CHAMPAGNE 

There is something alluring about a glass full of bubbles.... especially champagne! Since Ancient times the wines of Champagne have been associated with royalty, celebration, privilege, wealth, power and position. Champagne has made a brand for itself today and have worked extremely hard for centuries to do so. A bottle of bubbles comes at a cost though, with good reason. Severval more steps  are needed in the production process than your regular still wine or other sparklings. Click the links above or scroll down to discover more, the more you learn the most you will appreciate the bubbles in your glass. 

 

 

HISTORY


1-4th century 1st vineyards appeared in Champagne. The Romans ruled champagne at this time by treaty, territory was too far from Rome to exert overt control although they did offer protection to the people of champagne so they abided by the laws.

200's Roman Empire went into decline. Champagne lay open for attack and was overrun by the Vandals, The Teutons, The Franks and The Huns. 

5th century The Franks were a German tribe. The Franks Invaded France which impacted Champagne and all of The country. During this period France was known as Gaul. King of the Francs, Clovis United all of the Gaulish tribes under his rule during this century. 

City of Riems an extraordinarily Important city politically, located in Champagne. For 600 years 27 kings from Louis VII to Charles X were crowned here. 

9th century The First Bottling's  At the very beginning the wines of Champagne were all still and mostly red. 2 established names for the wine: Vins de la Montagne (mountain wines) Vins de la Rivière (river wines) 

Middle Ages Champagne became a crossroad for merchants of Europe. Large fairs were held in Champagne, whilst the buyers and sellers were conducting business they would consume the local wine.

Battles & War
Riems became the political and social Hub of France! during any war it attracted all the conflict. 
War - Frankish Kingdoms and Germanic kingdoms 
100 year war, England were trying to take over the French throne
Napoleons Battle against Austria, Prussia and Russia
WW1 & WW2 heavy fighting in the area 

Mastering the method 
End of the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century Champagne was working very hard towards he development of the sparkling wine process. 
Solutions to their problems included, reliable glass and cork. 

1728 The transport and trade of selling Champagne by the bottle began

First Champagne houses 
In the 17th century the city of Riems was famous for its textiles. Textile barons gifted their customers cases of sparkling wine and noticed their customers returning with more interest in the wine. 

Few of the textile barons established Champagne houses, first to open was Ruinart in 1729


House name
 

Ruinart 1729
Chanoine Freres 1730
Moët & Chandon 1743
Henri Abele 1757
Besserat de Bellefon 1760
Lanson 1760
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin 1772
Louis Roederer 1776
Heidsiek & co Monopole 1785
Piper-Hiedsiek 1785
Jacquesson & Fils 1798


 

 

1887 Champagne began to fight for ownership of the word 

 

1890 Phylloxera Champagne was one of the last regions to be attacked by the vineyard pest Phylloxera. Prior to the infestation the region was covered in vines, 150,000 acres today there is only 30,000 acres of vineyards in the region. 

 

1908 The Champagne region was delineated, signifcant unrest followed by the action. 

Aube Region - South of the city Troyes was not offically included. 

When the goverment included the Aube region the growers from the 

Marne region rioted! 

 

1911 Echelle des Crus - Classification system, the ranking of the villages and the vineyards that surrond them

 

1920 Champage entered its Golden years 

 

1927 The dispute between the 2 regions Aube and the Marne was settled and the Aube became an offical Champagne region 

 

TODAY 

 

Champagne continues to fight for ownership of the word "Champagne" 

Sparkling wines made outside of Champagne in France are labelled "Cremant", "Moussex" and "Petillant"

Champagne also claim ownership of the terms "Champagne Method and "Methode Traditionelle" 

 

LOCATION & Climate 

  • Most Northern wine region of all France

  • Champagne lies in the 49-49.5 parrallel North 

  • Champagne is located North of Burgundy 

  • Climate is Continental with Maritime influences 

  • Continental, effects Winter temperatures most significantly

  • Maritime, Sprint and Autumn come with frost a hazard for the vine

  • Rainfall all year round 

  • Climate is both cold and harsh 

  • Barley recieves any sunshie, 1650 hours 

 

Through the seasons 

SPRING  frosts are common and severe they reduce yeilds by killing fruit bearing buds. 

