The soil in Champagne
Numerous benefits for both the vines and future Champagne
Champagne also harbours secrets galore below ground
A tour of Champagne includes the things we can see: its hillsides, villages, vines gently rustling in the breeze and growers busy at work. But it also includes what we can't see, below ground, and this is every bit as important!
Deep in the Champagne subsoil are myriad features that have a direct influence on Champagne wine. If it is planted in another type of subsoil, the same grape variety, although planted at the same latitude, will not produce the same Champagne – even if it is made in exactly the same way.
Ready to travel back in time? 90 million years to be exact. Back then, oceans covered every surface of land. Sediments (rock deposits) tossed about by the oceans settled on the seabed, piling up to as much as 200 metres in height!
Fast-forward 70 million years, and the Paris Basin, the geological region covering most of the northern half of France, gradually sank in the centre under the weight of the accumulated sediments. Various types of rock then surfaced in successive layers.
The secrets of the Champagne subsoil
Regional differences in subsoil, for the same designation
In Champagne, the outcrops of sedimentary rock are 75% limestone, composed of chalk, marl and limestone proper. This type of subsoil is porous, thus allowing for good drainage. It therefore provides vines with excellent growing conditions, as their roots will stay dry and, in turn, this helps to increase grape quality.
Even though the region’s subsoil also comprises other sediments, the Champagne vines thrive best on chalk. But what exactly is chalk and how did it form? It is made up of fragments of marine micro-organisms deposited millions of years ago. Being highly porous, it acts as a reservoir (storing 300-400 litres of water per m3). This ensures that the vines have a steady supply of water even in the driest summers.
What’s more, chalk draws in water through capillary action, naturally regulating the vine’s water consumption. This water stress in growing season achieves that delicate balance of ripeness, acidity and berry aroma potential.
There is an ideal soil for each grape variety
The choice of Champagne planting is based on compatibility with the nature of the local soil. Three varieties are particularly well suited and therefore made the cut: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier.
Depending on the soil types across the different regions in the Champagne production area – whether marl, chalk or hard limestone – one grape variety will be chosen over another: accordingly, Chardonnay is mainly grown in Côte des Blancs as well as Côte de Sézanne. The vines in Montagne de Reims, the eastern part of the Marne Valley and in Côte des Bar are planted with Pinot Noir. Last but not least, Meunier is cultivated in the western part of the Marne Valley.