Baslieux-sous-Châtillon, Marne valley (Champagne)
Franck Pascal's father was one of the growers of the village when he set up a small coopérative to help the local growers have more weight in negociating the price of their work to the négoce. This village is very close from Chatillon sur Marne, it's part of the Marne basin.
Franck started to work on the domaine in 1994 from the 3,5-hectare surface of his parents in Baslieux-sous-Châtillon, south-west of Reims and west of Epernay and Ay. We're here north of the Marne river where Franck and Isabelle are now managing a 7,5-hectare domaine. At the start Franck began to implement organic farming, around 1997-1998, to which he added biodynamy in 2002 and at last in 2005 what we may call energy-fields management, each step having brought a clear result for them on the wines. From 2014 to 2015 they jumped from 4 hectares to 7 hectares and they're 7 people working on the domaine including himself and his wife.
Franck spent his Army time in military engineering and he says that's where he learnt about the interaction of chemical agents and living bodies, while being trained on the effects of chemical warfare. When he came back and began to invest himself in the farm, he followed a viticulture training and there he clearly saw similarities in the way the vines and soil get overwhelmed by chemicals that change everything durably for the worse.
This visit which I owe to Marise who discovered this domaine a few weeks ago was utterly interesting in the sense that Franck knows tons of things about the interactions of everything in the soils and the vines and with his engineering training and methodology he applied this science of life to successfully pull his vineyards away from the death kiss of the conventional farming. It's heartening to see people like him and his wife Isabelle because they're the proof that if the mainstream growers were willing to, they too could veer from a destructive viticulture management and make in the process Champagne wines that stand out, but this would be at the cost of short-term profits (and yields), which is something few producers in Champagne are willing to do alas.
We did this visit with a group of friends, travelling in 4 cars from Paris. We didn't really see much of the village of Baslieux-sous-Chatillon but it didn't look exceptionnal except for this walled farm above left. I notice that these villages often look a bit bland and closed compared to the Loire or even Alsace where the long winemaking history seems to transpire joyfully through the architecture.
We first walked to the vineyard nearby above the village, we had a short timeline and wouldn't be given the time to see the cellars and chai because we'd taste a few cuvées too, but looking at a parcel was important.
Franck explains that the area was included in the AOC Champagne in the 1950s' and many small growers replanted parcels to sell their grapes to the négoce. Frank's grandfather who had a big surface for his time in the 1950s' with 5 hectares (you were considered having a big surface already with one hectare then) decided to set up a coopérative structure regrouping 43 hectares of productive vineyards. This was big enough to negociate better prices with the négoce buyers. Franck's parents thelmselves started their growers' life with working with this coop system, that was around 1967-1968 and they quit this coop in 1983 because along time the mentality wasn't the same in the coop and they felt they didn't fit any more in this structure. Frank's father built a chai and decided to make his own Champagne.
Franck's father is still active in Champagne making, someone in our group asks if they work together but Franck says no with a laugh, saying they worked half a day together years ago (around 1994), pruning in the vineyard but Franck told his father he'd prefer his father let him work a parcel his own way than follow viticulture ways he wasn't fond of. At the beginning he worked empirically from what he learnt from his parents and grandparents but his objective from the start was quality Champagne and thus not high yields, and for that he wanted to eschew fertilizers, keep grass and prune short. When his father saw this short pruning it was a problem for him who left many more buds, like one more if it breaks, one more in case of frost, one other for something else... Franck remembers asking him what they'd do with all these grapes if nothing bad happens and all the buds translate into their own grape load ? This viticulture shock between father and son led Franck to prefer work on a small parcel and see what he could do with it following his new approach. His father let him a 50-are (0,5 hectare) parcel he was happy to get rid of because it was on a steep slope and hard to work on. These old vines of Pinot Meunier (which he still has to this day) were his first experimentation field where he could implement his pruning and soil management.
