Upcoming on this blog: profiles of Champagne villages

Verzenay is a village classified grand cru, and it is located on the northeastern side of the Montagne de Reims hill. The lighthouse in the background is the Phare de Verzenay, which is the home of a Champagne museum. The picture is linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by Pline, 2012).

For some time, I’ve had a number of half-finished eofiles of villages in Champagne in the folder for draft blog entries. They include a short description of the location of the village and its vineyard surface, a simple map of the surroundings (based on OpenStreetMap), and a list of Champagne producers in the village. In some cases I’ve also included descriptions of notable vineyards and various monuments located in the village. The purpose has not been to write a travel guide, though, so there will not be any lists of all restaurants or hotels.

The first profiles were initially drafted in late 2013, and from time to time I’ve added more, but until know I haven’t made any of them available since I wasn’t sure about the best way of using them. I have been thinking that some sort of wiki format would be the most suitable, making it possible to click between the villages, rather than the regular blog post format that highlights recent additions. It’s apparently possible to get WordPress to look like a wiki, but so far I haven’t investigated this further. In order to produce a useful wiki format, my idea was that the village pages should be tied together with summary descriptions of the various (sub)regions and ideally with profiles of the major producers, although this latter idea quickly started to feel like it would end up in a gigantic book-sized project as well as something that has already been written several times over. To make a wiki structure meaningful, it would be a good idea to have a reasonable number of pages to navigate between when it “goes live”. That’s why it felt like a reasonable idea to write a number of village profiles in order to reach some kind of “critical mass”.

Now that some time has passed, I’ve reconsidered somewhat. I still believe that the wiki format would be suitable, but I probably won’t come around to getting that done anytime soon. Instead, I’ve planned to polish up a number of village profiles and post them as regular blog entries, to at least make them available in some format. Also, this will compensate for my rather slow rate of “regular” blogging. Since I haven’t done anything about the idea of separate producer profiles, the “polishing up” includes adding a few lines about the most largest or well-known producers in the villages, in those cases that there are any. I will start with a number of villages in the Grande Vallée de la Marne, which is the area around the well-known village of Aÿ. The first village out will be Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, that I will post tomorrow. Further villages will be posted at the rate I have time to polish them up and translate them (I first draft them in Swedish and then translate them to English). My idea is to finish the Grande Vallée de la Marne (nine villages) before I start on another area, and we’ll so what comes next. The 43 villages that I’ve started on so far are all located around the Montagne de Reims, though.

Oger is a grand cru village in the Côte des Blancs, Champagne’s heartland for Chardonnay. The village profile for Oger is likely to take a while to appear, since I haven’t written any Côte des Blancs profile yet. The picture is linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by October Ends, 2011).

I may change to a wiki format in the future, and then reuse the contents of these village profiles, but I don’t have any firm plans about when. This will depend on how much these pages are read, and what reactions I get.

So why have I bothered at all do something like this, considering that there are 319 Champagne villages? Actually, surprisingly little has been written on Champagne using a “wide” village-level coverage, not just in comparison to Burgundy, but also in comparison to e.g. Alsace or Rhône. Broad descriptions of Champagne as a wine region – and those are many – usually satisfy themselves with describing the division into five subregions. A list of grand cru villages or perhaps the grand cru and premier cru villages may be included, with a map of the subregions and these village, and sometimes some of the grand cru villages may be covered a little. However, I have never seen a book on Champagne that even goes to the trouble of describing all 59 grand cru and premier cru villages with at least a sentence each. The typical such book does however spend a couple of hundreds of pages to describe the major producers, and some of them include scores for thousands of Champagnes of old vintages. Of the recent books I’ve checked, the one that has the fullest geographical descriptions is Michael Edwards’ The Finest Wines of Champagne (2009). It is also the only one of the recent books that divide the producer descriptions under geographical headings rather than to just list them from A to Z by name.

Looking at the situation some 20 years ago, it wouldn’t be too surprising to focus rather little at geographical details, considering the dominating position of the large Champagne houses, and their tradition of using grapes from a larger area for most of their cuvées. From the 1990s, though, small growers have received progressively more attention, and an increasing number of them have established themselves as high-class producers. To me, a clear trend in the 2000s is that some small producers outside the most well-known areas, in sometimes pure “outskirts”, have started to make more ambitious Champagnes. As this development progresses, Champagne as a wine region becomes more similar to e.g. Burgundy. In Burgundy, most description put much more emphasis on the villages, at least in those part of the region divided into village-level appellations.