 

To fight against frost, smudge pots, sprinkler systems ar used during danger periods. The sprinkler creates and maintains an ice capsule around the bud and protects the plant by maintaing a 0c temperature.

 

SUMMER continental influence can have a warming effect, maritime influences can bring in abundant cloud cover 

 

AUTUMN often bring ealry frost 

 

WINTER brutal freezes, not uncommon for the temperature to dip below -10degrees for 2-4 days a year

 

 

 

GRAPE VARIETIES 

9-16th century the two grapes planted throughout Champagne were
Gouais a green skinned grape used to make Vins de la Montagne 
Fromenteau a grey, pink grape used to make Vins de la Rivière 

16-20th century up until the 20 century a common practise in Champagne was to plant a mix of grape varieties

Chardonnay 
Pinot blanc 
Pinot noir 
Pinot meunièr
Gamay 

As time passed Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunièr dominated, the other grapes are still authorised but very uncommon 

3 Grapes of Chamapagne

Pinot noir 
Is the most widely planted grape, covering 38% of vineyard space 
Grape contributes, cherry, strawberry, fruit, structure, richness  and alcohol to the Champagne blend. 
Pinot noir is an aromatic grape variety with good acidity, low to moderate tannins and in light red in colour. 

Pinot meunièr 
Is the second most planted grape variety in Champagne covering 34% of vineyard land. 
The grape contributes acid, red fruit, depth and earthiness to the blend. 
Has the viticultural benefit of being frost and freeze resistant
'Pinot meunièr' translates into 'Millers Pinot' because the underside of the leaf looks as if it was dusted with flour, the grape is a genetic mutation of Pinot noir and is indigenous to France 

Chardonnay  
Is the least grapes variety covering 28% of vineyard land. It is the only white grape out of the three. Chardonnay are be produced in 2 different styles
Floral notes, hints of citrus, apple, light and elegance in cool years
Ripen to high sugar and extract levels in hot vintages yielding wines that are both fruity and fat. Chardonnay is indigenous to France

Champagne can be a blend of grapes,

when blended what does each grape offer ? 


Pinot noir - least acid, moderate alcohol 
Pinot meunièr - moderate acid, least alcohol 
Chardonnay - most acid and alcohol 

 

GEOLOGY

Chalk

 

 These soils are found in Montagne de Riems, Cotes des Blancs, Vitry-le-Francois

 

these sub regions are located in north west Marne region. These 3 sub-regions are also known as 'dry Champagne' this is because the porous limestone sub soil stores water and drains the top soil of moisture like a sponge. 

Most regions in Champagne are planted on top of 2 primary types of chalk
Belemnite and Micraster.

Belemnite - fossilised ancient relatives of today's squid, upper to mid slope and is the preferred place to plant your vines, because the soil is located on the slope.


Micraster - fossilised sea urchins and located at the bottom of the slope.

Growing grapes on chalk, typically produce high acid, lean wines with reserved aromatics. 

There are also underground chalk quarries known as 'crayers' a tradition introduced by the Romans . They are hollow spaces which maintain a cool and humid environment year round, the conditions are perfect for wine storage.

 


SAND AND CLAY 


The 2 sub regions Val de Riems and Valle de la Marne have soils that are comprised of clays, marls and sands. 

The sub-region Cote de Sezanne has vineyards comprised of chalk and clay

Sandy soils, produce open wines with more fruity characteristics and less structure. 

Clay soils, produce dense and mineral rich wines. In the youth the aromatics tend to be closed and need bottle age to express themselves.


LIMESTONE RICH MARL 
 


The sub- region Cotes des Bar located in southern Champagne in the Aube region is located on kimmeridgean marl which is the fossilised remains of comma shaped oysters

Throughout France their are regions that lay a top kimmeridgean marl known as the kimmeridgean ring, Cotes des Bar, Sancerre, Reuilly, Chablis, Meneton-Salon etc

Limestone rich marl does not have the water capacity like the chalk soil in 'dry Champagne' and there fore the the Aube the most southerly region of Champagne is known as 'wet Champagne' 

Limestone rich soils are the preferred soils for planting Pinot Noir.  