From up there above the village, standing in the vineyard, we can see the symetric vineyard slope on the other side of the small valley in the bottom of which run two streams, the Belval and the Maquerelle. Someone in our group asks how they determined the limit under which they shouldn't plant vines, and André says that it seems obvious to him that the elders in their time chose this line because further down the risks of frost are high, and he noticed himself when he walks in the vineyard very early in the frost-risk season that this line is exactly the limit of the sumbeams at 5 am, and the growers ages ago understood that the part in the shadow was getting frost while the part already lit by the sun was spared.
When Franck began tending his 50 ares of Pinot Meunier he realized that he needed a training as his engineer background wasn't a sufficient asset to handle this new job. He had gotten all the administative derogations to embark in this viticulture career because of his engineering studies but they weren't useful for the task, so he decided to get an accelerated training for adults. But since the beginning his aim was to work naturally, first in the vineyard and soil management and in the vinification. His training was just to get additional understanding on the job, but he knew other things that weren't taught at the school and which were the backbone of his project.
Champagne as a wine region has a yearly output of 300-310 million bottles, and the 7-hectare domaine of Franck & Isabelle Franck will bottle around 55 000 bottles this year. The yields are lower on his vineyard with an average from around 8000 kg/hectare (it was even less in 2012) to 11 500 kg/ha (8000 ho/ha makes about 50 hectoliters/hectare).
The vines have been around for ages although it's not clear which varieties were growing here thousands of years from now, but they found a fossilized vine leaf some 40 km south from here (near Sézanne) and this leaf comes from the paleocene era, that is, take a seat, between 55 million and 66 million years (source). By the way, this variety is said to have vanished in Europe since but can be found in the American continent. Whathever, Franck Pascal says that giving this discovery it's obvious for him that there will be always vines here because the climate changes endured through this region since 60 million years have been way more dramatic than anything we could handle ourselves, but the vines adapted and survived, if changing and evolving in the process, and it will get through our modern global warming as well. He says our challenge is let the vine be free [from our chemical interference] so that it can face these changes by its own resources.
Speaking of varietal and adaptation, Franck says that in this area the Pinot Meunier is the dominant variety because it has its débourrage (budding) later than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, as much as one week or 10 days later, which can save the buds when frost threatens precisely at the time they're coming out, which is frequent in this area. Franck saw this happened in 2003 [also known as the heat-wave year], the other varietals suffered heavy frost damage while the Pinot Meunier went through pretty well.
This is a particular terroir here, it's not a limestone soil but instead it's a clayish soil with 3 types of stones which are hard limestone, silex (flint) and millstone (Meulière). It's all farmed on biodynamie and 2/3 of the surface is plowed with a draft horse (the rest with a tractor).
We ask about the weather this winter and spring, about the cold and the rain or the lackthereof and he says that the vineyard needs a cold winter and steady downpours so that the soaked soils can stock water and give some back in the dry months of summer. The problem is there's been a deficit of rain fall this winter, although his soils are plowed and his vines are thus better prepared because their go deep to find nutrients and water, he'd have preferred that enough water reach the deeper soil layers, which is not the case so far. Speaking of the better preparedness of a good vineyard management through plowing and deep rooting, Franck says there's something very valuable when you plow your parcels, and it has to do with the capillarity of water in the soil :
When you plow the upper soil you turn an otherwise relatively-compact soil into a more crumbled one, and oddly the mois and water present in the soil can't go through by capillarity through such a soil and such can't evaporate as easily as if the upper soil wasn't plowed. This is interesting because I figured that by plowing you'd ease the evaporation of water but when you take into account this capillarity thing, it's just doing the opposite and preserved the humidity balance of the deeper soil. In 2015 with this long dry summer his vines behaved well, and this is not only because the roots go deeper than the ones conventionally-farmed vines, this has to do with this crumbled upper soil as a barrage to capillarity evaporation. Same in 2003 when he got beautiful volumes in this hot dry year compared to conventional domaines, in spite of the his of fertilizers, his short pruning and his surface plowing.
