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Sloping vineyards are so much a feature of Champagne that in the 17th century its wines were known as ‘vin de coteaux’ (wine of the slopes). The undulating to moderately steep terrain creates ideal vineyard sites that combine good drainage with excellent exposure to sunlight.
Vines carpet the slopes as far as the eye can see, extending from the wooded crests to the picturesque villages nestling in the valley beneath.
Average gradient is 12 % but some of the slopes are as steep as 59 %.
For centuries, the hillsides of Champagnes have favoured viticulture because high elevations receive greater intensity of sunlight than lower elevations at the same latitude. Planting the vineyards on predominantly south-, southeast- and east-facing slopes takes maximum advantage of this feature.
The hillsides of the Champagne region were formed as the centre of the Paris Basin gradually sank under the weight of accumulated sediments, with up-thrusting along its northern and eastern sides.
The newly formed hills then came under attack from erosion, most notably in the Ice Age as repeated periods of freezing and thawing (glacials and interglacials) shattered the limestone rocks, wearing down the steepest slopes to produce the gently rolling landscape you see today.
The main hills formed in the up-thrusting of the Paris Basin are:
Downcutting by the rivers Marne and Seine and their tributaries further fashioned the Côte de l’Ile-de-France :