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IWINETC 2015: Le Champagne in La Champagne-Ooh Le La!

Posted: Wednesday, 29 April 2015 11:25

IWINETC 2015: Le Champagne in La Champagne-Ooh Le La!

April 29: Despite the fact that it is prohibitively expensive in India to order champagne in a restaurant, Le Champagne is the most satisfying aperitif and possibly with the whole meal, writes Subhash Arora who was in La Champagne for a week recently to cherish the International Wine Tourism Conference and relish the world’s most sought after bubbly

Click For Large ViewMany Champagne lovers might be disappointed to know that Prosecco outsold champagne by a few million cases in 2014 although it reached a respectable number of 309 million bottles, touching the sale of €4.4 billion after peaking in 2007. France alone consumed 171.3 million cases with exports clocking 137.3 million. Prosecco sales are estimated at about 330-340 million and rising. But the Champagne producers are happy as the market has been steady for the last three years and shows signs of moving upwards.

Important Basics

A few simple facts about La Champagne are in order before we move to Le Champagne. The region is called La Champagne-simply written as Champagne whereas the sparkling wine produced here is referred to as Le Champagne or simply as champagne. Seven varieties of grapes are allowed to be used-but over 99% of the grapes used are Pinot Noir (the queen), Chardonnay and the red Pinot Meunier which brings fruitiness and suppleness but is rarely used alone (there are a few exceptions that we tasted during our visit to Champagne for IWINETC 2015.

Click For Large ViewLa Champagne is divided into 7 winemaking territories-but like grapes only 3 are important-La Marne has 22,777 hA of vines which accounts for 65% of the total cultivation of 35,000 hA. Valley de la Marne, Cotes des Bar (in Aube), Montagne de Reims are better known territories-like the 3 grapes. (Cote de Blancs and Sézzanais are also important, though). Similarly Reims, Epernay and Troyes are the 3 most interesting and important cities. Co-operatives are very powerful-137 of them manage 13,600 hA, almost 40% of the total surface area.  There are 319 villages (called Crus) from where the grapes are procured.

About 38% of the grapes grown are Pinot Noir and are grown mostly in Montagne de Reims and Cote de bars, with Pinot Noir giving rich cherry flavours. Meunier is bluish at times and take up 35% of the area. Chardonnay is 27% and grown mostly in Cote de Blanc.

Sugar levels

Every champagne bottle must have residual sugar mentioned on the label in the form of the category. Since it can be slightly different for different countries, it should be noted that Brut Nature is 0-3 gms, Extra Brut-0-6 gms, Brut 0-12 gms, Extra Dry 12-17 gms, Sec/Dry 17-32 gms, Demi-Sec 32-50 gms and Doux (seldom produced now)- above 50 gms.

During the International Wine Tourism Conference-IWINETC 2015 we had the opportunity to visit several wineries. Here are a few of them:

1. Champagne Veuve Clicquot (Reims)

Click For Large ViewContact Person: Louise Vicq

Click For Large ViewThere would hardly be a champagne connoisseur who is not familiar with the Yellow Label VCP in India or anywhere. From the stable of LVMH which also markets the ubiquitous Moet Chandon, this is one of their best selling champagnes too. Based in Reims, it is symbolic of the woman power in the champagne industry. Legend has it that when Philippe Clicquot who founded it in 1798 and died young, his young widow (Veuve) Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin took over in 1805 against the wishes of her father-in-law who wanted to sell off the business. She turned it around and brought in several changes and made it so popular and profitable that today many Champagne Houses look for ways and means to introduce ‘Veuve’ in their name.

Click For Large ViewA visit to the winery followed by a Tapas-styled dinner with free-flowing VCP Brut, exotic snacks, music and a magician enthralled our group of visitors as only a winery of this pedigree would be capable of. There was a tasting of demi-sec Veuve Clicquot that Click For Large Viewshowed the sweet champagne in a pleasant light-it was a perfect match with the delicious desserts-one forgot that too much of sugar could be as harmful to health as the excess alcohol with every extra glass of wine.

The House owns 393 hA of plots in different prime locations in several territories but it owns land in 12 of the 17 Grands Crus and 18 of the 44 Premiers Crus. It shows in their style of winemaking and flavours; despite the huge volumes of production (Veuve Clicquot, like Moet Chandon, does not disclose the sales  figures but the numbers bandied around even by the local guides, are 18-20 million bottles compared to over 30 million for Moet Chandon).

The limestone chalk cellars are worth visiting for the history and excellence of quality. But the place is very popular with tourists and needs advance booking.

