April 13, 2010 / 11:06 AM / 7 years ago

Champagne price rise may boost sparkling Burgundy

SAINT-BRIS-LE-VINEUX, France (Reuters Life!) - Makers of sparkling wines in Burgundy hope they can steal a march on their northern neighbors in Champagne and lure foreign buyers who have been finding the champers a bit expensive.

"I have high hopes for the U.S. and Britain," said Damien Guerault of the firm Bailly Lapierre which makes wines and sparkling cremant from Burgundy.

He said the rise in the value of the single European currency, the euro, has been pushing up the price of Champagne for drinkers in other markets, making Burgundy bubbly an attractive value for money tipple.

"The price rise of Champagne on many markets due to the euro could turn more buyers to other sparkling wines like cremant," Lapierre said

Champagne can only be made in the specific French region of the same name but that has not stopped vintners in other areas to make sparkling wines too, using the same methods as the Champagne makers have done long since the monk Dom Perignon with the use of yeast in wine to create a sparkling wine.

There is Cava from Spain with brands such as Freixenet and the Spumante from Italy such as Asti Spumante from Piedmont.

In France there is the blanquette de Limoux and cremant from various regions, as well as the Clairette de Die from near Valence in the Cotes du Rhone region.

While Champagne mostly matures in underground cellars, Bailly Lapiere uses a large cave in a rock next to the Yonne river. The cave was hand made as a quarry that produced the stones used in many monuments in France, such as the Notre Dame and Pantheon in Paris. The stones were hewn from the rock and transported on wooden rafts over the river.

Now there are some seven million bottles aging in the corridors and there is also a tasting area and a meeting room.

The bottling operations have been moved away after a ceiling fell down on the machinery.

During World War Two, the Nazis used the caves in Burgundy to manufacture aircraft safe from allied bombers. But because they used forced labor for the production, popular legend says that not a single plane left the lines without some malfunction.

The cave here was also used to store explosives.

In 1972, a collective of local wine makers gave it its current use. In 1975, they obtained the AOC label for a brand with a controlled origin (AOC) for Cremant de Bourgogne.

The grapes are hand-picked, they press 100 liters (22 Imp gallons) of juice from 150 kg (331 lb) of harvest, use yeast and malolactic fermentation and make blends from separately made wines.

Then they mature for 16 to 18 months in the semi darkness of the caves that maintain a steady cool 12 degrees Celsius temperature all year long.

The galleries totaling 4 hectares (10 acres) are 50 meters underground and have a high humidity of 80 percent that promotes the working of the bacteria.

Because tastes differ the winery makes various sparking wines, depending on the selection of grapes and the dosage of the 'liquor' -- a sweet addition put in the wine before maturing and again before they are prepared for distribution.

The Reserve is a combination of four grapes - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and Aligote -- while a rose is made from Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes.

Playing to modern demand for single-grape wines, there is also a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir and for those who cannot make up their mind there is the Noir and Blanc that combines the two.

"Rose is very popular at the moment, it is a general trend in wines," said Guerault.

Bailly Lapierre is combining traditional production methods with modern marketing clout and it recently dropped its elaborate and traditional labels for a more pure and modern design.

"The old client will come back but to win new clients you need to have a more modern image and not come across as a drink for older generations," he said.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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