What Makes it Champagne, Anyway?

Recently I received literature from Champagne Bureau of Washington, D.C., regaling me on all the ins and outs of champagne. This organization is fighting to keep the name of Champagne protected; to keep sparkling wines that aren’t actually Champagne from using the name.

According to Champagne Bureau, location is the difference between Champagne and any other wines. Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, located 90 miles northeast of Paris, in an area that covers less that 80,000 acres. The characteristics of the Champagne region create a very specific terroir that cannot be recreated anywhere else on Earth; geographic location is matched with harsh climate, chalky subsoil, erratic sun and a limited harvest.

Champagne Region
Map courtesy of the NY Times

Quality Control
Only three grapes have been allowed to grow in Champagne since 1927: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. Standards have also been enforced for pruning, height, spacing and density of the vines, to ensure the ability to harvest by hand. Strict regulations are enforced all through Europe to cover all stages of Champagne’s production, from cultivation to bottling. Every single step of the process, from the way to grow each of the three grape varieties, to the positioning of the vines, to the method of winemaking and its aging process, to the demarcation of the vineyards, is strictly controlled by French law.

Next time you’re browsing the store shelves for a bottle of Champagne, keep an eye out for American versions that might be attempting to utilize the Champagne name, erroneously. If straight-up sparkling wine simply won’t do, make sure to pick up a bottle of bubbly from none other than the Champagne region itself.

To date, 13 of the world’s most renowned wine regions have signed a declaration to protect winemaking location names:

  • Champagne
  • Chianti Classico
  • Jerez/Sherry
  • Napa Valley
  • Oregon
  • Paso Robles
  • Port
  • Sonoma County
  • Walla Walla
  • Washington
  • Tokaj
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia



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