Discover Champagne—The Region and the Wine | Champagne | France / by Matthias Collard

Champagne. Everyone knows about the beverage, but what about the region and its story?

Champagne is more than just a sparkling wine; it is the result of history, the transmission of a unique heritage, as well as a passion and respect for the prestigious regional terroir.

It is often said that Dom Pérignon was the monk who invented Champagne. Well, this monastic figure, to whom we owe the honor of drinking such delightful wines today, discovered by mistake a second fermentation that takes place inside the bottle. Thanks to the transmission of know-how, the evolution of traditional methods, hard work and new technologies, the reputation of champagne was never as strong as it is today.

Symbolic of delicate blends linked to its distinguished image, this grapevine product encouraged the international recognition of the uniqueness of the terroir (soil, climate, etc.) to a degree that in 2015 the Champagne region was granted UNESCO world heritage status.

Take a chance, for a day or more, to discover the world of Champagne. Stroll through the spectacular landscapes of vine-covered slopes, follow the footsteps of the legendary Dom Pérignon, visit wineries of the big Champagne houses or small producers, enjoy tasting champagne and improve your knowledge about the beverage. Let the region reveal all of its secrets.

The Champagne Region

 Location

Champagne vines are situated about 100 miles east of Paris and at the northernmost limit of grape cultivation in France. The region itself is composed of 84,000 acres of vines, which is three times the size of Paris.

The Champagne area is divided into 5 main different sub regions:

  1. Montage de Reims
  2. Côte des Blancs
  3. Vallée de la Marne
  4. Côte de Sézanne
  5. Côte des Bar

Climate: The Eternal Struggle

Two different climates are fighting against each other in Champagne: the oceanic and continental influences. The first one ensures steady rainfall and constant temperatures. Continental influences, on the other hand, guarantee sunlight and high warm temperatures during summer, but also bring a risk of spring frost.

The northern location of Champagne area has different consequences: cold climate and harsh weather conditions for the growing vines, which can have a real impact on the quality and volume of the harvest.

Soil: The magic of Chalk!

The “terroir” and particularly the soil quality of this region is certainly one the main contributing factors to the popularity of the sparkling wines. Having said that, few people understand how the soil quality impacts the taste of Champagne.

Chalk, being a highly porous stone, acts as a reservoir. It can hold quite a large amount of water. Even during the driest summers the chalk reservoir will provide the vines a steady supply of water. This condition is complemented by the limestone in the subsoil, which provides excellent drainage and adds a degree of minerality to the local wine.

Hills & Landscapes

Another important feature of this beautiful region is the landscape. Indeed, the vines are planted on south-facing slopes so to take advantage of maximum sun and rain exposure. Of course soil characteristics differ from one part of the slope to another, which is a major characteristic of terroir.

Grape varieties

Wine growers of the Champagne region are allowed to plant and grow seven different grape varieties, but three of them are the most popular and best known: 

The famous Chardonnay grape variety represents one third of the grape production in this region. It is a white grape with white skin and white pulp, which brings finesse and elegance to all Champagnes.

Pinot Noir is another large presence in Champagne. This red grape variety has a dark red skin and white pulp, which brings power along with a touch of red fruit and structure to Champagnes.

Pinot Meunier is another red grape variety with a dark red skin and white pulp, which provides roundness and strong fruit aromas to champagnes. It is often used for blends.

Champagne Economy

With around 300 million bottles produced each year, France remains the primary consuming market of Champagne, followed by the UK and United States. Today, a little more than 300 Champagne Houses exist and compete in that market. There are approximately 15,800 growers in the Champagne region, who cultivate the vines and sell the grapes to either big Champagne houses or small producers. More than 300 independent producers, who grow vines and produce Champagne, exist alongside the Champagne houses.

