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Description to Champagne AOC
The French wine-growing region of Champagne gave the most famous sparkling wine in the world the legally protected name Champagne. It is not identical with the administrative region Champagne-Ardenne or the historical landscape Champagne. The heart of the area is Reims, where almost all French rulers were crowned in Notre-Dame Cathedral, but the towns of Epernay and Chalons-sur-Marne are also very important. Champagne is the northernmost wine-growing region of France in the Paris Basin, about 140 kilometres east of Paris. The "Région délimitée de la Champagne viticole" was first defined in 1908, the boundaries then changed in 1911 and finally finalised in 1927. The area consists of 20 areas, each with a fairly homogeneous terroir. These are divided into six regions: Côte de Champagne, Côte des Blancs, Côte des Bar, Montagne de Reims, Petit Morin et Grand Morin and Vallée de la Marne:
The vineyards cover a total of 34,000 hectares, mostly in the three departments of Aisne, Aube and Marne, as well as smaller areas in Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marne. Within the huge area are the two small appellations Coteaux Champenois for non-sparkling still wines and Rosé des Riceys for the famous rosé wine. The approved three main varieties for Champagne are Pinot Noir (38%), Pinot Meunier (33%) and Chardonnay (28%), which occupy 99% of the vineyards. The four varieties Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are also permitted for historical reasons, but with only 90 hectares of vineyards they are of almost no importance in terms of quantity
With the Échelle des crus classification system introduced in 1920, the communes are classified into three classes on a percentage basis with regard to soil quality, location and climate, as well as grape varieties in some cases. This then applies to the entire municipality (i.e. all vineyards), whereby a distinction is made between red and white varieties in some cases. There are a total of 320 AOC communes, 261 of which are simple "sans cru" (80-89%). The best sites are in the 17 Grand Cru communes (100%) with 4,400 hectares of vines. These are the Montagne de Reims region with the communes of Ambonnay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Louvois, Mailly-Champagne, Puisieulx, Sillery, Tours-sur-Marne, Verzenay and Verzy, the Vallée de la Marne region with the commune of Aÿ, and the Côte des Blancs region with the communes of Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Oiry. The 42 Premier Cru communes cover 6,000 hectares of vines (90 to 99%):
The percentage classification used to be used - monitored by the CIVC authority - to calculate grape prices each year by determining the price for the Grand Cru grapes (100%) and all others according to the percentage status. Today, pricing is left to the market, with the Échelle des crus system still serving as a guide. A Grand Cru Champagne may only be made from 100% grapes, a Premier Cru Champagne only from at least 90% grapes. However, the rank is rarely indicated by producers on the label of cuvée de prestige brands, because wines from different vineyards are usually blended. The annual determination of grape prices, which is strictly dependent on this classification, was abolished in 1999, but still serves as a guide. Of the approximately 19,000 winegrowers, the majority deliver the grapes to the large Champagne houses, which only have a small share of 10%.
The secret of Champagne lies above all in the soil type, the climate and the strict méthode champenoise. The soil, known as craie à bélemnites, is chalky throughout with a sandy surface in places. The conditions are ideal for sparkling wine production, as the grape varieties that grow here produce a base wine that is light in alcohol, fine and acidic. The chalk allows the roots to grow very deep into the soil and also stores water. This is also the ideal condition for the cellars, of which Reims is literally criss-crossed underground. Year in, year out, these cellars have an optimal, constant temperature of 10 to 11 °C and a humidity of 70 to 90%, which is very important for the storage and maturation of the champagnes over many years. Around 300 million bottles of champagne are produced every year. Both the sparkling champagne and the still wines are only allowed to leave the Champagne region in bottles - i.e. not in tanks, barrels or other containers. This means that processing Champagne base wines outside the area is impossible or prohibited by wine law.