The Champagne region sits on the edge of a geological formation called the Paris Basin in which the subsoil is composed of thick layers of chalk that were deposited by a long-gone inland sea. This chalk is intrinsic to the region and its wines. The chalk is incredibly important to grape growing because it is able to retain enough water for the vines, while also draining freely, thus forcing the vines’ roots to penetrate deep in search of water. The chalk also provides important nutrients.
Many Champagne houses put these deep chalk beds to another use, as well, by carving immense caves or galleries into the chalk to be used as incredible cellars for aging wines. The chalk provides the perfect cellaring environment because it maintains a nice, cool temperature and optimal, consistent humidity.
Two types of chalk dominate the region: Belimnita quadrata and Micraster. Most of the villages sit on Belimnita, which produces more elegant, concentrated fruit with a distinct minerality
Differences in soil composition from village to village are expressed by the characteristics of the fruit. Since the mid-20th century, each village in Champagne has been rated according to quality on a percentile scale called the échelles des crus. 17 of the villages have a 100% rating and are the Grands Crus; 40 villages are rated between 90 and 99% and are the region’s Premier Crus. Historically, these percentages have been used to set the price for grapes grown in each cru. A price was set for one kilo of grapes and the growers would be paid a percentage of that price determined by its échelle de cru ranking. Today pricing is much more capitalistic, but grapes from Grands Crus and Premier Crus still cost more than those that are not.
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