2. Cité du Champagne Collet-Cogevi (Ay)

Click For Large ViewThis co-operative Cogevi (COopérative GEnérale de VIgnerons de la Champagne délimitée), located in the town of Ay (pronounced Aa-eee) in Marne is the oldest co-operative,founded in 1921. It has an interesting but poignant history. This is where the infamous war of Champagne originated when the 6,000 wineries in 1911 revolted as they were fed up of wineries importing cheaper grapes from outside and making fake champagne. Buildings were burnt down and people were killed. Maison CoGeVi which is where the winery is located and which was a point of congregation,  has a very interesting museum with posters, photographs and artefacts detailing 100 year history and is worth visiting. The cultural and artistic journey though the 1920s and Art Deco period is very engaging. The visits are scheduled for March-May and September-December but are not cheap, at €75 with 4-5 champagnes available for tasting.

Click For Large ViewCogevi has about 700 growers as members and controls 750 hA of vines. It has a complete range from Extra Brut to Demi-sec with Prestige Cuvees and Vintage Champagnes. Aging on lees is normally for 4 years on most wines though by law they are required to be kept on lees for 15 months. Pride and joy for them is the Esprit Couture, which is made from Gran Cru and Premier Cru grapes only. The bottle is hand crafted and made, right till the cork and is a collectible. At €150 it is a vintage champagne worth storing in the cellar.

Cogevi has been promoting the Collet label since 2010 and has been quite aggressive in marketing. With their several brand building activities you will hear more of them progressively.

3. Dom Caudron (Vrigny)

Click For Large ViewThis co-operative was founded in 1929 in the village of Passy Griny in the heart of Marne. Dom Caudron was the priest who got local vine growers together to get the best value for their grapes. Due to the various soil characteristics in the region, this co-operative winery is best suited for champagne made from 100% Petit Meunier grapes.

Click For Large ViewFrom 60 in 2000 the number of winegrowers as members has increased to 75 and the co-operative controls 130 hA- all in Marne Valley. 80% of all cultivation is Petit Meunier with 15% Pinot Noir and barely 5% as Chardonnay. Interestingly, it has no Grands Crus vineyards- the classification system oes not recognise any Pinot Meunier vineyards as Grands Crus. A total of 800,000 bottles are produced out of which the top ended Dom Caudron is barely 20,000.

The Champagne House has a big range of bubblies and can handle shipments of any size and with a wide range. It’s a great resource for Petit Meunier based champagnes.

4. Champagne Charlier (Vallée de la Marne)

Click For Large ViewThis is a very good example of how some of the proud growers are so passionate about the tradition of generations growing their own grapes and perhaps selling to the co-operatives or big producers but want to keep their own personality alive. Sine 1892 Charlier has been the family owned winery which makes wines from their own grapes. Grower champagnes like those from Champagne Charlier have a distinct personality and an attitude that you appreciate.

Click For Large ViewTherefore, the winery will be written about in detail on another occasion- suffice it to say that they make Grower Champagne and their bottle would have the label RM- Récoltant-Manipulant.

Click For Large ViewDom Caudron, Cogevi and the 137 co-operatives are entitled to mention CM- Coopérative-Manipulant. Similarly the big houses like VCP would print on their label NM- Négociant-Manipulant, implying that the producer may or may not have used his own grapes but he has bought the grapes based on the declared price of Grands Crus fetching 100%, Premiers Crus 90% and other Crus (which means normally villages but vineyards in this case) 80% of the price determined by the union of producers- CIVC. Other less commonly used initials are RC- Récoltant-Coopérateur and SR- Société de Récoltants.

While I shall write about other wineries visited in the next editions of delWine, it is important to understand that visiting Champagne and drinking champagne will be more fun if one takes the help of ever-willing Tourism offices in various parts of Champagne. For a visit to any area of Champagne you may want to contact one or more of the tourism offices-they are quite helpful.

Tourism offices in Champagne:

Different parts of Champagne are represented by a tourism office which helps you set appointments with various champagne houses and also offers packages. If you are a champagne lover who likes to explore more on an area-by-area visit, here are a few that could help:

Champagne-Marne Tourism Office
Contact Elisabet Vidal@

Champagne-Ardenne Tourism
Contact Person: Guillaume Hubert

Reims Tourist Office
Contact Camille Roberrini

Office de Tourisme Epernay ‘Pays de Champagne’
Contact: Adeline-Lebouvier

Aube en Champagne Tourisme
Contact Person: Laetita Roggero

Subhash Arora

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