The Champagne region is located 160km east of Paris and comprises of 5 regions within the broader boundaries.
The excellent Wine Folly website has a great map here.
Champagne is of course the world’s pre-eminent producer of sparkling white and rose wines. There are 340 ‘houses’ and nearly 16,000 growers combining to produce a remarkable 350+ million bottles per year. The AOC covers 76,000 acres across 360 villages. Grand Cru villages number 17 whilst Premier Cru total 43.
Grapes & Wine Styles
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier make up substantially all the grape composition. Wines are defined through the following attributes:
- Vintage and Non-Vintage
- Blanc De Blanc (100% Chardonnay), Rose, Blanc De Noir (100% Pinot Noir) or most commonly a blend.
- Completely dry styles (Extra Brut / Non-Dosage) through to very sweet styles know as ‘Doux’ with over 50 grams of sugar per litre. Most common is ‘Brut’ with up to 15 grams per litre.
Echelles des Crus ‘(Ladder of Growth)
The Échelle des Crus (‘ladder of growth’) was established in the early 19th century to provide a framework for a fixed pricing structure and this system had a significant bearing on the classification of the Grand Cru and Premier Cru Villages. The price for a kilogram of grapes was set and vineyards owners would receive a percentage of the published price depending on the village rating where the grower was located. Vineyards in Grand cru villages receive 100% of the price while Premiers crus villages with a 95 rating receive 95% of the price and so forth moving down the classification ladder. This pricing outcome is not always strictly followed but it provides a good guide for grape prices in any given year.
Grand Cru vs. Premier Cru
It is very important to remember that in Champagne it is the village that enjoys access to the Cru classification, not specific sites (like Burgundy) or specific producers (like Bordeaux).
- Grand Cru: the original framework awarded ‘Grand Cru’ status to 12 villages however this number was expanded to 17 in 1985. Less than 9% of land under vine is considered ‘Grand Cru’. Villages comprise Ambonnay, Avize, Ay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Chouilly, Cramant, Louvois, Mailly Champagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Oiry, Puisieulx, Sillery, Tours-sur-Marne, Verzenay, Verzy
- Premier Cru: as can be expected the vineyards awarded 1er status are considerably larger covering around 22% of the broader Champagne region. 43 villages have been awarded this classification with 99% Echelle des Crus ratings applying to just 2 villages - Mareuil-sur-Ay and Tauxieres.
Appellation Rules & Restrictions
- Approved grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane, Petit Meslier
- Maximum permitted yields per hectare – 6.275tn per acre (based on 3,240 vines planted per acre)
- Maximum permitted press yield – 102 litres per 160kg of grapes
- Secondary fermentation in the bottle, and minimum periods of maturation on lees: 15 months for non-vintage Champagne and three years for vintage Champagne