 

SUB REGIONS

There are 7 sub-regions of Champagne

 

Montagne de Riems


Located south east of the city Riems 
Main grape variety- Pinot Noir
Pinot Meunièr and Chardonnay are also planted 
The vineyard form a half circle around a mountain
Aspect of the vines are South- East, North-West and North facing.
Soil, Chalky slopes


Val de Riems 


The sub region includes the vineyards of

Massif de St-Thierry and La Vallee de L'ardre
Located west of the city Riems
Main grape variety - Pinot Noir
Pinot meunièr is also planted 
Aspect of the vines are North- East and South-East facing
Soil, clays, marls and sands

 


Vallee de la Marne 


Located west of the city of Epernay and flanks the

river Marne
Main grape variety - Pinot meunièr 
Aspect
of the vines on the left bank are North facing and on the right bank are South facing
Soils, clays, sands, marls 

 


Côte des Blancs
 

South of the city Epernay 
Main grape variety - Chardonnay 
Aspect of the vines is East 
Soil, chalk outcroppings 

 


Côte de Sezanne 
 

The vineyards  are located North and South of the town Sezanne. 
Sezanne is located South - West of the Cotes des Blancs 
Main grape variety - Chardonnay 
Aspect of the vines, South- East facing 
Soil, most vines are planted on parcels of clay, small amount of vineyards are planted on chalk outcroppings 

Vitry-le-Francois 
Located South-East of the Cotes des Blancs and North -East of Côte de Sezanne
Main grape variety - Chardonnay 

 


Cotes des Bar
 

Only sub-region located in the Aube, the southernmost vineyard area in Champagne. 
Vineyards are located South-East of the city Troyes and flank the Aube and Seine rivers.
Main grape variety - Pinot Noir 
aspect of the vines are South-East 
Soil, Kimmeridgean lime-stone rich marls 

Percentage of grapes planted in each sub-region and their soil type

 

APPELLATIONS

There are 3 AOC's in the Champagne Region



Rose des Riceys AOC
100% Rose 
A Pinot noir produced in the 3 villages of Les Riceys in the Aube. 

Coteaux Champenois AOC 
100% still wine 
Covers the exact same zone of production as AOC Champagne and utilises the same grape varieties, most production in non vintage. 

Champagne AOC 
100% Sparkling 

Echelle des Crus

established in 1911 ranks the wine producing villages and the vineyards that surround them.

The Ranking System 
VIllages and their vineyards are ranked on a scale of 80-100% 
At the top of the ranking system are the Grand Cru villages

 

GRAND CRU 

Best villages have 100% rating

The are 17 villages that hold Grand Cru status 

6 - Cotes des Blanc 

9 - Montagne de Riems 

2 - Vallee de la Marne

 

PREMIER CRU

Villages with a rating of 90-99% 

41 Villages 

 

CRU AOC 

255 Cru AOC's

80-89%

Villages must have a rating of atleast 80%

 

A producer with serveral Grand/Premier Cru vineyards can blend the fruit althogether, it does not signify a single vineyard.

 

Echelle des Crus set the price of grapes for the open market based on their village rating. This meant that if your Village was rated 80% you would only recieve 80% of the price. In 2005 the Echelle des Crus pricing structure was dismissed. 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAMPAGNE PRODUCTION

The first Sparkling wine ever made was by accident, could possibly be one of the worlds greatest accidents as well.

 

1st Sparkling Wine 

 

A theory of what happened is that a vat of fermenting wine was stopped by an early cold snapthat effectively putting the yeast into a dormant state unitl the warmer temperatures of spring resuscitated their activity. 

 

Presuming the wine was placed in a sealed vessel the carbon dioxide gas could not escape and was forced to dissolve into solution creating a sparkling wine. 

 

The type of Sparkling wine production is known as either the "rural or "ancestral" method. The process is 1 fermentation that undergoes a winter pause.

