“All Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne“
Champagne is a term thrown around loosely, and its confusing. The truth is only the grapes grown in the chalky soils of the Champagne region of France, can produce a sparkling wine called Champagne. The world of wine recognizes this distinction and respects its sovereignty.
There are many reasons why Champagne is special. The Champagne making process is a labor intensive process which requires a significant amount of time and skill. Our journey ensured a new level of appreciation for the passion of the winemakers who are masters of their craft, and are committed to the age-old traditions of producing Champagne.
This was our first trip to the Champagne region of France and the selection of Champagne houses to visit was daunting. We gravitated to the familiarity of the large Champagne houses. We were novices, and novices go with the familiar (There is a life lesson here). Hats off to the big Champagne houses. They have it together, a seamless operation catering to eager tourists, a near perfect practiced script, and serving up consistently good Champagne you can buy at home for the same prices. We were not disappointed-it’s what we expected.
The real magic began at the small, lesser-known Champagne houses. These were family-owned wineries who for generations were producing fantastic Champagne driven by their family’s continued passion for winemaking. These Champagnes are often not on the American market or have limited availability.
What was the magic? It was experiencing the individual winemaker’s vision and the grower of the grapes Champagne experience. The Champagne was often made and bottled by the same person who grew the grapes.
What else? The passion. The up close and personal way of experiencing the Champagne making process.
On our last evening in Champagne, I sat down with my open travel journal and jotted down the steps of the Méthode Champenoise (Traditional method of Champagne production) from memory. Why would this be a worthy mention? It would be the moment I fell in love with Champagne. This moment led me to explore other sparkling wines and the journey has been incredible.
– The Champagne region encompasses a little more than 32,000 acres.
– There are only three grapes permitted in the production of Champagne Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
– Champagne grapes are always hand-harvested. No machinery allowed (labor intensive process).
– Champagne is always produced in the Méthode Champenoise (translated to Champagne Method) or Traditional Method as is commonly referred to in Europe and the United States. The most important facet of this style of production is the transformation from a still to sparkling wine occurs entirely inside the bottle.
The following morning, we would depart on a wine road trip through Spain. There would be more life changing moments.