Franck Pascal says that they pass 3 times in this season on average, once under the row like it's been done here, then in the middle between the rows and they pass a last time to homegenize the surface. This keeps the surface roots from growing, pushing the root system deeper. About the varietal here he says that there's a complantation in this particular block, Pinot Meunier being in the front of the rows and Pinot Noir in the back. The vines are standing low above the soil and it's a requirement in Champagne, the down side being that when you plow you can easily damage the vines or the young buds if you're not very careful. The width between the rows is one meter, that's quite narrow. The pruning/trellising style is known as the Chablis type, Franck explains where they'll let the cane and buds grow. there's another pruning/trellising used in the Marne valley and Franck shows it to us on a neighbor's parcel.
Franck explains how the transition from organic to biodynamie took place, they kept using the sulfur and copper sprays, adding plant decoctions as well as biodynamic preparations. He compares the move with a man who would in a first stage eat organic food and eschew industrial ones, the second stage aiming at another level, the one focusing as well on the energy fields of the body, which the basic organic sphere doesn't deal with. On the human body level there are other techniques and skills that deal with the energy sphere, like acupunture or radiestesia, and that's something he's bringing onto his vineyard and soils too. Biodynamic preparations like Maria Thun preparations send a signal to the living organisms that are the vine and the soil and this signal give the plant the force to act in the right direction.
Franck says that they also worked 4 years with naturopathy healing, and in 2010 he succeeded to have his compost producer create a new type of fertilizer. Here is what they did, Franck had a lab analysis list the measurements of redox, pH, conductivity in the soil. The guy who hekped them create this new compost based on these soil measurements is Michel Barbeau whom Franck says is a genius and should be rewarded with official honors by the Champagne region. After the 4 years working together with Franck Pascal, Michel Barbeau could pinpoint a new fertilizer well adapted to limestone soils and then they found someone who could produce a small volume of this compost, they tested it on their soils as well as in the parcels of viticulture schools, and given the results they're going to have it mass produced. This fertilizer has a component of volcanic sulfur which helps liberate elements that are otherwise trapped in the limestone.
He says it is important to remember that when you work on parcels that have been through decades of chemical products it's a bit hard for the microorganisms to come back healthily, and volcanic sulfur is very important for the replenishment of cell walls. He says that when they took the sample measurements at different depth in the soil they were impressed to see that at the beginning they found that on parcels recently converted (and thus with a soil heavily loaded with chemicals) the analysis measurements were odd and distant from you find in a natural soil : the soil appeared to be more oxidized deep under than close to the surface (which is plowed and exposed to the air), which is very weird. He says this is because of the accumulation of lots of different chemical molecules which stay there and aren't degraded. For a natural, well-functioning soil the potential redox is higher on the surface than one meter deep, and on these parcels it was the other way around. This problem creates a reverse polarity that blocks the plant and turns into a lack of vitality.
Walking back to the tasting room of the domaine in the village, our small group was treated with a few Champagnes along with the detailed information given by Franck and Isabelle. They make 7 cuvées at Franck Pascal, all vinified with indigenous yeast. Franck sayd more things about how the vines, when healthy and in their natural environment, are able to connect and interact with the soil to get what they need. He tells us then about the cell turgor pressure : Electrically-polarized fertilizers dissolving in the soil into both negative ions and positive ions bring an inbalance in the soil that is completely unnatural and these electrical loads paralyze the functioning of the roots. It's very complicated here, the plant has to change its electrical polarity so that it can absorb the nutrients it needs, and with the ions disturbing the electric field it can't feed properly with what it needs. As a result, the plant ends up with at the same time deficiencies for certain elements and excesses for others, that's what brings the cell turgor pressure on the conventional vineyards and at the end you get a much bigger load of grapes in these vineyards, but an imbalanced one, which will yield a juice with a changed pH, a much higher one. This has consequences for the wine because the juice instead of being pure will be loaded with lots of minerals that will be easily assimilable by bacteria and fungi that are around. That's why the conventional winemakers put SO2 on the juice, it's to try to keep in check the risk, and they also have to face the excess potassium, using cold temperature to precipitate it. In short, the juice/wine is unstable.
