Vineyards in Champagne
Now is the time to visit vineyards in Champagne, producers of the wine, and it’s spectacular towns. See story
This photo shows the residue built up in the capped bottle. This is a waste product of fermentation that occurred in the bottle. Yeast was introduced into the bottle and then the bottle was capped. This creates the bubbles in sparkling wine. The CO is a by-product of fermentation and is trapped because of the bottle cap. The residue can be moved by hand or mechanically to the neck of the bottle. Once the bottle is ready, the residue in the neck is frozen. The cap is removed and the CO2 ejects the frozen residue from the bottle. The lost wine juice is replaced and then the cork is inserted into the bottle. The photo above was taken in a small village in the Champagne region of France. So this is real Champagne. The difference between Champagne and sparkling wine: Only sparkling wine made in the official wine region of Champagne can be labeled Champagne. Sparkling wine is essentially made the same way wherever Sparkling wine is made, whether it be in Italy, Spain, or California. The main difference is where the grapes originate. In Champagne, it is all about the limestone soil and rather cool climate conditions.
It is best when you visit the Champagne region that you find your way off the A4 highway that leads to Reims; find the Champagne Wine Route that travels through many a small village where one can discover many small Champagne producers. Some of the most beautiful views of the Champagne vineyards are on these less traveled roads. We got a tip from winemaker Ludovic Dubric at Mumm Napa to visit a Champagne producer in the village of Verzenay. To get to Verzenay, we head out from our Le Breuil rental home and head along the backroads towards Epernay and then the N51 north toward Reims. About halfway there, we turn right on D26 and head to Verzenay.
It seems that each day of our French exploration we get an unexpected pleasant surprise and on this day it is no different. We have arranged a 10:30 appointment, and when we arrive in the salon at Janisson and Sons, we are greeted by none other than Manuel Janisson, the winemaker, and owner of the this impressive Champagne House. Manuel is the third generation in the Janisson Family to run the winery. For many generations the family were growers, and it was Manuel’s grandfather who in 1925 decided the family should start making Champagne from their prized vineyards.
Luckily for us, there is a respected Japanese wine buyer, who represents several importers in Japan, with us in the tasting room. Manuel opens all the bottles of Champagne that he has available in his inventory for us to taste. Seiji, the friendly and knowledgeable Japanese wine buyer, joins us in the tasting. Manuel explains that his vineyards in Verzenay are Grand Cru vineyards. We learn that there are three designations of villages in the Champagne regions. The highest is Grand Cru, followed by Premiere Cru, and finally Cru. These designations began in 1945.
All the Janisson Champagne wines we taste are beautiful wines with distinct flavors and nuances. It’s the chalky soils here that give these wines these beautiful characteristics. The Grand Cru Reserve Brut stands out among the wines we taste. It is a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru vineyards of Verzenay. We don’t see any signs of a price list, so we are unsure of the price range of the Champagne wines we taste. Following an hour of conversation and tasting, we take a brief tour of the cellars to view the stainless steel tanks and get a taste of the 2010 vintage harvested just a couple of weeks ago. Manuel thinks because of the unusual growing season, 2010 is going to be a spectacular vintage. He will know for sure in another three months.
At the conclusion of our tasting and tour, we ask Manual if we can purchase some wines. He leads us to the cellar where he hands us two bottles of Champagne and tells us to enjoy them on him and have an enjoyable stay in Champagne.
Our French wine excursion now moves to the Champagne region where we have rented a house just outside the small village of Le Breuil, about 25 miles from Epernay and on the western edge of the great Champagne Wine Route. Like our rental house in Obernai, we found this house on the Web. Its owner has christened the house “La Ravenne.” The photos on the website look great, but as we approach this house from the D23 Highway, we are stunned at its beauty against the hillside and vineyards. The house is much more than we’d expected, with breathtaking views from every window in the house. The La Ravenee house will present us with a grand time in Champagne!
Our first full day in Champagne is a Sunday and, like most cities in Europe, just about everything is closed. We are surprised how few people are out and about on a Sunday. We drive the small village roads in search of small Champagne producers, but everyone is closed up tight. Finally, as we get near to the house in Le Breuil, we drive along a few of the side streets and find a Champagne House called Roger Depit. The door to the cellar is open, but no one is around. Soon a Madame appears from an adjacent home, and we explain that we are interested in tasting and purchasing some champagne. Despite being exhausted from the previous day’s work, she lights up and welcomes us. She spends more than an hour with us showing us her cave and production facilities. There are thousands of these small producers throughout the small villages in the Champagne region. This is their life, livelihood, and passion. They toil year-round to make a go of their business. Roselyne and Roger Depit own this 1000-case winery and have been in production for 25 years. We purchase four different bottles of their Champagne priced between 12 and 15 Euros each. What a deal is knowing how pricey Champagne can be.
The vineyards of Champagne are all manicured and are small in height. The rows are planted very close to one another, perhaps only 3 to 4 feet apart. The winemakers want the vines to struggle for nutrients and grow deep to absorb the mineral elements of the earth. Three grape varieties are grown for Champagne: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. Unfortunately for us, all the harvest was completed a week ago, and we have missed all the excitement and activities associated with the crush. The juice is now either fermenting or resting in stainless steel tanks. But for us, it is fascinating just to be visiting this beautiful and famous wine country.