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La Belle Vie: French food labels and visiting Champagne country

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
La Belle Vie: French food labels and visiting Champagne country
This photograph shows Chardonnay grapes for Champagne wine in a vineyard during a heatwave, in Ludes, central France, on September 8, 2023. (Photo by FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI / AFP)

From the many labels on French food and drink and how the country's wine industry is adapting to climate change to visiting the 'City of Kings', this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

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La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

Last summer, I took a really lovely trip down to Bordeaux with some friends, one of whom is French and was raised in the area. His parents spent many years working as grape pickers, and his siblings still live close to the vineyard they grew up on.

It was a really special opportunity to walk through the vines and to experience the vineyard up close, but I could not help noticing the number of grapes that shrivelled up due to mildew. Apparently this issue is related to climate change - warmer, tropical temperatures lead to more humidity during the day, making it easier for the mildew to grow. 

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While we were still able to drink some delicious wine, the impacts of climate change are becoming more and more apparent in French vineyards. Interestingly, that could mean England could be the next hot-spot for wine.

French and Italian wines set to lose out to British vineyards

Shifting wine regions are likely to be a reality in the future, but ahead of that, French wine regions are trying to adapt as best as they can, including introducing new grape varieties.

One big change is set to take place in the Champagne industry, where officials are looking to revise the official Champagne area to reflect the changing climate by allowing dozens of extra communes to use the strictly protected label for their sparkling wines.

France to revise its Champagne-making area due to climate change

When seeking to understand the French wine industry's response, it's important to get to know the various different labels that you'll find on the bottles themselves.

Part of the challenge can be maintaining traditional growing and cultivation techniques in the midst of a changing climate - last year, the Salers cheese-makers had to halt production because cows could no longer be grass fed due to drought.

Many of these labels are more than just a sticker you see at the grocery store - they denote longstanding traditions and customs that are not easily parted with.

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

I recognise this newsletter is called 'La Belle Vie', so I should add that some researchers have said warmer weather could lead to better tasting wine in the short-term. Meanwhile, another expert on the Champagne industry told RFI that "Production conditions in Champagne will remain favourable until 2050, even if changes are coming."

In the spirit of cautious optimism, I am planning to book a trip to visit the Champagne region either this summer (or perhaps autumn, to enjoy the beautiful change of colours).

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I'll be taking the advice of writer Jessie Williams, who gave us her best tips for visiting the capital of Champagne country - Reims.

Six reasons why everyone should visit France's 'City of Kings'

And on another note - for those looking to put some roots down in France by purchasing a second-home, you might be curious about the areas that are popular with other prospective home buyers (unsurprisingly, several are along the coast).

It's also worth considering some possible limitations, including growing local resentment in some area toward second-home owners. 

Where in France are locals protesting about second-home owners?

But do not let that dissuade you - many parts of France are very welcoming to tourists and second-home owners. For some second-home owners, France quickly starts to feel like their true home and they want to make the change permanent.

Kudos to you if you've found your dream life here in France - we've got some helpful tips for how to make the admin process just a bit easier. 

Explained: How to convert a French second home into your main residence

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