When he converted his vineyard all the while stopping the herbicides he refrained from adding anything on the soil, and for the vines it was a sudden fasting and they had to adapt to the new conditions. Of course the yields fell sharply, going even under 50% of his neighbors' yields, but he says it was necessary to cleanse the vine from the harmful substances in its soil, the same way a sick person may choose to fast to overcome the disease. Of course these things are not taught in the wine school he says, he learnt about this through his reading and also following special trainings focused on these things.
__ Franck Pascal Reliance. This is a simple cuvée for friends, Isabelle says, it's made just with [organic of course] grapes fermented on its indigenous yeast, no dosage or liqueur d'expédition (sugar) at disgorgement. Here you get all what Champagne can offer by itself, expressing its minerality and its terroir, she adds. It's mostly 2011 with a bit of 2010, 70 % Pinot Meunier, 5 % Chardonnay and the rest Pinot Noir. Remained 3,5 years in cellar after bottling.
Very thin bottles, you feel them in the mouth touch, but very smoothly. Nice energy when swallowed. This is a Champagne that has still-wine qualities.
Speaking of the wild yeast, Franck says that the fermentation process is a very fragile process that gets influenced by many parameters, and the yeast can have its metabilism hampered if it doesn't feel well in its complex environment, bringing stalled fermentations and other problems. They also worked on the issue and he and Isabelle are using what they learnt at trainings, that is using energy fields and radiesthesia to know if the yeast is at the maximum of its potential or if it's stressed. Using a Lecher Antenna they can find which information is needed by the stressed yeast so that it can be back in its tracks for an efficient fementation. Asked if they could tell about an concrete example, Franck says that in 2010 it was raining and cold weeks before the picking, they pressed the juice, without putting SO2 on the incoming grapes or juice (unlike what is done systematically in conventional Champagne domaines), they did a light débourbage and then the early fermentation was having reduction smells unlike the fruity one they have usually, so did their energy-fields check and found out that the juice/wine was oddly "asking" for red color, so they also found out the exact type of red it needed, found the bulb manufacturer that had the right color-temperature product, they lit this bulb above the vat and 5 minutes later this reduction smell had vanished. This sounds weird but I guess you can feel unsettled the same way the first time yopu hear about biodynamic preparations and processes... Franck says that he got the explaination later, the color temperature was unusually cold during three weeks because of the rainy weather and the yeast were longing for a color temperature they had been deprived of.
You don't have any pictures of the facility in this story alas because I was with this group (good opportunity to loathe the group for that !) but you can see the press and other vats in this video where Franxck gives more interesting informations.
__ Franck Pascal Tolérance, this rosé is a blend of 2007 & 2008, mostly Pinot Meunier (74 %), 16 % Pinot Noir & 10 % Chardonnay. No barrels here or 5 to 10 % maximum. Nose : flowery aromas, peony, fruit too. Nice length. My stomach makes a noise, that's usually an excellent sign, like if it could say by itself : this thing speaks to me, it's real ! Isabelle says this rosé got 4 grams of sugar added at the disgorgement, which is minimal compared to the norm (which is 12 to 15 grams), it's just to bring an imperceptible sugar feel on the tongue. The wine is a bit more sparkling than the first one we tasted but overall still very discreet.
Frank says that after the first fermentation, there's the malolactic, then there's 3rd fermentation that takes place the following year at about the time of the blossoming, he doesn't know yet why but there's a biological activity in the wines during the blossoming of the following year, he's trying to find clues about this but hasn't found yet an enologist that has an answer about it. He also says that when he tastes the wine before this 3rd fermentation, he feels the wine opens on one side, then sort of tries something else, like a teenager who looks for his path and then suddenly it's like if it decided to go this or that way after different tentative explorations. Franck says all he has to do is monitoring the wine, that's while doing this that he noticed these moves.
