The geographical region of Champagne lies 150km to the east of Paris. Its vineyard boundaries have been deﬁned by France’s appellation system (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or AOC) since 1927.
It is a zone of approximately 34,000 hectares of vineyards, covering 319 villages. Of these villages, or ‘crus’, 17 are classified as Grands Cru and 42 as Premiers Crus. There are four main growing areas within Champagne – Montagne de Reims, Vallee de la Marne, Côte des Blancs and Côte des Bar.
See the map of Champagne region:
Uniqueness of Champagne
Champagne is unique – you know why? Because of its terroir, which is a combination of climate, soil and geography.
An ideal climate. The northerly location of the Champagne region means that the semi-continental and oceanic climates combine to provide unique wine growing conditions whereby the champagne grapes develop the level of acidity that is required for producing effervescent wines. The continental weather is dual edged – while it provides a high level of sunshine in the summer, it can also be responsible for severe frost in the winter. The oceanic weather keeps the temperatures down, and there are usually no major fluctuations between different years. The dual climate provides the region with near-ideal rainfall. Annual precipitation is steady (oceanic inﬂuence) but moderate (continental tendencies), which is essential for quality grape production. In fact, in the Champagne region, is the long drawn out process of ripening that results in the balance of richness, extract and acidity that is the key to the quality and longevity of the wine.
A limestone subsoil. The subsoil in Champagne is predominantly limestone. So too are the outcrops of sedimentary rock (75% limestone), composed of chalk, marl and limestone proper. This type of subsoil provides good drainage and also imparts that particular mineral ﬂavour found in certain Champagne wines.
The magic chalk. The chalk in Champagne consists of granules of calcite formed from the fragile shells of marine micro-organisms. Being highly porous, it acts as a reservoir that provides the vines with a steady supply of water even in the driest summers.
The slopes. Sloping vineyards are so much a feature of Champagne that in the 17th century its wines were known as ‘vin de coteaux’ (wine of the slopes). The undulating to moderately steep terrain creates ideal vineyard sites that combine good drainage with excellent exposure to sunlight.
The best example of the power of terroir is Champagne!