as you can see in the photo below.

Meunier is a moderately productive grape, often pruned in the Marne training system or else in the Chablis system. It’s more resistant to frost than the other two main varieties here, which is one of the reasons why it’s the predominant grape of the Vallée de la Marne, an area more prone to frost than the well-exposed slopes of the Montagne de Reims or Côte des Blancs. Also, meunier favors rich soils, another reason why it’s suited to the deep clay of the Vallée de la Marne. Today it accounts for slightly over one-third of Champagne’s viticultural area, and seems to thrive in two main areas in particular: the valleys along the Marne west and southwest of Epernay, where the majority of meunier is grown; and the northern part of the Petite Montagne, just southwest of Reims (Jérôme Prévost’s vines are here, in Gueux, and Egly-Ouriet’s meunier vines are nearby in Vrigny). Hopefully it does well in my backyard, too!

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