The History of Champagne
In this article we wil look at the history of Champagne and some of the more famous Champagne houses you may or may not be familiar with. Before we start, if you would like to look at our family produced Champagne that can be personalised, please click HERE.
The association of Reims and fine wines and Champagnes dates back to around AD 496 when King Clovis was baptised at the Cathedral of Reims. They celebrated the occasion with wines that were produced in the Champagne district.
As a result of this the Champagne area has long been associated with royalty, and of course fine Champagne.
It would be a long time until a custommade bottle of champagne gift would be available as the Champagne we know today wasn’t developed until the back end of the 1800’s, when the likes of Dom Perignon helped refine the processes that make the great drink we love today. Soon enough sparkling wine was the go to drink for royalty and the other courts in Europe soon followed suit.
In order to appreciate the fine drink that is Champagne I believe you must visit the Champagne houses in the area to understand the full picture. Many important influences take place to ensure that your Champagne tastes as good as it does.
For example, it is the terroir than is reponsible for the character in the flavour, while the ageing process enhances the flavour. The most important factor for the quality of your bottle of Champagne however, is the methods and techniques employed by the Champagne house, and how they mix the three main grape varieties being Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.
In my opinion these are some of the best Champagne houses to visit if you are looking for some background information that makes up your bottle of Champagne.
The birth of this fine Champagne house can be pinpointed to when Nicolas Francois Billecart got married to Elizabeth Salmon, Billecart was a wine merchant and Salmon owned her own vineyard which proved to be a match made in heaven. This fine Champagne house is now a 6th generation producer and makes approximately 2 million bottles every year, and distributes to over 90 countries across the world.
They have around 70 acres of vineyards at their disposal, and is aimed at the luxury end of the market with expensive hotels and Michelin starred restaurants being high consumers.
Top Champagne Brand
The current manager of the business is Francois Roland-Billecart and lives onsite amongst the vineyards, and this is something which you rarely see these days, and these little factors all help when choosing a bottle of Champagne.
Their house is beautiful as you would expect, and they have a fantastic walled garden where there are numerous lime trees, perfectly manicured lawns and boxwood. What you see gives you a sense of elegance and class which is reflected in the fine Champagne that they produce.
Their top selling line is the Brut Rose, and this has won numerous awards and has been in production for almost 200 years. The blend of grapes consists of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, and the popularity is ever increasing due to the light berry aromas present in the fine Champagne.
The standout luxury Champagne that they produce is entitled Le Clos Saint-Hilaire, and the name comes from the saint relating to the church at Mareuil-sur-Ay, and this is a white wine that is produced from the grapes of Pinor Noir only. It was introduced as recently as 2003 and a meagre 7,000 bottles are produced each year.
A must do during this visit is the 2 mile cellar which is home to approximately 5 million bottles. It dates back to the 19th Century and this is on a site that itself dates back to the 17th Century.
J de Telmont
This fine Champagne house is regarded by many as one of the friendliest and most personal Champagne houses. These qualities are somewhat of a rarity when keeping a low profile and maintaining the House secrets are paramount. The house was founded fairly recently as far as Champagne houses are concerned as it dates back to only 1912.
It is now a fourth generation business and is known for having open relationships with the consumers. They open the vineyard to the public during harvest which takes place in September, this allows the visitors to enter the fields and see close up exactly what takes place. They will often hold a workshop, this is for 10-15 people or so and often there will be pairings of cheese and Champagne.
Another great idea is that it allows the visitors to have a personalised bottle, not in the sense of a customised bottle of Champagne though. The personalisation is more in the sense of blending and tasting, so they can make their own Champagne.
Forward Thinking Champagne
The company constantly looks forward, which is something of a family tradition. Bertand Lhopital is the current owner, and at university he studied agricultural engineering and has embarked on a new project that he is very passionate about. This is a more hostile version of organic production. Champagne production for him is less about mass production but more about creating a unique experience for each customer.
He knows that any Champagne, the experience starts when opening the bottle. he is trying to correct the fact that many people don’t know about Champgne, other than it is a fancy drink which people drink at special occasions. This is part of the reason he is opening the cellars up to the public, so they can visit and learn in their experience.
You are certain to be impressed by the sheer size of the grounds, buildings and vineyards at Nicolas Feuillatte. The company is very business oriented and forward thinking, and in terms of facilities and setup it is a very modern approach that they take. If we take the figures relating to the Champagne industry, we see that in 2016 around £4billion worth of Champagne was produced, with around £2.3billion of it for export.
These figures show that Champagne making is now a serious and also lucrative market, so solely employing traditional methods may not be entirely possible.
Large Champagne Producer
Nicolas Feuillatte, when it comes to c0-op are the largest in the area with over 5,000 growers contributing to their fine Champagne. In terms of market they are the third largest in the world, behind the top Champagne brands veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon with an annual production of 11 million bottles a year.
