cham·pagne/SHamˈpān : a sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France following rules that demand secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation.
The term champagne is reserved exclusively for sparkling wines that come from Champagne and are produced under the rules of the appellation. The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Champagne appellation law only allows grapes grown according to appellation rules in specifically designated plots within the appellation to be used in the production of Champagne. Some sparkling wines produced in other regions of the world use other grapes. Champagne first gained world renown because of its association with the anointment of French kings. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine from Champagne and its association with luxury and power in the 17th, 18th and 19th century.
On a recent trip to Europe, I decided to pass through Épernay. Épernay is located 130km North east of Paris and is the home of Champagne. The streets are narrow and irregular and contain many villas belonging to rich wine merchants. The most famous street in Épernay is the “Avenue de Champagne” which features the leading Champagne manufacturers such as Pol Roger, Moët et Chandon, Mercier and De Castellane. Residents say that this avenue is the most expensive in the world because of the millions of bottles of champagne stored in the kilometres of cellars beneath it. Moët et Chandon being the largest house has over 20 kilometers of cellars alone. It is said that anywhere you go in Champagne, you will be walking on top of someones cellar.
Founded in 1818 by husband and wife Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon, the Billecart-Salmon House is rich with history. For nearly two hundred years, the Billecart family has been handing down the secrets to making exceptional champagne from generation to generation. The House covers around 50 hectares, and gets its grapes from a total of 170 hectares of land.
A tour of the property included seeing the old-fashioned manual grape press (which is still used on some of the smaller vintages), the more modern storage tanks and the lab. The unique thing about this Champagne house is that they ferment the grapes at a much lower temperature than most. The results take longer but you end up with an amazing very refined aeration rather than something resembling a can of soda.
Next was probably my favourite part (except for the tasting at the end of course); heading down into the cellars. This chalk underground offered so much sense of history, in a region that had been so lively with war; it was a safe haven for the thousands of bottles that now lay peacefully in hibernation.
Billecart-Salmon has just 3 kilometers of cellar. In comparison to other houses, this is relatively small but it is still a phenomenal experience to walk through them.