Interestingly Franck says that if he indeed believes that the moon has an influence in the wine life, he doesn't necessarily follow anymore the moon calendar because it lacks precision, in the sense that he feels not all the parcels are set on the moon cycles at exactly the same time. For example you may have a fruit day but if the grape doesn't taste right that day, there's no point picking it.
__ Franck Pascal Harmonie 2009. Superb nose, wheat, hawthorn maybe, honeysuckle flower, fresh white fig, pear. Also with soft, discreet bubbles, a very pure and mineral Champagne, Marise says. 2009 is a sunny vintage, Franck says, and they still got a nice freshness even though the acidity is not high here, they could do it because of the tension and the minerality. Those who re-acidify their wines can prop up the acidity but they'll not get this freshness feel, he says.
B. asks how he decides what part he'll do as a Champagne Millésimé, he says that first, the rules in Champagne forbid to make more tan 80 % on single vintage, then he also likes to use the reserve wines and blend them as multi-vintage wines. For the single-vintage Champagne that's his regular tastings of the wines that make him decide or not that such or such wine will make a great single vintage. And if Hamony in 2009 was made from a particular parcel, another one may be used the next time, it's all about the tasting and how the wine behaves, and he can tell after this mysterious 3rd fermentation, after the blossoming, when the wine sort of knows where it goes.
Franck says that because they jumped from 4 to 7 hectares between 2014 and 2015, they're offering a primeur cuvée named Libérance, so that it is cheaper for their clients and also allow them to get advance payment for their investments. THe Primeur system is usual in Bordeaux but rare in Champagne, here it allows him to keep his independance from the banks (watch the video on the linked page where Franck presents his Preimeur project). People will pay 36 € without tax instead of 70 € in 2019 when the consumers on the market will get it. 2015 is a superb vintage and the idea behind this cuvée is allowing people a direct access without an excessive price. They'll use for this wine the grapes usually used for Harmonie and Quintessence, so that the subscribers of Libérance get the best of the domaine. They let the Primeur offer run until early june and the rest of the wine will be released directly at the highr price in 2019.
__ Franck Pascal Pacifiance. Made with 2006 and 2007 wines. More bubbly mouth here. Very beautiful, delicious. Lovely, delicate aromas evolving and changing along the minutes spent sipping the glass from time to time. This cuvée is made with the Quinte-Essence wines. Franck says that this cuvée represents well a vintage even though it's made like a solera, he gave this name Pacifiance because if all the heads of State behaved like this wine resting on the best experiences of its elders, peace would be achieved. Speaking of heads of State Isabelle says that they presented their wines to the Elysée Palace (the French President's residence) and they ordered some Reliance for the Cop 21 and after that they also sold them some Pacifiance and Sérénité for more confidential dinners. Good start.
For this cuvée, every year they add a vintage, making about 500 bottles a year and keeping the solera at the same volume year after year. The one we taste has only two vintages but along the years the solera will integrate all these vintages and grow certainly in complexity.
The sales : They export around 80 % of their production, to Italy, the U.K. (Dynamic Vines - and they take part to Raw for the 3rd year), Sweden, Austria (Gut Oggau's Eduard Tscheppe and Stephanie Tscheppe who also import wines for their restaurant), Germany, Japan (Vin X - a new importer selling to restaurants), South Korea, the United States (Weygandt wines), Australia (France-Soir Wine Selections)
Asked about their sales in France (20 % of the total), Franck says they decided to try to increase this share because as France is known for its gastronomy he'd prefer that some wine still finds itw way to the restaurants. They sell mostly to high-end restaurants and a few selected cavistes (Caves du Panthéon, La Dernière Goutte, Lavinia, Julhès). They'll also soon develop a webpage to sell directly the cuvées to the public.
