Champagne and Romance in Reims
Reims is one of the most celebrated Champagne cities of the Marne region. Coupled with its delightful rustic charm and classic Gothic architecture, Reims should definitely be on your list of places to visit. The majority of the large well-known Champagne houses are situated in or on the outskirts of the city and encourage visitors from all over the world to take tours and see the manufacturing process. After a long weekend in Reims, you will fall in love with the place and with its champagne.
The Region and Its Growth
Reims is at the centre of the Champagne region situated 90 miles north-east of Paris, on a range of small chalk hills, split by the River Marne. Both climatic conditions and quality of soil make this an ideal growing region for the Champagne grapes. In spite of its long term history, the Marne ‘departement’ is still expanding in terms of growers, particularly to the south, towards the Aube region. Only 10% of champagne production is actually carried out by the big houses, with the remaining 90% split amongst smaller family producing estates. By 2017, planned expansion will include another 40 smaller towns, all capable of champagne production.
Currently, there are around 19,000 smallholders, whose individual vineyards are only around 2ha (5,000 acres).
Champagne or Sparkling?
For over 120 years, after the signing of the Treaty of Madrid in 1891, the French have the right to call their sparkling ‘methode champenoise’, Champagne. Theoretically, only wines from the region are entitled to be called ‘Champagne’, although many US manufacturers use the word on their labels, when they began producing in 2006. In 1919, we saw the reaffirmation of the French desire to protect their golden liquid with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Comite Champagne
This association is the link between independent growers (‘vignerons’) and champagne houses, or ‘maisons’, and their official slogan is ‘Champagne only comes from Champagne, France’. This association was formed by statute and aims to tackle any conflicts of interest, and ensure the security of trade in the Champagne region.
Let’s take a look at some of the larger houses that fall under the Comite’s jurisdiction.
Pommery – Champagne and Art
Founded in 1856 by Louis Alexandre Pommery, the house of Pommery really did not ‘get going’ until 1874, when the then ‘chef de caves’, Victor Lambert created the very first vintage ‘brut’ champagne. The house grew through a succession of family owners, followed by independent owners. Today, it’s in the hands of its present encumbants, Vranken.
Pommery is one of the most stunning champagne houses to visit. Once through the huge entrance hall, you are guided down 101 steps which have been carved into the rock, and arrive at the Gallo-Roman caves. One hundred twenty quarries house 25 million or more bottles of champagne and permanent works of art celebrating the house of Pommery. Added to this, you are treated to art exhibitions, which change every year and feature paintings, objets d’art and videos.
Ninety five percent (95%) of the 500,000 cases produced each year is Brut Champagne. NV Pommery Champagne Brut Royal is one of the most popular purchases.
Veuve Clicquot – an Anchor of the Champagne Industry
The inimitable Mme Barbe-Nicole Clicquot was probably the first female champagne entrepreneur when she took the helm in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s after the death of her husband. The passage to success was not an easy one – political and economic struggles in Europe almost bankrupted the Clicquot House on several occasions. Mme Clicquot survived it all ensuring the continuing success of this popular champagne. A visit to the ‘crayeres’ (quarries) of this house, depicting important relics and imagery of the past is well worth the time.
The distinctive ‘yellow label’ and anchor emphasise the history of this house.
Large retailers and supermarkets report high sales of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut and Veuve Clicquot Rose in both the UK and mainland Europe.
Krug – The House Master
Joseph Krug was behind the vision to create one of the most celebrated champagnes in the world. Even though Joseph was actually born in Germany, his desire was to make the Champagne region his home and he founded one in 1843. In spite of varying climatic moodiness, he was determined to create a consistently generous blend of champagne every single year, without fail. By using his portfolio of reserve wines, and his ‘little red book’, full of notes on terroir and climate,his vision was made into reality. The resultant effect was the birth of Champagne No.1. Krug Grande Cuvée.
By breaking the mould and going against all the rules of champagne manufacturing, a star was born in the champagne world. The House of Krug still continue with this principle, producing only the rich flavoured and elegant prestige champagnes.
February 2016 has seen the long awaited launch of the new Krug 2002. Any serious champagne buyer should head straight for their merchant to register on their list for what is going to be the champagne of the year.