In France, everything in the composition of the wine is taken into account and invoiced. The quality and true expression of a terroir is often considered to be given only when each individual ingredient, including grapes, bacteria, lactic acid and yeast, is considered, approved and documented by the National Institute of Primitive Names. The organisation was founded in 1935 by Baron Pierre Le Roy Boissomarie and preceded the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine classification system.
But many say that the severity with which some of the world’s most famous wines are made also threatens their supremacy.
This problem recently arose in Champagne when the AOC discovered with the help of an Instagram pile that the eighth generation of biodynamic honey from Lelarge-Pugeot was grown organically in a dose of one of their Champagne bizzares.
We didn’t advertise the use of honey and hoped we wouldn’t notice it because there’s nothing in the rules that says it can’t be used, says Clemens Lelange-Pugo, export manager at his family’s champagne house. It only states that the expedition liqueur may only contain sucrose or grape must and that honey is technically sucrose.
Only honey from the Bizes range is used, made from the same basic wine as the classic Blanc de Blancs de Lelarge-Pugeot, a blend of Chardonnay parcels grown on the estate’s sandy-clay soil.
Vignes et cave de Lalarges-PugoVignes et cave de Lalarges-Pugo / Photo courtesy of Lalarges-Pugo
Honey and sugar consist of a combination of glucose and fructose. In sugar, they are bound to sucrose, which is present in the form of sugar beet or sugar cane. In honey, fructose and glucose are largely independent of each other.
The Lelarge-Pugeot family has turned to honey as a more honest and authentic reminder of their terroir and as a more responsible choice for the environment.
We’re beekeepers, Lalarges-Pugo says. This honey comes from our country. It is very important for us to create as little legroom as possible and it is the product of the bees collecting the nectar of our earth. The only source of organic sugar we could find was half the world.
Although the COA officers were sympathetic, this rule was strictly interpreted. From March, the last pallet of wine in which honey was used in the dosage was sent to California and New York. Meanwhile, Lelarges-Pugo has requested permission to use honey. She says the process will take at least a year, but other producers are enthusiastic.
We think it is right from a philosophical and ecological point of view to use local honey, says Lalarges-Pugo.
The label’s American importer, Jennifer Green of Super Gloe, hopes so too.
How do you get a more authentic taste of the Champagne region than with local honey? It’s Greene. She says the difference in taste is subtle, but the honey gives the texture a round shape.
In Oregon, where the winemaking approach is freer, winemakers like Joe Wright on the left coast of the Willamette Valley consume very sweet honey.
Queen bee of the left bank Bubblegum / Picture of the left bank
We are beekeepers, winemakers and animal owners, Wright said. Approximately 20% of our 500 hectares are earmarked for the protection of oak trees. At the end of August we have hundreds of litres of honey and although we sell a lot of it in the tasting room, it was logical that we use this product, which comes from our country, to make sparkling wine.
The Reine de la rive gauche bee hive is made from Pinot Noir grapes to which honey is added to start a second fermentation. It’s the Ripper and the hype, and you get a real sense of the smell of our property, Wright said. Jasmine, dry summer grass, honey, peaches.
At best the terroir has a lot to offer. It is a place of elegance, refinement and sophistication, but also a showcase of local colour and authenticity.