Pressoir en champagne

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 vines

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. 

in pictures

The vines

Tirage en Champagne
Tirage en Champagne
Tirage en Champagne
Vigne en Champagne
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Grape to juice

The press 

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.  

in pictures

The press

Pressoir en Champagne
Pressoir en Champagne
Pressoir en Champagne
Pressoir en Champagne
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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!

"This is where the process of turning raw grapes into great Champagne wine begins"

in pictures

The fermentation room

Cuverie Champagne
Cuverie Champagne
Cuverie Champagne
Cuverie Champagne
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When the wine becomes Champagne...

From the fermentation cellar to the bottle

The wine continues its epic journey in a new place. Its next stop after the vat is the bottle, where it will become sparkling – this is called the "prise de mousse" stage. 

The wine is bottled using bottling machines on bottling lines which can be of varying length and more or less automated.

Bottling is strictly regulated: by law, it cannot take place before the first day of January following the harvest.

in pictures

Bottling

Tirage en Champagne
Tirage en Champagne
Tirage en Champagne
Tirage en Champagne
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bouteilles

Champagne culture

The Champagne bottle, so much more than just a container

A Champagne bottle must meet very strict specifications and forms an integral part of the Champagne production process. It can only be made of glass and must be able to withstand very high pressure since the fizz in the Champagne (to make it sparkling) will be captured inside it.

The Champagne bottle 

The end of the first journey

The Champagne wine cellars

Impossible to say how many miles of wine cellars there are beneath the surface of the Champagne hills. Even though attempts have been made to work it out! This was particularly done when the nomination file was submitted to UNESCO for registration of the Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars on its World Heritage list… But given the sheer size and complexity of the task, it had to be abandoned. The Champagne wine cellars thus remain as mysterious today as they have always been... 

Slumbering deep within them, the Champagne bottles gradually develop their subtle characteristics and aromas there, stacked "sur lattes": horizontally, row upon row. 

Protected from the light, the bottles will stay there for a long spell, how long will depend on the Champagne the producer has in mind. This is where they will go through a second fermentation stage, known as "prise de mousse" (when they become bubbly) before beginning their proper maturation cycle. 

Some cellars are symbolic of the Champagne region: this is the case of the chalk quarries where cellars have been hollowed directly out into the chalk. Incidentally, these have been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2015. 

These monumental underground chalk cellars and the miles upon miles of galleries are fascinating and truly a wonder to behold. Don’t miss out on a chance to see them, for an immersive, captivating, mysterious – almost mystical – experience!

in pictures

The wine cellars

Cave de Champagne
Cave de Champagne
Cave de Champagne
Cave de Champagne
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Cave et bouteilles

Champagne culture

It’s a bit cool in here, isn't it?

To age at their best, wines need a steady, cool temperature. Thanks to their temperature which stays at around 12°C, Champagne cellars provide an ideal ageing environment.
Under the regulations, non-vintage wines must be aged in a cellar for at least 15 months and vintage wines for at least 3 years, from the date on which they are bottled. In practice, they tend to be left for a few more years, so that they have all the time they need to develop their unique personality.

Not every so-called champagne is real Champagne!

Champagne only becomes Champagne after journeying through these different places. Because these stages must all be followed, right here in these iconic places, Champagne cannot be imitated outside of its own region.

This production process and the places where it unfolds form part of the protected elements in the context of Champagne designation.

Delve into the designation