… and you’ve found Champagne. I think it’s time for a quick geography lesson. Champagne is both the name of a province in northwest France and the nearly universally restricted term for the sparkling wine produced from the grapes grown in this region. Even Oregon has laws prohibiting its wine makers from using the term.
The name Champagne is derived from the word Campagna, a region in Southern Italy. The story goes that the Roman soldiers thought that the hills looked the same. After they planted grapes , they must have quickly learned that the climate and terroir was quite different from their hot and dry homeland.
The region is located less than 100 miles northeast of Paris and directly west of Alsace at the 49th Parallel North (which is the same latitude as the U.S./Canadian border in Washington state). The official controlled appellation (AC) contains five distinctly identified districts: the Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. Taking a closer look at the above map of Champagne, I’ve circled the general location of these districts, although some smaller ones exist within the region. The Aube is disconnected from the rest southeast of Troyes, making the geography of Champagne rather interesting.
Not all vineyard land is valued the same, of course, and for many years going back to the 1940’s an organization named CIVC rated the grapes from each village and stack ranked them. The Grand Cru vineyards, the highest classification, got 100 percent ratings. Premier Crus were vineyards with 90 to 99 ratings and the Deuxième Crus in the 80–89 range. Once the price was set for the grapes, each buyer would pay a percentage of that price to the grower depending on the village in which the land was located based on their classification. Complex and controlled, or simply French. In the past 10 years, growers and buyers have moved to a more capitalistic system of trading goods, but many of the previous rating are still honored.
All of the land that was approved for the AC boundaries in 1927 has been planted, and a proposal is currently being reviewed to expand the official boundaries. This is serious business and has the potential to make a E5,000 hectare soar to a value of over E1,000,000. It’s clear to me that the ability to legally use the word Champagne on a bottle of wine, makes it one of the most powerful words in modern use.
I pulled the picture below from Bing Maps showing the fascinating quilt-like division of properties. Over 19,000 individual growers take to the fields every year and less than 10% of the land is owned by the big houses.