The History of Champagne and the Champagne Region of France
The History of Champagne and the Champagne Region of France
IN THE BEGINNING
Grape vines were cultivated in the Champagne region of France as early as the 1st Century, and later in the middle ages. The wines from this region were highly regarded as one of the best wines in France.
During this period, the Champagne region only produced "still" (non-sparkling) red and white wines. The reputation and quality of those wines created a rivalry between the Champagne and Burgundy region growers. Comparing Burgundy reds to those of the Champagne region was warranted. Both were made from the same varietal: Pinot Noir grapes.
It was not until later, at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century when the Cellar Master of the monks at the Hautvillers Abbey "invented" Champagne, as it is known today. His name was Dom Perignon.
He took advantage of the natural foaming tendency of wines. He studied the details of effervescence, which was considered an imperfection in wine making. He transformed this "fault" into a quality. The secret lies in adding a good dose of sugar to the still wine, therefore making a sparkling wine with refined taste and incomparable quality. Dom Perignon perfected the mixing of different Crus (wine from different regions) and just the right amount of sugar to achieve the highest quality. Champagne, as we know it today, was born.
As the map indicates, the vine growing region in Champagne consists of four primary zones. The Reims Mountain, The Valley of the Marne River, Cote des Blancs and Cote des Bars. The first three regions form the most important Champagne production zones, and almost all the best Grand Crus, a regional wine classification for a vineyard known for its favorable reputation in wine production, are found there. The vineyards strive on hills stretching over 74 miles in length and from 186 miles to 1.25 miles in width.
The Reims Mountain zone is part of the Ile-de-France region. It consists of the versant meridian of the Vesle River Valley and expands to the Valley of the Marne River at the highs of Epernay. This is a vast plateau 12-15 miles in length and varies from 3 to 6 miles in width.
The Marne Valley zones incorporate the vineyards situated between the towns of Tours-sur-Marne and Dormans, extending to the city of Chateau-Thierry, in other words, into the Aisne and Seine-et-Marne regions.
The zone of Cote des Blancs is named after the white Chardonnay grapes grown there almost exclusively. The hills face east. The cliffs are perpendicular with the Reims Mountain. It is lower in elevation and stretches about 12 miles from the North to the South, between Epernay and the Marne River. It extends to Cote des Vertus in the Congy region and the Cote de Sezanne hills. South of this zone, in the Aube region is the Cote des Bars zone, close to the villages of Bar-sur-Seine and Bar-sur-Aube.
The Champagne region enjoys very favorable conditions for vine cultivation, even with it's contradictory northerly location. The rivers and forests help to regulate the humidity. The winters are relatively mild, the summer and fall rich in sunshine and the sun's rays reflect back on the vines from the chalky soil, permitting maximum heat and light.
Champagne is planted on chalk. The Grand Crus generally are on the mid-slopes. The soil is a unique chalk a bit below the constantly fertilized topsoil. The slopes facing South and Southeast attribute to the vines prosperity, protecting them from the Northerly winds and generously exposing them to the sun. The exceptionally intense light is reflected back by the soil expending the sun's warmth.
GRAPE VARIETIES AND THE WINES OF CHAMPAGNE
The noble grape varieties existed in the Middle Ages. They are mature and vigorous producing well refined wines. These varieties principally are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Pinot Noir is the varietal responsible for the great Burgundy red wines. In Champagne, it is vinified clear (Blanc de Noirs) and produces a solid wine with a long aging potential.
Chardonnary is responsible for the renowned white wines of Burgundy. In Champagne the wines from this varietal are appreciated for their clarity, finesse, freshness and for the ease of producing "mousse" (Blanc de Blancs). The Pinot Meuniere makes a less refined and a less complex wine and is used in the second crus.
Champagne is the wine of celebrations, the wine of joy. This wine with its golden color is associated with celebrating both big and small events.
The Crus are not as important in Champagne as they are in other wine regions. Most Champagne is made in the tradition of blending the wines of different Crus, and in the proportion is where the style of each Grand Champagne house is reflected.
200 communes are involved with the production and the Cru system includes 41 communes in the "Premiers Crus" and 11 communes in the "Grand Crus". Non vintage Champagnes are created with an "assemblage" of several vintages to complement and balance the continuity of the house style for the coming years.
Vintage Champagne is only made in exceptional years. A Champagne saying confirms a vintage can only be produced "if the vines enjoyed 100 days of sunshine." Obligatory minimum aging is 3 years, which assures the superior quality of those generally produced.
Rose Champagne is made using a hundred year old tradition, very unique for Champagne. The cuvee (the first 2,050 liters of grape juice from 4,000 kg of grapes) is modified by adding a small quantity of red wine to achieve the desired color. It is a delicate procedure, since the red wine cannot effect the initial character of the blend. This addition of red wine must be done before the tirage (the drawing of wine from its barrel).
The Champagne region also produces still wines, like the Coteaux Champenoise (Cumieres, Abonnay or Bouzy) or the extraordinary rosés of Riceys, produced in the zone of the village of Ricey in the Aube region. Wine lovers call this rare wine faultless and place it in the category of the best rosés of France. It is a wine of character, originality and extremely delicate with ample bouquet and exquisite taste which lingers in the mouth for a long time.
We hope you found our look in to the history of Champagne interesting. Be sure to check out our selection of personalized champagne flutes to celebrate your next occasion.