The French Champagne wine region gave the world's most famous sparkling wine the legally protected name Champagne. It is not identical with the administrative region Champagne-Ardenne or the historical landscape of Champagne. The heart of the region is Reims, where almost all French rulers were crowned in the cathedral of Notre-Dame, but the cities 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 were then changed in 1911 and finally laid down 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 34,000 hectares, mostly in the three départements of Aisne, Aube and Marne, as well as smaller areas in Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marne. Within this vast area are the two small appellations Coteaux Champenois for still, non-foaming wines and Rosé des Riceys for the famous rosé wine. The three main varieties authorised for champagne are Pinot Noir (38%), Pinot Meunier (33%) and Chardonnay (28%), which occupy 99% of the area. The four varieties Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are also permitted for historical reasons, but with only 90 hectares they are of almost no significance in terms of quantity
With the Échelle des crus classification system introduced in 1920, the municipalities are classified in three classes in terms of soil, location and climate and, in the case of individual grape varieties, in percentage terms. This applies to the entire commune (i.e. all sites), whereby a distinction is made between red and white varieties in some cases. There are 320 AOC communities in total, 261 of which are simple "sans Cru" (80-89%). The best locations are in the 17 Grand Cru communities (100%) with 4,400 hectares of vineyards. 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 comprise 6,000 hectares of vineyards (90 to 99%):
The percentage classification was previously used - monitored by the CIVC authority - to calculate grape prices annually, by determining the price of 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 produced from 100% grapes, a Premier Cru champagne only from at least 90% grapes. However, producers rarely mention the rank on the label for Cuvée de Prestige brands, because mostly wines from different sites are blended. The annual determination of grape prices, which is strictly determined according to 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 big champagne houses, which have only a small share of 10%.
The secret of champagne lies above all in the type of soil, the climate and the strict champenoise method. The soil known as craie à bélemnites is chalky throughout, with a partially sandy surface. The conditions are ideal for the production of sparkling wine, as the grape varieties growing 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 also provides the ideal conditions for the cellars, of which Reims is literally cut through by the underground. The cellars have a constant temperature of 10 to 11 °C and a humidity of 70 to 90% year in, year out, which is very important for the storage and maturation of the champagnes. Around 300 million bottles of champagne are produced annually. Both the sparkling champagne and the still wines may only leave the Champagne region filled in bottles - i.e. not in tanks, barrels or other containers. This makes it impossible to process Champagne base wines outside the area or is prohibited by wine law.