A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

R.I.P. Veuve Cliquot

On a ramble through the Marne region, you will find many little markers identifying the houses to which the various vineyards belong. Vineyards are passed down in families, split between heirs, split again, then resold, so that the land becomes a patchwork. A large house like Bollinger or Veuve Cliquot doesn't own one massive area, but myriad plots scattered all over.

323 villages comprise the Champagne region. Within the region, as defined by law in 1927, a geographic area of 34,000 hectares has been strictly delimited for the production of champagne. Every conceivable aspect of production is strictly controlled by law.

For example, only three vine varieties may be planted for the production of champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Spacing between rows of vines must not exceed 1.5 meters. Distance between vine-stocks in the same row must be between 0.9 and 1.5 meters. The sum of the space between rows and the distance between vine-stocks must be less than 2.5 meters. Etc., etc., etc.

Pruning methods are subject to these stringent regulations: only four pruning methods are permitted, and the method used further depends on the cru, or vineyard, and on the type of grape planted. The maximum height for the tallest vines is 0.6 meters, or about two feet. Incredibly (in fact, largely because of this strict pruning), the roots of these vines go down as far as 30 meters into the soil. The soil composition, specifically the deep chalk subsoil, is one of the main components of terroir--the range of geographic and climatic factors which give a wine its unique characteristics.

In the month of November, when I took this picture, there's no fruit or foliage on the vines. The prodigious hardware can be easily seen. That identifying marker looks an awful lot like a headstone. In fact, casual visitors often do mistake them for gravestones. But there's really nothing to mourn. Come spring, summer, and up until the vendange in mid-September, all that metal will be covered with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes and leaves. The Veuve Cliquot may be dead, but her champagne is not.

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