Champagne Region in France – The Tastiest UNESCO Site in the World
The Champagne region in France is arguably one of the best-tasting UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe. In July, I was invited by European Waterways on board the Panache, a barge cruise on the Marne river and canal, right through the heart of the Champagne in France.
You can read more about my first barge cruise in France experience and why I fell in love with this way of traveling: Barge Cruises in France – The Perfect Luxury Vacation and why it is the perfect vacation for epicurean travelers.
Champagne France – Champagne Hillsides, Houses, and Cellars UNESCO SITE
I have to say that Champagne was never my favorite drink – or so I thought. But this week in the Champagne, seeing the beautiful vineyards, visiting some of the most famous Champagne Houses and cellars in the world, I learned to appreciate the bubbly drink. Now I can understand why this region has become a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Located about 2 hours East of Paris, the Champagne region is a perfect day trip from Paris. If you have the time, it is worth exploring this region more in-depth though.
The Champagne UNESCO Site consists of 3 locations: the historic vineyards of Hautvillers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, and the Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Epernay.
Each of the three parts showcases an essential step in the production process of champagne: Growing the grapes on the rolling hillsides, producing the champagne and aging it in the Cellars and distributing it all over the world through the famous Champagne Houses.
The 282.37 km² of vineyards of the Champagne region in France mainly produce Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay – the three grapes that are the main ingredients of Champagne.
While Dom Pérignon is undoubtedly known as the “Godfather” of Champagne, it is, unfortunately, an urban legend that he was the inventor of the first sparkling wine in the Champagne. The first mention of sparkling wine was in 1531, over 100 years before Dom Pérignon’s birth, and can be traced back to Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, near Carcassonne.
So how is Champagne produced? The Méthode Champenoise is quite a bit more complicated than traditional wine-making and involves a lot more steps. Here is a quick, high-level overview of how Champagne is made.
Make Some Wine
After harvest, the Champagne maker first makes regular wine. This wine can be stored for a few years a reserve, in case there is a drop in quality in future years. If the quality is exceptional, a millésime is declared. This means that only wines from that year are used and labeled as single vintage. If not, the Champagne producer blends several vintages as well as several grape varieties to produce a high-quality product.
Next up is the second fermentation, which gives Champagne its signature carbonation. After the first fermentation finishes and the Champagne-maker blends the various wines. Then the wine is bottled, after adding Champagne yeast and sugar. The bottle is corked with a crown cap (like on beer bottles) to trap the carbonation that happens when the yeast eats the sugars.
Now it is time for the Champagne to mature – for a minimum of 1.5 years. Most Champagne rest for 2-3 years though, some even up to 10 years.
During this time, each bottle of Champagne is rotated 90 degrees every couple of hours. Every couple of months, the bottles are tilted a few degrees more on its head. This ensures that the yeast can more easily feed on the sugar and then the yeast sediment slowly settles in the tip of the bottleneck by the end of the maturation process.
Fun Fact: Did you know that before the automation of the bottle turning process, one worker turned between 50-60000 bottles per day. Can you imagine?
The final steps of the Champagne making process start with the re-bottling of the Champagne. To remove the yeast settlement, the neck of the maturation bottle is flash-frozen, then the bottle is opened, and the remaining yeast pops out of the bottle. The rest of the Champagne stays in the bottle, which is then corked with the traditional Champagne cork. Then the bottle is labeled and ready for distribution.
Champagne from Dry to Sweet:
- Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of residual sugar per liter)
- Brut (less than 12 grams)
- Extra Dry (between 12 and 17 grams)
- Sec (between 17 and 32 grams)
- Demi-sec (between 32 and 50 grams)
- Doux (50 grams)
Avenue de Champagne in Epernay
Epernay is often known as the Capital of Champagne, which is true and not true. While Châlons-en-Champagne is the administrative Capital of the Marne Department (state), Epernay is the uncontested Capital of the bubbly beverage.
The epicenter of all things Champagne is the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, where pretty much all notable Champagne Houses have their headquarters, from Moët et Chandon, Pol Roger
The second most expensive address in France after the Champs-Elysee, the Avenue de Champagne is the prime location not only for anyone in the Champagne business but other luxury lifestyle brands as well.
Most Notable Champagne Houses in the Champagne Region in France
Some of them are household names, while others are hidden gems of the true connoisseurs.
Here is a list of some of the best and most notable Champagne Houses and Cellars in the Champagne, France.
Moët & Chandon | Champagne Mumm | Veuve Cliquot | Laurent-Perrier
Taittinger | De Castellane | Pommery | Piper Heidsieck | Champagne Pannier
Lanson | Canard-Duchêne | Champagne Henri Giraud | Champagne Michel Gonet
Barge Cruise in the Champagne Region in France with European Waterways
My barge cruise on the Panache along the Marne River and the Rhine-Marne Canal was the perfect way to explore the Champagne region of France.
With only 7 passengers on board and equally many staff, we were pampered like stars for six nights. The remodeled barge had all the luxurious amenities of a 5 Star Hotel. A Michelin-star Chef that treated us to delectable dishes and knowledgeable Sommeliers that presented us with excellent wines. The staff would anticipate our wishes and make them come true before we even knew what we wanted. Oh, and did I mention there was a whirlpool on board?
On our barge cruise through the Champagne, we visited two Champagne Houses (Champagne Pannier and De Castellane) and learned a lot about Champagne, the region and the sparkling delicacy. We paid our tribute at the grave of Dom Pérignon and strolled through lush green vineyards.
It was fascinating to see how important this one product is in this region and how it influences so many facets of daily life. Experiencing the Champagne region on board of the Panache is definitely a luxury vacation that you will never forget.
Before coming to France, do not forget these 3 important points:
Champagne Region in France – UNESCO World Heritage Site was written by Maria Haase for EuropeUpClose.com.