Although most grand cru villages and some of the premier cru villlages are far from unknown, and are rather well frequented by both Champagne geeks and general visitors, I’d say that rather many of the 319 villages are very little known outside their immediate surroundings.

Chamery is a village on the northwestern side of the Montagne de Reims hill. Although it is classified premier cru my guess is that most of those who consider themselves very interested in Champagne (other than those living nearby) will not recognise this village name, or will at least not be able to tell in which part of the Champagne region the village is located. In the background, Écueil is visible. This is also a premier cru village, but a few more may have heard of that village since Savart – one of the new generation of small producers – is located there. The picture is linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by Donarreiskoffer, 2012).

Actually, when we go down below the level when Champagne is divided into five subregions, usually Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, and Côte des Bar, it turns out that different sources actually use somewhat differing subdivisions (e.g., where do the villages between Côte de Sézanne and Côte des Blancs belong?) and sometimes slightly differing names (do we call it Côte de Sézanne or Sézannais?). Furthermore, rather many of the villages on the outskirts of Champagne don’t really fit in to any of those five parts. The first time I was really confronted with this fact was in 2010, when I visited Chartogne-Taillet in the village of Merfy to the northwest of Reims, and then tried to figure which part of Champagne I had visited. This village was located outside the detailed map included in The World Atlas of Wine, and since a couple of kilometers and two motorways separated Merfy from the actual slope of Montagne de Reims, surely it didn’t belong there? In my experience, this type of confusion is less common in other wine regions.

I have chosen to use the subdivision used by Union de Maisons de Champagne (UMC), where Champagne is divided using two levels. First, it is divided into four “regions” (régions, “subregions” may give less confusion if Champagne as a whole is referred to as a wine region and Champagne-Ardennes is an administrative region), and then into 17 “areas” (terroirs). Using this scheme, some of the names are a little longer than we’re used to, but the advantage is that all 319 villages are included. Using this schene, Merfy is located in the area of Massif de Saint-Thierry, which is part of the (sub)region of Montagne & Val de Reims.

Different choices could have been made regarding what information to include in the village profiles. I have aimed to include a complete list of Champagne producers in each village (which doesn’t include grape growers who don’t sell Champagne under their own name), but for most of them I just include the name and a link to their website, if they have one. For the major or otherwise well-known producers, I include some description. For some villages, complete lists of producers can be found on the commune’s website, and lists of producers included in certain organisations can also be found. In most cases, though, I’ve had to “google together” lists, which may mean that the lists aren’t complete, and may not be completely up to date. For example, in some cases it has been difficult to establish if two producers with the same surname (where at least one of them doesn’t have a website) really are two different producers, or actually the same, possibly following a name change after a change of generation.

I’ve made an attempt to sort the producers alphabetically by surname, and to write their names in the same way as they do themselves on their labels (or on their website) with respect to e.g. using the whole first name or an inital, or to include “& Fils”, and then to write it “et fils”, “et Fils”, or “& Fils”. This has turned out to be far from easy, partly because of small producers with a double name where it isn’t clear if it the names are first name + surname or a double surname, and also because some producers actually aren’t fully consistent in how they write their own name.

Those that have general views on the village profiles could write a comment here, or send me an email (see the page “About me”). For opinions about a specific village profile, e.g., if a producer or a well-known vineyard is missing, or if some producer no longer exists, has moved or has changed name, or if I’ve made some other error, it’s probably best to comment directly on that page.

Unlike my regular blog posts, I’ve added a copyright notice on the village profiles. One reason is that I consider to reuse the material in another form in the future, and therefore like to avoid the risk that some of the material has turned up elsewhere. I also think that “encyclopedia-like” text on wine runs a greater risk of being copied or plagiarized than personal tasting botes or write-ups of specific tasting events. So you’re welcome to link to these pages, but I don’t want their content copied without my permission. Am exception if of course those pictures released under a free licence that I use. The picture caption indicates if I’ve linked them from elsewhere.

Swedish version of this post.

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