The sites where Champagne is made
From the vineyard to the press, find out about the places that bring Champagne to life
The process that a grape must go through to become Champagne lasts for many months and comprises several key stages. These are carried out in different places: find out about them!
Where everything begins
The Champagne wine region is awash with rivers and elegantly rolling hillsides carpeted in neat rows of vines.
And yet, vines are wild creepers at heart. If they are not pruned and maintained, they would sprout foliage and shoots galore, but little in the way of fruit. That’s why the growers must spend all year pruning, pampering and protecting them from bad weather and from disease, in the hope that they will be rewarded with a bountiful harvest of ripe, healthy grapes, thus bringing out the very best in the Champagne terroir.
An unusual climate that can give the Champagne vines a tough time
The Champagne wine-growing region is bathed in a dual climate subject to both continental and oceanic influences. This is an unusual climate that benefits the vines in many ways, but which requires the growers to adapt constantly. Frost, storms, rain... the vines are exposed to all sorts of weather hazards which can jeopardise yields.
Grape to juice
Immediately after being picked, the grapes are taken to the pressing centre, where they will be put into a press.
Until the end of the 1980s, traditional, manually-operated vertical presses were standard throughout the region. They still account for 20% of presses in use today, but mechanisation has paved the way to new, computer-operated horizontal presses.
Distributed right across the Champagne production area, pressing centres have moved with the times and some are now semi-buried so as not to be an eyesore on the landscape.
Depending on the winery, champagne presses can range in capacity from 2,000kg all the way up to 12,000kg of whole grapes!
Nothing is left to chance in the presses either
In the same way as all the stages in the Champagne-making process, pressing is regulated by the specifications of the Champagne designation. What makes this even more essential is that Champagne makers are unique in producing a white wine using predominantly black-skinned grapes (Pinot noir and Meunier; only Chardonnay is a white grape).
The only way they can do that is by stopping the grape juice from macerating in contact with the skins.
From grape juice to wine
The Champagne fermentation cellars
After pressing, the grape juice is ready to be turned into proper wine as it were, within another iconic Champagne site: the fermentation cellar. This is where primary (alcoholic) fermentation takes place: yeast turns the naturally occurring sugar in the grape juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It is also here that the wine is slowly going to begin developing certain aromas.
Primary, or alcoholic, fermentation can be done in oak (casks or tuns – huge wooden barrels, for example). But most producers now use stainless steel vats which can be thermostatically controlled. Depending on the size of the winery, these fermentation rooms can be big or small. But the large-capacity vats they contain are always an impressive sight! So next time you’re visiting Champagne, do make a trip to see one!