France Champagne Wine Region
French Champagne wine is not just a sparkling beverage, but also the wine region from which the famous drink
derives its name. The climate of the area is cooler than that of the southern French vineyards, making for a
shorter growing season.
Almost a hundred miles northeast of Paris near the Belgian border, the area is typically divided into three
parts although there are other zones. The three divisions are -
- The Côte des Blancs,
- The Vallée de la Marne
- Montagne de Reims
Of the region's seventy five thousand acres of vineyards, the largest portion and the greatest vineyards are
planted in the Département of the Marne.
The vines there sit comfortably in chalky soils, providing excellent natural moisture regulation with good
drainage. The chalk reflects ample sunshine and heat upward to the grape and within to the roots. The thin layer of
arable topsoil receives the needed addition of fertilizer by the regions world-class vintners, some of who only
work the land part-time.
The annual temperature hovers slightly above the minimum required 50°F/10°C to ripen grapes, where the best
vineyards reside high enough to be clear of frost (above 90m/295ft), but low enough (below 210m/689ft) to be
sheltered from extreme heat.
One first-class example are the vineyards of Montagne de Reims, a forested plateau south of Reims. Blessed with
a deep bed of crustaceous chalk beneath a thin layer of topsoil, the highly ranked Grand and Premier Cru are found
in these two areas, where grows primarily Pinot Noir.
Among the northernmost vineyards, the unique microclimate in Montagne is well suited for producing this variety,
which goes into producing some of the world's best champagne.
Along both banks of the River Marne lies the Vallée de la Marne, with predominantly south-facing, lower-lying
vineyards, which produces largely Pinot Meunier. And just over 13 miles south of Epernay juts a ridge in Côte des
Blancs where the chalk subsoil yields a glorious Chardonnay.
A newcomer to Champagne is Côte de Sézanne. Planted in the 1960's almost exclusively with Chardonnay, its
southern location allows the grapes to ripen better than many of the other zones.
In Champagne's most southerly zone, we reach The Aube located about 70 miles south of Epernay, where the climate
experiences greater temperature extremes. Less well known, much of its output adds to numerous blends of the major
The theory of producing great champagne wine is to blend the best qualities from each of the best grapes grown
in all these areas. The large houses store millions of gallons of wine from various vineyards for blending
purposes. The blends are produced primarily from three varieties.
Pinot Meunier remains the dominant variety in Champagne, where it is exclusively grown (on nearly 40% of the
total acreage) and makes up the base for all but the most exclusive champagnes. Pinot Noir comes in a close second
at about 35% of the total acreage. It provides much of the longevity of champagne. Chardonnay accounts for the
remaining 25% and adds lightness.
Rightly acclaimed as one of the most important historical regions, Champagne's quality remains undiminished in
the modern world as well.