These figures are especially impressive considering the fact that they were only founded in 1987. Julie Campos who is the CEO of the company and says that their success is down to being a dynamic brand. Another factor behind their success was making their product available to supermarkets, and it was in this period that France saw the emergence of the mega supermarkets and this went hand in hand with their development.
These mega supermarkets are commonplace these days and you will see a vast array of Champagnes available to purchase.
This top Champagne house was founded back in 1772 when Philippe Cliquot-Muiron married the daughter of a wine merchant. They had a son who went on to control the business and he married Barbe, wo was the daughter of Nicolas Ponsardin back in 1798.
Unfortunately he died suddenly, and at this point Madame Clicquot took control of the business and this is when the brand Veuve Clicquot was born (veuve meaning widow).
Innovative Champagne Business
Madame Clicquot is regarded as a revolutionary in Champagne terms as she is the one that is acclaimed to have invented the riddling rack, which of course is a fundamental component when it comes to making a bottle of Champagne. Not only that but she also invented the rosé Champagne, so you can fully appreciate how important this Champagne house has been in the evolution of the Champagne that we know today.
She was both innovative and passionate, this was seen with the fact that she tried using red pinot noir, previously it had been done by adding elderberry to the white Champagne.
Traditional Champagne House
Veuve Clicquot now of course is part of the LVMH group and has been since 1987 – the interior of the Champagne house is both sophisticated and sleek, a lot in common with the fine Champagne they produce many would argue. It is worth a visit if only for the legacy and history that comes with this great Champagne house, and if you do decide to go, make sure you visit the chalk cellars, an absolute ‘must visit.’ These cellars trace their history back to the Middle Ages, and it wasn’t until 1909 that they were used as Champagne cellars.
These cellars stretch out for some 24 kilometres and has a constant temperate of 10-12 degrees, a perfect temperature for your bottle of Champagne. They also served their purpose during the first world war, as they were also used as a shelter in this period.
Another item you must try to see is an antique bottle which was found in the Föglö wreck in 2010. From this wreckage 46 Veueve Clicquot bottles were recovered from a boat which dated back to the 19th century.
The origins of this top Champagne house date back to 1812, and it was André-Michel Pierlot who had experience from the bottling industry that decided to start producing his own Champagne in Tours-sur-Marne. When he passed away there was no heir to the Champagne house and so the cellar master, Eugène Laurent took control. Upon his death in 1887 it was his wife who was called Mathilde Perrier who took over, and it was at this point that the name Laurent Perrier came into existence.
The character of the house has arisen through the current owners, who are two sisters named Stéphanie and Alexandra and their father who we know as Bernard de Nonancourt. Nowadays the use of stainless steel containers is almost obligatory, and it was Nonancourt who was the first to leave behind the oak barrels, a move which caused must consternation at the time. And it was through using stainless steel that hygiene and a fresh taste was became possible for your bottle of Champagne.
Today Laurent Perrier continues to stand apart from the crowd as they are the only Champagne house that produces rosé wine through the use of Pinot Noir. They also set themselves apart from the rest by the fact that over half of their wines use only Chardonnay, a move which keeps their bottle of Champagne elegant and fresh.
Prince Charles is a known admirer of their Cuvée Rosé, to the point where Laurent-Perrier is regarded as his favourite Champagne of all, and because of this you will often see Laurent-Perrier being served at events that are connected to the royal family.
The house looks like a manoir and the cellar that stretches 9 miles containing over 25 million bottles is quite a sight, but currently it’s only open to VIPs and industry professionals. When I spoke to the house representatives they said that public visits might be under consideration after an extensive refurbishment of the house. Something to keep in mind.
The house itself is very grand, and just the sort of place you would expect a bottle of Champagne to be made. Their cellar stretches out a full 9 miles and has over 25 million bottles contained within them. This part however is only open for industry professionals and VIPs. They are open to allowing the public to visit at some point in the future, but they are undergoing an extensive refurbishment which put to the side any plans to open it up.
As the history books write it, the whole Champagne story began with Dom Ruinart, he was a Benedictine monk, who had the foresight to think that a sparkling wine could be seen favourably by the public. His nephew continued his vision, and it was in 1729 that the oldest Champagne house in the world was established.
Nicolas Ruinart was known as a shrewd businessman, and this was evidenced with his desire to create a totally new wine, one with bubbles of course. Back then this fine drink wasn’t called Champagne, but it soon started attracting attention, most notably from Louis XVIII – so much so that the family was granted a court of arms, which you will still see on the Champagne that you buy today.
Oldest Champagne House
Their quarries date back some 2,000 years, although they have only been used as cellars when the house was formed. They stretch some 8 kilometres and the sheer history behind it makes this a great house to visit.