__ Franck Pascal, Sérénité 2010. This is a new type of vinification here, without any SO2. In the other cuvées they have 30 mg/L on average. For this cuvée they decided to make a try for a SO2-free Champagne. When they made their first tries in 2008 they found that purity in the wine was enhanced compared with the sample of the same wine where there they had added a bit of SO2. He was puzzled by this and realized that wine can resist oxidation, there's an organization of matter here that could explain that oxygen has little control over the wine. He says that the same matter can have the same composition but be either organized
or disorganized, like carbon that can show as diamond when organized and as coal when disorganized. For the wine to be able to remain pure and not fall with oxygen, it has to be strong with the right energy, and they'reworking precisely on that, not only through the organic/biodynamic farming but also with the work & monitoring on the energy fields during the vinification.
They wanted to know the natural-SO2 level in the wine so they sent some to the lab but the lab couldn't measure it precisely because it was low, so they sent another sample to the DGCCRF in Bordeaux, this wine administration having a specialized unit, and they found 4 mg/L total SO2, which is indeed negligible. They made 660 bottles of this cuvée. For this vintage, 2/3 went in casks. They don't use sulfur wicks for the barrels (I guess they rack them and fill them right away with another vintage). For the record they also had a few bottles of this cuvée travel some 3000 km (by car I presume) through Europe in order to check that the wine stands well in spite of its no-SO2 status, they say it fare well.
Franck says that in 2012 they faced a challenge with this difficult year, the weather and conditions were awful and at one point he decided to stop spraying because he preferred to loose much of his fruit instead of soaking the soil with copper, he told his staff to stop the sprayings altogether and see what Mother Nature would give them. The harvest was indeed very very small but he tries to see the positive side of this year, and as a result in 2013 he redoubled his efforts to find alternative solutions in case of similar events (the nighmare was having the same conditions repeat the following year which could bankrupt them). They worked closer on their biodynamic/energy-fields process and when they spotted a parcel that developped some mildew in 2013 they found out that the vines had cut their connection to the vital energies and they were devitalizing, that's why mildew was getting hold of it. They sent the right information to the vines using this energy fields process and without spraying anything, the results were fabulous at the harvest. At this stage it's still the beginning but he feels from this trial that there'something to explore in this direction which could lead to another new type of viticulture, even more protective of the soils.
Page with prices listing the cuvées at Franck Pascal
Sophie's Glass on Franck Pascal
Additional side story - Sorry for this less-than-glamorous aspect of the Champagne region but I accidentally stumbled upon this unreported issue and thought this might interest the readers, even if they don't buy the conventional Champagne that are the cause of all of this...
As we were walking back down the slope to the village where we would taste a few Champagne wines, we passed this retention basin on the left, I and another person spotted it as the rest of our group including Franck were already further down chatting on the way to the tasting room. I first had noticed that it was dry, which was unusual in march and at the end of winter but another thought came to me : you usually see these sort of retention basin in France near industries or near highway structures, as they're intended to prevent the pollutants from reaching the rivers with the rain water. But here, what was the purpose ? There was just a slope with vineyards above this gated basin with a hill top covered with woods. This sort of thing is a serious investment and I suspected that this could have something to do with the products sprayed all over the conventional parcels on this slope (the one just along it seemed to have had more than its share of herbicides, by the way). We run down the small road to ask Pascal about it and he told us the whole story.
I was to find many other such retention basins in Champagne, just driving through, and these discreet new features dotting the Champagne landscape have been dug very recently and all over, with apparently the same normative design, most having small bushes planted right behind the gate for more "privacy" for example. It doesn't seem to be the result of the will of an individual village but rather something well planned by the authorities, even though they and the mainstream wine media are very discreet about it. One way to spot these pollutant-gathering basins is to look for white heaps of earth hastily moved on the side (pic on right) when they dug these basins, you can see them before you see the basin. I keep repeating this, but again, keep your eyes open when you drive through any vineyard of any region, lots of information is there waiting for you to read it, and you may stumble on things that the mainstream media or winery websites won't tell you. Ever seen Roman Polanski's Chinatown ? I had some sort of feeling of déja vu here, like when Jack Nicholson begins to scour the water ducts and channels...
