The history of Champagne has seen the wine evolve from being a pale, pinkish still wine to the sparkling wine now associated with the region. The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area of northeast France, with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century, possibly earlier. When Hugh Capet was crowned King of France in 987 at the cathedral of Reims, located in the heart of the region, he started a tradition that brought successive monarchs to the region—with the local wine being on prominent display at the coronation banquets. The early wine of the Champagne region was a pale, pinkish wine made from Pinot noir.
The Champenois were envious of the reputation of the wines made from their Burgundian neighbours to the south and sought to produce wines of equal acclaim. However the northerly climate of the region gave the Champenois a unique set of challenges in making red wine. At the far extremes of sustainable viticulture, the grapes would struggle to ripen fully and often would have bracing levels of acidity and low sugar levels. The wines were lighter bodied and thinner than the Burgundies.
Furthermore, the cold winter temperatures prematurely halted fermentation in the cellars, leaving dormant yeast cells that would awaken in the warmth of spring and start fermenting again. One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of carbon dioxide gas, which, if the wine is bottled, is trapped inside the wine, causing intense pressure. The pressure inside the weak, early French wine bottles often caused the bottles to explode, creating havoc in the cellars. If the bottle survived, the wine was found to contain bubbles, something that the early Champenois were horrified to see, considering it a fault. As late as the 17th century, Champenois wine makers, most notably the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon (1638–1715), were still trying to rid their wines of the bubbles.
While the Champenois and their French clients preferred their Champagne to be pale and still, the British were developing a taste for the unique bubbly wine. The sparkling version of Champagne continued to grow in popularity, especially among the wealthy and royal. Following the death of Louis XIV of France in 1715, the court of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans made the sparkling version of Champagne a favorite among the French nobility. More Champenois wine makers attempted to make their wines sparkle deliberately, but didn’t know enough about how to control the process or how to make wine bottles strong enough to withstand the pressure.
In the 19th century these obstacles were overcome, and the modern Champagne wine industry took form. Advances by the house of Veuve Clicquot in the development of the méthode champenoise made production of sparkling wine on a large scale profitable, and this period saw the founding of many of today’s famous Champagne houses, including Krug (1843), Pommery (1858) and Bollinger (1829). The fortunes of the Champenois and the popularity of Champagne grew until a series of setbacks in the early 20th century. Phylloxera appeared, vineyard growers rioted in 1910–11, the Russian and American markets were lost because of the Russian Revolution and Prohibition, and two World Wars made the vineyards of Champagne a battlefield.
The modern era, however, has seen a resurgence of the popularity of Champagne, a wine associated with both luxury and celebration, with sales quadrupling since 1950. Today the region’s 86,500 acres (35,000 ha) produces over 200 million bottles of Champagne with worldwide demand prompting the French authorities to look into expanding the region’s Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) zone to facilitate more production.[
A day trip to the Champagne region
Champagne is like no other wine region in France. Located about 2 hours drive from Paris or 1 hour away by train, Champagne’s fizz draws wine lovers to the sacred triangle between Reims, Epernay and Châlons-en Champagne, but the region also attracts culture lovers to its great churches especially the Reims Cathedral.
The most visited Champagne houses are Pommery, Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot, Mumm, Moët & Chandon. For an enjoyable day trip in this region, we would recommend two appointments in Champagne houses separated by a lunch and eventually a visit of Reims Cathedral where the Kings where crowned. Hiring a car with private driver would also allow you to visit the beautiful vineyard of the region.
Most of the visits in Champagne houses would be in small groups. After approximately one hour walking tour around the cellar, discovering the secret of this glamorous drink, you will end your experience with a tasting. Some houses do offer the possibility to organize private and tailor made tours upon request.
Fine dining restaurants in Champagne region
L’Assiette Champenoise** (closed on Tuesdays all day and Wednesday for lunch)
Le Parc les Crayères** (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)
The best season to visit the Champagne region
The best time to visit the vineyard would be when the vines still have their leaves, between April and October
The most convenient way to travel aroun Champagne region would be to hire our limousine service at your disposal for your day trip. On the other hand, the train is very convenient to travel from Paris to Reims and taxis can be found once in Champagne to go from one visit to the other.
Please do not hesitate to contact the Concierge desk for further assistance or information.
Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Reims) is the seat of the Archdiocese of Reims, where the kings of France were crowned. The cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. That original structure had itself been erected on the site of some Roman baths. A major tourism destination, the cathedral receives about one million visitors annually.