Where to stay

In Epernay:

La Villa Eugène*****

  • 82-84 Avenue de Champagne, 51200 Épernay
  • 03 26 32 44 76

Hôtel Jean Moet****

  • 7 Rue Jean Moët, 51200 Épernay
  • 03 26 32 19 22

Le Clos Raymi***

  • 3 Rue Joseph de Venoge, 51200 Épernay
  • 03 26 51 00 58

In Reims:

Hotel Best Western De La Paix ****

  • 9 Rue Buirette, 51100 Reims
  • 03 26 40 04 08

Holiday Inn****

  • 46 Rue Buirette, 51100 Reims
  • 03 26 78 99 99

Novotel Reims Centre****

  • 1 Rue Edouard Mignot, 51100 Reims
  • 03 26 89 52 0

Campanile ***

  • 37 Boulevard Paul Doumer, 51000 Reims
  • 03 26 40 01 08 

Where to eat

In Epernay:

La grillade Gourmande

  • 16 Rue de Reims,
  • 51200 Épernay
  • 03 26 55 44 22

Le Théâtre

  • ‪8 place Mendes France,
  • 51200 Épernay, France
  • 03 26 58 88 19

Chez Max

  • 13 Avenue Alfred Anatole Thévenet,
  • 51530 Magenta
  • 03 26 55 23 59

In Reims:

Le Jardin des Crayères

  • 64 Boulevard Henry Vasnier, 51100 Reims
  • 03 26 24 90 00

Le Parc des Crayères**

  • 64 Boulevard Henry Vasnier, 51100 Reims
  • 03 26 24 90 00

Les Cornichons

  • ‪1, Rue du Général Sarrail, 51100, Reims, France
  • ‪03 26 05 70 61

La brasserie du Boulingrin

  • 31 Rue de Mars, 51100 Reims
  • 03 26 40 96 22

 

Want to spend the perfect day in Champagne?

Discover the heart and soul of this beautiful wine-producing region based on recommendations from experts and natives!

How to get there?

The Champagne area is easily accessible:

  • From Paris: by train (45 minutes)
  • From Paris: by car (90 minutes)

What to do?

Visits to big Champagne houses such as Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger and others will help you discover the world of Champagne by giving you insights into the cellars (the famous “Crayères”) and will enable you to improve your knowledge about Champagne. It is also an opportunity to taste and discover new Champagnes.

Small wine producers will also welcome visitors and independently offer different packages of visits, tastings and tours.

Whether you are interested in small or large producers, be certain to call and book your tour prior to visiting.

Where to taste wine?

Different options are available to taste wine.

Wine bars

In the region of Reims & Epernay, many wine bars have a price list “vin au verre” (wine by glass) such as Le Clos or le Wine Bar.

Wineries

Wine tasting can be done at small wine estates as well as big Champagne houses (phoning ahead is highly recommended).

Tours often finish with a wine tasting included in the price of a ticket.

Things to See and a Sample Itinerary

Hautvillers:

The location of the village of Hautvillers, in the middle of the vines, offers wonderful viewpoints and is the perfect place to escape and enjoy the countryside. The part of the Champagne region is full of treasures and history. Visitors can stroll through the village, where they can walk on the footsteps of the famous Monk Dom Pérignon. A visit to his church is also recommended.

Epernay:

One of the most popular cities of the region, Epernay sits atop nearly 100 kilometers of wine cellars. It is famous for its “Champagne Avenue,” which is said to be the most expensive street in the world. Epernay welcomes visitors from all around the globe who share the same passion: the love for Champagne. The beauty of the city’s architecture is sure to delight you.

Reims:

The Reims Cathedral is a must see during your journey through Champagne. Discover its history and explore this fascinating monument. The city offers numerous public parks such as “Parc de Champagne” and town squares (Place du Forum) where locals like to relax and enjoy drinks and where you will find many wine shops. For gourmets, the city is well known for its pink cakes called “les gateaux roses de Reims” and its famous hams “le jambon de Reims.”

Verzy:

Another stop on the regional “sites to discover” list is les Faux de Verzy. It is a mesmerizing and magical forest in the middle of the countryside. Thousand of visitors enjoy the walking trails each year and appreciate the beauty of theses old-growth trees. There is no better way to savor the calm of the nature.

Verzenay:

On 1 site, Le Phare de Verzenay offers a number of attractions. This lighthouse, situated in the middle of an ocean of vines, offers an unforgettable and fascinating 360° view. The Museum on site will make you dive into the heart of the vineyards of the Champagne region and explore this bubbly world thanks to a fun and educational journey.

Useful information:

Tourism office in Reims

  • 6 Rue Rockefeller, 51100 Reims
  • 03 26 77 45 00

Tourism office in Epernay

  • 7 Avenue de Champagne, 51200 Épernay
  • 03 26 53 33 00

Tourism office in Hautvillers

  • Place de la République, 51160 Hautvillers
  • 03 26 57 06 35