 

 

Overview of the method used to produce Champagnge

 

 

Grapes are picked by hand and fermented into still wine

 

Wine is blended with other still wines to create one house style that remains consistent from year to year 

 

The blend of cuvee then undergoes a second fermentation in the same bottle is will be distributed in

 

During this second fermentation the wine becomes a Sparkling. 

 

 

3 important people must be credited with developing the Champagne method as we know today 

 

 

Dom Perrignon was the cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers and created the cuvee or blend, the base wine for Champagne.

 

He would blend and mix different proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier clusters in the press, today the grapes are pressed seperately.

 

Dom Perrignon also recognised the unique attributes of natural corks, they are expandable and compressible they were then included in the Champagne process.

 

Nicole Barbe Ponsardin or "Veuve (widow) Cliquot" is credited for developing the "A" shaped riddling racks known as 'pupitres' that secured the bottles down while they were being shaken and turned. This technique is Traditional Remuage

 

Brother Jean Oudart is credited for a technique used in Champagne and Sparkling production known as Liquear de tirage. Liquear de tirage is a mixture of sugar and yeast and is added to the cuvee and bottled, this guarantees a sparkling wine and a predictiable amounts of bubbles.  

 

 

The Champagne process

 

Still wine production


First fermentation
All grape varieties and vineyard plots  are fermented separately in stainless steel tanks

Assemblage- the crafting of the blend

Various base wines are blended together. Winemakers blend the wine in order to maintain consistency in flavour from year to year. This practise also minimises seasonal variation through the careful mixing of several past vintages held in reserve. 

Vinification of Rose Champagne

Usually made by adding a small amount of red wine, Pinot noir to the white cuvée. It is also possible for producers to create a rose wine by vinifying the Pinot noir grapes as a base wine. 

Tirage 

Tirage is the French word for bottling 
Liqueur de tirage, which is a mixture of yeast and sugar is added to a blended wine or cuvée and bottled. This step marks the point of difference between methode champenois and the rural method. By adding liqueur de tirage to the blend or cuvée there is a guarantee of bubbles and it is even possible to predict the amount of sparkle. 

Sur Lattes 

Once the bottle is filled with the base wine and liqueur de tirage is added the bottle is sealed with a crown cap or oak and staple and placed on its side in the wine cellar. The bottles are separated by thin strips of wood called 'lattes'. Storing the bottles using this method is known as Sur Lattes 

Prise de Mouse translates into seizing the foam 

The term refers to the 2nd alcoholic fermentation that takes place in the same bottle from which the wine is later served. The 2nd alcoholic fermentation creates between 4.9 - 6 atmospheres of pressure. 

Sur Lie aging 

The yeasts die when fermentation is complete. The yeasts then start to break down and releasing proteins that contribute to a textured mouth feel and aromas of brioche, biscuits and freshly baked bread.
This process is Sur Lie aging, the longer the wine ages the more complex it becomes and the bubbles will also become smaller as the carbon dioxide dissolves in the wine. 

Aging requirements 

By law a non-vintage Champagne must spend 12 months on its lees (9months for Cremant) and atleast 15 months in cellar, from tirage to release. 

Vintage Chamapgne has to spend a total of 3 years in the cellar
The recommend time for sur lie aging is 18 months 
Many producers will keep their Champagne lee aging for longer than 18months and in the cellar for more then 3 years. 

Traditional Remuage 

This process is know as Remuage or Riddling. Once the Champagne and finished aging on it's lees the bottles are turned in a servers of 1/8th rotations and simultaneously shifted in order to move them from their horizontal position to a vertical position. The purpose of this step is to collect the lees into the neck of the bottle. This process usually takes 3 months.

Mechanised Remuage


Today there is a mechanised version, gyropalettes perform the same task. The bottles are placed in metal boxes that move the yeast up to the neck of the bottle, this process only takes 1 week. 

