It’s time to rejoice as two of the world’s most renowned wine regions Champagne and Burgundy find place in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. What does that mean? It means that after enjoying the GI (Geographical Indication) status for years, both champagne and burgundy receive a major boost in wine tourism. Also, the slopes, the cellars and the houses are now well protected. Champagne and its neighbour Burgundy join the other wine regions such as Saint Emilion, the Douro Valley in Portugal, Tokaji in Hungary.
I have been lucky enough to have visited Champagne region in the past thanks to CIVC (Comité Inter professionnel du vin de Champagne) and Champagne’s India Ambassador Rajiv Singhal who had organized a special tour few years back. The experience of visiting the vineyards, the houses and the cellars made it one of my most memorable trips till date.
The Champagne Slopes, Houses and Cellars are a cultural landscape which has given rise to champagne wine. And in a broader sense, all the work done to produce, make and publicize the champagne wine passed down the generations and preserved in the 320 AOC champagne dis- tricts located in the five French départements of Marne, Aube, Aisne, Haute-Marne and Seine- et-Marne.
Champagne’s international success, which intrinsically links production and selling, is down to both the winegrowers – small and large vineyard owners and subsequently cooperatives – who have used to their advantage conditions that are on the outer edge of what vines will endure (cold chalky soils) and visionary merchants who have raised the product to a level of excellence and publicized it among the international elite. Some of them were migrants, mainly from Germany (former drapers), or women, rare female captains of industry at the time, just like Madame Ponsardin, known as the Veuve (widow in French) Clicquot, and Madame Pommery. Champagne’s backstory is primarily a human story.
Champagne’s special production process, including the second fermentation in the bottle, led to the business and area being organized to fit the process, with the unique development of cellars (close to 370 quarries and 25km under Saint-Nicaise hill in Rheims, 110km of cellars under Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, and 10km under the historic slopes). This stunning underground landscape, still in operation to- day, is one of the most representative examples anywhere in the world of wine industry heritage.
Here is a map of the region and some images from my last trip to champagne in 2009.
So next time you find yourself in France, do make a trip to this enigmatic region. After all, a casual stroll inside the miles long underground champagne cellars, dining at some of the most reputed restaurants in the world, enjoying the scenic beauty and above all having the excuse to enjoy a glass of champagne at breakfast, lunch and dinner …thats what holidays are all about. What do you think?
How to reach there? Best way to reach Champagne is to drive down from Paris. It is just two and half hours drive by road from the capital. Or else there are regular buses and trains which can take you to Reims, into the heart of the champagne region.
Here are some of the links to help you plan your visit.