Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Portlandian vs. Kimmeridgian Soils

I like this photo, taken in Buxières-sur-Arce along the little road between the vineyards of Vouette, which lies on Kimmeridgian, and Sorbée, which is on Portlandian. Portlandian is the pink stuff at the top — it’s jumbled up and mixed with a lot of decomposed rock and clay. Kimmeridgian is the stuff at the bottom — it’s arranged in rather neat, rectilinear fashion, although it’s still more of a marl than real chalk, with thick layers of clay that run through it. Bertrand Gautherot says that Portlandian suits pinot noir very well, and the one-hectare Sorbée is planted entirely with pinot noir (used to make Gautherot’s Saignée de Sorbée). Kimmeridgian is well-suited to chardonnay, as it’s the same soil type found in Chablis. And yet, ironically, the vast majority of the Aube’s Côte des Bar, which lies on Kimmeridgian, is planted with pinot noir....


Anonymous said...

Do you think there is a particular reason for this? It seems, from an outside point of view, that it would just make sense to plant Chardonnay there being so close to Chablis and seeing how well the grape does there, right? That seems logical, but I imagine the answer is much more complex.


Charles said...

I think the answer to that good question is a simple one. The simple answer is supply and demand. Commerce in the region has traditionally been driven by the large negociant estates further North. The Cotes des Bars until the very recent past was much more a producer of Grapes (specifically PN)for sale rather than the bastion of relatively inexpensive (and some not so relatively inexpensive)independent minded recoltant manipulant houses (houses? I almost wrote estates! perhaps a more apt word would be farms) that it is now becoming. So the focus had been less on "what makes great wine here?" and much more on "what can I sell the most of to the negociants?" In any case I find that the Pinot Noir based Champagnes that come from here can be fascinating regardless of their originally intended destination and the influence of the Kimmeridgian is part of what makes them so interesting regardless of whether it is more suited for Chardonnay in general which I am sure is true. Of course I am all for planting as befits the terroir in the long term but I still don't mind the happy accidents that occur as a matter of circumstance. Many regional traditions have come into being for less than "pure" reasons (for example: Rioja) and until the vanguard of iconoclastic thinkers are called heretics by one school of thought and prophets by another we don't consider anything else as being truly "of the region" So god bless the Bertrand Gautherots and God bless the traditionalists too. Let 'em fight it out forever!

Peter Liem said...


Charles makes good points, but to step back even further, an even simpler factor is that in the past, the predominant variety in the Aube was gamay. Since gamay made lousy champagne, it was eventually banned from the appellation, and when people replanted, they stayed within the red grape realm. Of course, this then begs the question as to why gamay was here in the first place....

But yes, as Charles says, Aube pinot noir on Kimmeridgian can be fascinating and delicious (and much in demand by negociants, contrary to what some of the Marne-centric elitists would have you believe).

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting! Did the gamay come about when Champagne was competing with Burgundy for red wines (Pre-sparkling)? Or was it there before the export market really boomed? Also, is anyone in Champagne still making sparkling Gamay (not under Champagne label of course)?

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