Degorgment or Disgorgment 


Once all of the yeast has been collected into the neck of the bottle the Champagne is chilled to 7.2c in order to reduce the pressure inside ( gas expands in heat and contracts in cold ) The neck of the bottle, and only the neck of the bottle is set into any icy brine solution that freezes the yeast and wine into any ice plug. Once the yeast in the neck of the bottle is frozen the bottle is turned upright, crown cap or cork and staple is removed and the pressure inside the bottles ejects the ice plug containing the yeast. 

A la Volee - A traditional method of Disgorgment 


Although uncommon this method is still used today. A la Volee is the process of disgorging wine without chilling the wine. The sediment is removed by the cellar worker by hand. 

Liqueur de dosage or liqueur d'expedition 

During the Disgorgment process some wine in the bottle is lost, is it then replenished back to its original fill level using liqueur de dosage which is a mixture of still reserve wine and sugar
A wine that is only replenished with still wine is known as Brut Nature.
Most Champagne has a small amount of sugar added to balance out the high acid levels. The heavier the dosage the sweeter the wine. Madame Pommery during the 19th century set the trend for a drier style of Champagne, previous to this most Champagne was produced was in the sweetest style known as 'doux' 

The sweet designations of Chamapgne

From driest to sweetest the percentage indicates the amount of residual sugar in the finished product

Brut nature 0-0.3% No Dosage
Extra brut 0-0.6% 
Brut 0.6-1.2%
Extra dry (extra sec) 1.2-1.7%
Dry (sec) 1.7-3.2% 
Demi-sec 3.2-5% 
Doux - over 5%

Champagne undergoes it's second fermentation inside the bottle from which it is served, larger sized bottles do not. After a standard size bottle ((750ml) has been disgorged they are used to fill larger format bottles. 

Bottle sizes

 

Magnum 2 bottles
Jeroboam 4 bottles
Rehoboam 6 bottles
Methuselah 8 bottles
Salamanazer 12 bottles
Balthazar 16 bottles
Nebuchadnezzar 20 bottles

The bottle closure

To secure all that pressure inside the Champagne bottle more than a cork is needed.

After liqueur de dosage is added the Champagne cork is inserted

The wire cage is dropped on top and twisted closed

The bottle is then shaken thoroughly to help integrate the liqueur de dosage. The bottle goes back to the cellar, allowing time for the liqueur de dosage and Champagne to come together.  Once Champagne has had time to completely integrate with the dosage they are then washed, dried and decorated with a foil capsule moulded on top. The wine is labeled and is ready for sale.







 

 

STYLES OF CHAMPAGNE

Non Vintage vs Vintage 

 

Non-Vintage Champagne , a blend of multiple vintages blended into their a house style, most Champagne is non-vintage 

 

Vintage Champagne, is produced from 1 single growing season and only crafted in good vintages. 

 

Tete de Cuvee 

 

Most Champagnes house have a superior line, they will label these wines Tete de Cuvee

 

Blanc de Noirs 

 

White sparkling made from black grapes, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier

 

Blanc de Blanc 

 

White sparkling made from white grapes 

 

Rose Champagne 

 

Structured and powerful Champagne with notable tannic grip

 

 

 

 

LABEL, NOMENCLATURE

Nomenclature,  2 small letters found on the label of Champagne. Understanding the Nomenclauture will allow you to be aware of how the grapes were grown and who has produced the wine

 

NM - Negociant Manipulant

All big Champagne houses

Producers that incorporate grapes purchased from others 

 

RM - Recolant Manipulant 

Does NOT purchase grapes from others

Producer only vinifys their own grapes, estate grow grapes

 

RC - Recolant Cooperateur

Vine growers affiliated with a wine making co operative

Vigerons bring their grapes to a co-op which vinifies them and returns the finished product, they will then sell the wine under their private label 

 

MA - Marque auxiliaire, Marque d'acheteur, Marque autorisee

Private label registered by any individual, group or society 

 

SR - Societe de recoltants 

Group of grape growers who jointly vinify and sell one communal or several communal blends 

 

CM - Cooperative de manipulation 

Cooperative cellar which vinifies the grapes of its member growers 

 

ND - Negociant distributeur 

A wine buyer who purchases wine and sells it under their own private label

 

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