Viticulture was known to this area since Roman times, but the region goes famous mainly for the wines it produces since the 17th century, which bear its name: champagne!
This region borders on the North with Belgium, extends over about 34,000 hectares and includes four departments: Ardenne, Aube, Marne and Haut-Marne. More than 60% of the territory is dedicated to agriculture, one of the most highly mechanized in France. The climate is temperate, with a mild oceanic influence, all conditions that, in summer, allow the champagne grapes to gradually ripen to the proper degree. The soil in which the vines grow is chalky, easily retains moisture and holds excess water down.
The origins of the Champagne vineyards date several centuries back. Their first creation is considered to be due to the Benedictine abbeys of Saint-Pierre-aux-Monts, in Châlons-en-Champagne, and of Saint-Pierre Hautvillers. The latter was founded in 650 AD by the Archbishop of Reims, Saint Nivard. It was here that the monk Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638– 1715) developed the method for the elaboration of champagne by assembling several varieties of the Pinot family.
The main three are:
- Chardonnay, a white grape which gives the wine a fresh and delicate taste, typical of the Côtes des Blancs and called blanc de blancs; - Pinot Noir, a black grape with colourless pulp that produces a white juice, because the skins do not have the time to tint the juice during the pressing process; it adds to the bouquet a robust taste; - Pinot Meunier, also a black grape with colourless pulp, produces a wine similar to the Pinot Noir, but more fruity. Thus the most famous of white wines is mostly made with black grapes. Other traditional varieties also used for champagne are Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot de Juilliet, Pinot Gris Vrai (also called "Fromenteau") and Pinot Blanc Vrai. Their cultivation is limited to small areas that extend just over a few hectares. The Champagne wines are fresh and light, and must be served at a temperature of 11 Celsius degrees. Only wines from the Champagne area have the official right to be called champagne, everything else is creme, cava, or spumante.