Did Moët & Chandon Make the Wrong Pick?

7th October 2016


Moët & Chandon almost did something during the last grape harvest that probably would have had Dom Pérignon spinning in his grave. There’s not been such controversy since gyropalettes were introduced over 40 years ago.

On September 20th Moët & Chandon had decided to test mechanical picking on a 2 ha plot outside the Champagne appellation. It was said to be for giving them options for future harvests. They stopped the test at the last minute claiming reasons of safety for people and equipment. The house’s union say they were responsible for the decision as they’d lead a strong campaign against the test.

A debate about mechanical picking has been going on for at least the last three years.Pascal Férat, leader of the grower’s union, SGV, said in 2014 that this would come sooner than people imagined. He was reacting in response to the increasing expense of employing seasonal workers. There were said to be many contacts with researchers willing to develop such machines specifically for the conditions of the Champagne appellation.

The laws though that govern the appellation whilst not excluding machines say that whole bunches have to be picked including the stalks. Hand picking was also included as one of the specificities of Champagne in its nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is currently no machine that can match the necessary conditions for the appellation.

If one day machines were allowed it would mean either the laws had evolved or that a machine that could pick whole bunches had been developed. The latter could be so expensive they wouldn’t be affordable.

The grapes for most other sparkling wines in the world are machine picked. A union representative has suggested that Moët & Chandon would one day like to leave the constraints of the appellation so that they can make a sparkling wine like Champagne’s strong rival Prosecco.

Jon Catt

Tour guide for the Champagne region who lives in Troyes. Specialising in family run Champagne house visits in the Aube and the Marne plus wine tours in the Yonne and Côte d'Or.