History of the Champagne vineyards revealed

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Pressing residues from the Place de la Libération site, Troyes (Aube). The plantPressing residues from the Place de la Libération site, Troyes (Aube). The plant remains have been preserved in water because they came from the base of a well. Grape seeds, pedicels, skin and leaf fragments can be seen. © Véronique ZECH-MATTERNE/AASPE

Although the reputation of Champagne is well established, the history of Champagne wines and vineyards is poorly documented. However, a research team led by scientists from the CNRS and the Université de Montpellier at the Institut des sciences de l’évolution de Montpellier 1 has just lifted the veil on this history by analysing the archaeological grape seeds from excavations carried out in Troyes and Reims. Dated to between the 1st and 15th centuries AD, the seeds shed light on the evolution of Champagne wine growing, prior to the invention of the famous Champagne, for the first time. According to the researchers, "wild" 2 vines were cultivated throughout the period studied. Domestic varieties, coming from the south of Gaul, appeared as early as the 1st century and became the major grape varieties of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This archaeological series was uninterrupted until around 1000 AD, when the wild vine and the southern varieties made a strong comeback. This period corresponds both to intense economic and societal changes and to global warming spanning a few hundred years. Northern grape varieties, more adapted to the cold, appeared more than 300 years later at the beginning of a colder climatic period 3 , supplanting the southern grape varieties. Published in on January 27, 2021, these results pave the way for further global analysis that will allow a better understanding of the history of viticulture by combining biological, archaeological and historical data.

  • 1. Isem (CNRS/Université de Montpellier/IRD). Researchers from the Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements laboratory (CNRS/MNHN), the Archéologies et sciences de l’Antiquité laboratory (CNRS/Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne/Université Paris Nanterre/Ministère de la Culture), the Archéologie et histoire en Méditerranée et en Europe laboratory (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg/Université de Haute Alsace), the mélioration génétique et adaptations des plantes méditerranéennes et tropicales laboratory (Université de Montpellier/CIRAD/Inrae/Montpellier SupAgro) and Inrap; with the support of the ANR.
  • 2. The archaeological vine pips have a "wild" morphology, as opposed to those of domesticated vines whose characteristics have been modified by human selection.
  • 3. The Little Ice Age mainly affected the North Atlantic and extended from the beginning of the 14th to the end of the 19th century.

Seed morphology uncovers 1500 years of vine agrobiodiversity before the advent of the Champagne wine. Bonhomme V, Terral J-F, Zech-Matterne V, Bonnaire E, Lacombe T, Ivorra S, Pastor T, Limier B, Picq S, Figueiral I, et al. , January 27 2021. DOI:10.1038/s41598-021-81787-3 www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-81787-3