The Champagne Region
The Champagne region is an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée), based on two key characteristics: assuring place of origin of each product and its method of production.
Understanding the importance of regionality and terroir of Champagne is a tacit of collective heritage and unique terroir which leading manufacturers have devoted considerable energy to creating a history and identity for their wine.
It is not the largest wine-growing region, but it is undoubtedly the most famous. Champagne is divided into 4 main growing regions; Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte de Blancs together with Côte de Sézanne, and Côte des Bar at times referredto as the Aube.
The latter creates the interest for this article as an intriguing region in the south of Champagne some 70 miles (100 kilometres) south of Epernay and Reims.
The Côte Des Bar Sub-Region
Côte des Bar is vast; making up more than 20 percent of the appellation in its 17,000 acres and is steeped in history.
Troyes, its capital city, was the seat of the counts of Champagne in the Middle Ages, and remained the capital of the province of Champagne up until the revolution.
This department in Champagne was looked upon with disparagement by its northerly neighbours (the likes of the Montagne de Reims and Côte des Blancs) and endeavoured to exclude them from the Champagne appellation.
The Champagne appellation was a process that lasted more than 30 years, from 1905 to 1936, and included a step-by-step process for determining the Champagne vineyards boundaries. When the Champagne AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée)was first drawn up in 1908; the glaring exclusion was of the Aube region.
The Aubois protested their displeasure against this decision. The Aube, located south of the Marne, was closer to the Burgundy region in terms of soil and location and the growers of the Marne viewed the region as “foreign” and not capable of producing true Champagne but the Aubois viewed themselves as Champenoise and clung to their historical roots.
The Aube producers demonstrated their resolve in the 1911 riots which tore through Champagne with fervour to create recognition to the region and were ultimately taken in as part of the Champagne appellation in 1927.
Conversely included as a deuxième zone, allowing to produce wine yet accorded less prestige than the Marne; none of its vineyards were designated grand cru or even premier cru.
However today it is prized for its excellent production of Pinot Noir and micro climate conditions; contributing to greater ripening qualities. This is a quality that certain Champagne Houses seek in creating fuller styles with a richer cuvée.
The Côte des Bar Terroir
Climate and hills of hard limestone soils are quantifying factors to the production of grapes in the Côtedes Bar region.
It is influenced by two major climatic zones: Atlantic influences coming from the west, bringing rain, and continental influences with more extreme temperatures.
Apart from undesirable late spring frosts, this combination produces the necessary moisture and heat combination for ripening grapes.
The fact that the Aube vineyards are at the southern extremity of Champagne improves the maturity of its grapes,
The soils were formed during the Kimmeridgean phase of the secondary era. They are essentially made up of calcareous marls, of the type that are also to be found under the vineyards of Chablis and Sancerre. On the slopes the soils are especially rich in stony limestone elements which help the soils to drain freely.
With the exception of a small area around Montgueux, near to Troyes where you find Chardonnay grapes,sought by large houses in other regions of Champagne. The vineyards in Côte des Bar are planted almost exclusively with Pinot Noir grapes the rest is Chardonnay – 7% and Meunier 5% and producing on average 60 million bottles of champagne.
Many champagne houses seek out wines from the Aube to bring a fresher, lighter touch to their blends. This area’s Pinot Noir aids the style in producing rich and textured wines while retaining acidity and freshness.
Not only famous for its champagne production another most notable reason is Riceys, source of the little-known and little-seen but once famous Rosé de Riceys, a favourite of Louis XIV apparently.
Rosé des Riceysis an AOC in Champagne locatedin the three villages of Les Riceys, a commune in the Aube département in the Champagne province of France. The wines are all rosé, produced from the pinot noir grape.
Some notable Champagne Houses’ have made this region their ‘je ne sais quoi‘ to their assemblages.
When the late, great Daniel Thibault; cellar master of Piper-Heidsieck set about to improve the house style; his two major innovations were firstly the introduction of malolactic fermentation, to give the wine a rounder more accessible wine and secondly the addition of a greater proportion of wines from the Côte des Bar. Thibault made use of these wines as they gave wines more fullness, making the wines more approachable at an earlier stage.
At present DRAPPIER, one of the finest boutique champagne producers in the world, is the best example of these, producing full-bodied, generously flavored Champagnes that offer an excellent introduction to the region.
With an annual production of 1.6 million bottles, DRAPPIER is based in Urville, sitting over an original cellars that traces back to 1152. They are among the oldest and most extensive in Europe and were the only cellars that weren’t damaged during the two world wars or the fires that raced through the area in the 1950’s.
The Côte des Bar has proved itself to the champagne region creating a distinct style to Champagne House blends.
With the changing tastes of consumers and new small champagne pioneers wanting to boast their terroir to the public through their winemaking skills with quality wines, this dynamic region is a welcome addition the rich tapestry of Champagne.