The Champagne Wine Region

Wine Tours of Champagne

Champagne Wine Tours

• First region to make sparkling wine in any quantity, though now produces only one bottle in 12 of world sparklers.
• The main area of production is around the city of Reims (about 1 ½ hours east of Paris), the town of Epernay, and the village of Ay.
• Vines cultivated from 6th century AD, but these were still, pink wines until the development of champagne production as we know it today in the early 19th century.
• Vineyards cover about 35,000 ha, only a tenth of which is owned by the famous houses: the rest is farmed by around 15,000 independent growers many of whom own less than a hectare.
• Climate is at the limit for grape maturation with particularly biting winters. Grape quality cannot therefore be assured from one harvest to the next, so most champagne is a blend not only from different sub-regions but also from different years.
• The soil is predominantly chalky giving good drainage and humidity.
• Three grape varieties: pinot noir (38% of all plantings) provides structure and fruit; chardonnay (30%) gives elegance; pinot meunier (32%) brings richness and fruitiness.

And if you want to know more…
Bubbles in wine were considered an accident and an irritating fault for a long time. Given the region’s cold northern climate, fermentation would stop in the winter and restart in spring. The resulting carbon dioxide in the bottled wine would build up enough pressure to break a significant number of bottles which in those early times were made of flimsy glass: an irritant indeed. It was only in the late 18th century, with the development of stronger glass bottles, that wine with bubbles started to be taken seriously.

No one knows who ‘invented’ champagne – it almost certainly wasn’t Dom Pérignon to whom it is often attributed, though he was a winemaking pioneer in the late 17th century and for this reason alone deserves his statue outside the HQ of Moet & Chandon in Epernay. There was no eureka moment but rather a slow evolution, which is quite fitting as this is how the best champagne is made.

A wine tour to any of the famous Champagne houses will include a more or less detailed account of the champagne-making process, the famous méthode traditionnelle, so no need to cover that here. Those big houses will also regale you with their history – at Moet you will be told that theirs was Napoleon’s favourite; at Veuve Clicquot they will explain how Mme Clicquot invented riddling; and so on – and the visit will end with a tasting and a drop-in at, dah-dah!, the gift shop. If this all sounds slick it’s because it is, but in a good way. I’ve visited many of the major houses over the years and they all give excellent value. Visits are well paced, interesting and informative. But they are only one side of the coin…

I mentioned above the more than 15,000 independent growers who work the majority of Champagne’s vineyards. A lot of what they harvest is sold to the big houses – how else would they make their millions of bottles annually? But an increasing number of these small guys are setting up shop and making their own fizz. In many ways these family owned concerns are the lifeblood of the region. They grow their own grapes, they harvest them, they make them into their own unique champagne, they market this under their own name with all the pride and attention to detail that this implies. Your wine tour of Champagne would not be complete without a visit to at least one of these operations.

A wine tour of Champagne can be done as a day trip from Paris. This is comfortable time to visit a major house and at least one independent producer, enjoy a relaxed country inn lunch, and admire the expansive Champagne countryside. However, a few more days will allow a more in-depth tour taking in some of the famous villages, the street life and majestic cathedral of Reims, and the quintessentially French town of Epernay. Your choice. It’s always your choice with French Wine Tours.

Moet and Chandon Champagne France
Champagne Vineyards in France
Epernay Capitale du Champagne

Contact Me

For more information or to arrange your next tour with French Wine Tours, call John Sherwin on +33 (0)7 50 90 02 00
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