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Champagne

Terroir


  • Champagne is one of the most renowned wine regions in the world, not only for its stunning sparkling wines, but also for its singular chalky soils that contribute minerality, freshness vivacity to the wines.

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  • Champagne is not only the world’s most illustrious sparkling wine, it’s also the name of the region where the eponymous wine is produced. Champagne sits east of Paris, just a 45-minute ride on the fast TGV train. Its two major cities are Epernay and Reims. The wine of Champagne is made with grapes from the region’s 300 villages, where approximately 34,400 hectares (85,000 acres) of vineyards are planted.




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  • 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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  • The Champagne region has a dual climate consisting of oceanic and continental influences, which means cold winters and warm, but not hot, summers. From the oceanic influence, the region receives an average of 200 days of rain per year that increases the risk of disease. The continental climate brings issues of winter and spring frosts that can impact the quantity of grapes available to winemakers.

    Geographically, the region lies beyond the northern limit of wine grape cultivation, making it difficult to get grapes to fully ripen every year. By law, grapes must have an abv (alcohol by volume) of 9.5% in order to be used in a vintage wine. Since many grapes never reach this level of ripeness, a system of blending non-vintage cuvées was developed.

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  • At the heart of the Champagne sit the Montagne de Reims (a hill to the south of the city of Reims), the Marne Valley (along the banks of the Marne river to the west), and the Côte des Blancs, south of the city of Epernay, all included in the Marne department.

    Much of the Pinot Noir for Champagne is grown on hills in the Montagne region with its east/southeast-facing hills. Further south in the Côte des Blancs, Chardonnay does well in the east/northeast-facing vineyards, and Pinot Meunier is grown on hillsides that face south in the Marne Valley. The direction in which the hills face determines the amount of sun that a vineyard will receive.

    The other primary subregions include the Côte de Sezanne south of the Côte des Blancs, and the Côte des Bars, in the Aube department, between Bar-sur-Seine and Bar-sur-Aube in the very southern reaches of the region.


    Pinot Noir is the most grown grape in the Champagne region and makes up approximately 38% of what is grown. Pinot Meunier accounts for 35% and Chardonnay makes up the remaining 27%.

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