Franck Pascal says that what happened is that in the matter of a few years in the late 1980s' all the fish disappeared from the two streams running through the small valley near the village. These streams, Belval and La Maquerelle are very small but the village people had always fished there and then there was this red flag with all life suddenly gone.
And in 1990-1992 the Water Agency (Agence de l'Eau) announced that the tap water was not drinkable in the village, the analysis finding 12 to 16 times the maximum amount for certain harmful chemical molecules. This village unlike many other villages had its own spring water coming out in the village, and its ancient name, La Bonne Eau, hinted that it had always been a healthy water. The authorities didn't look into the cause of this pollution but looked into going around the problem at the other end and installed very expensive filtration systems to block the residues in the water. One million French Francs were invested at the time for an activated carbon filtration, just for this village of 200 people. As this was beyond the means of the village and its taxpayers, the village paid 25 % only, the State 50 % and the Champagne region the remaining 25 %. You can read some info about these issues on the village's webpage, very interesting especially if you read between the lines.
B. asked if similar events and responses happened elsewhere in the region, Franck says yes, the swift financing of the filtration system by the authorities (regional & national) being probably in order to avoid making waves and keep the potentially-damaging information from splashing around. In spite of that, the village dwellers pay an astronomical price per meter cube of water, and that may well be the norm for the rest of Champagne.
The retention basin was built in order to try to revive the small rivers in the valley, because if deep-going chemicals kept polluting the water table, something could be tried to limit the pollutants (fertilizers, herbicides) from flowing down the slope with the rain water. In the past not so long ago, before the chemical era of the 1980s' there was a diverse fish life, Francks' grandfather also used to catch crayfish in these streams, there were also salamanders, but that all is over and fishing clubs are forced to put fish regularly otherwise there's none. So these retention basins were built in order to limit the flow of pollutants in the streams, or in the Marne for the Marne valley for example.
On the picture above shot near Ay on the D1 you can see clearly the 2 large ducts bringing into the basin the rain-water flow that originates from the vineyards on the upper slope.
I shot this other picture on the left while driving on the D3 along the Marne river west of Epernay : the river is in my back on the other side of the road and I look above to the heavily-soaked and yellow parcels. You can see clearly how the rain water, thick with herbicides, flowed into the ditch along the road, bleaching the grass yellow in the way. That rain water just flows its way down the slope and eventually reaches one way or another the Marne.
Find here in this document (in French) more information about the water checks in Champagne, on page 74 (scroll down 7 pages) you learn that in the Champagne region they look for 400 chemical molecules in tap water, some tied to chemicals that have not been used for years in the vineyard. Here are a few molecules : simazine, terbuthylazine, terbuméton, diuron, dichlobénil, norflurazon, oxadyxil, bénomyl, atrazine, boscalid, dimétomorphe, flusilazole, fosétyl d’aluminium. There's a national website where you can check the tap water measurements in France but it doesn't tell the results before the filtering process if there's one, and the results in the Champagne region are interesting because just by the long list of the chemicals (400) they scanned the traces of, you get an image of what is going on in this region. See by yourself the total list and weird names of these chemicals for the water analysis of Baslieux-sous-Châtillon. Of course after the costly filtering all the bad things remain under the lid, and the Water Agency doesn't publish the data for this water before the filtering process (that would be utterly interesting !!!). For comparison, look at the very short list of chemicals/parameters scanned in a randomly-chosen village, Saint Aignan sur Cher in the Loire region, this speaks volume about what is going on in Champagne...
Interestingly also, I had to copy these pages because it was not possible to have a direct link for this page. Otherwise if you look for a particular village, go to this page and then click on the region (map) and then choose the village/town in the drop-down menu (purposedly complicated and no direct link for the end page for a quick return).
Read this official document (in French) from the Préfecture for these rain-water retention basins.