Would you like a drink? Part II

In honour of my late mother, I’ve been looking into the history and provenance of her favourite (and mine) drink, which was surprisingly interesting, so I’m spreading it over a couple of posts.

In my previous post, I mentioned some of the various villages in the different regions within Champagne and  introduced the concept of  grand cru and premier cru villages.

There are 320 villages in the Champagne region and under the historic system called the Échelle des Crus  each village  (not a specific vineyard or house) is classified based on a rating of 100% – 80%.

The history of the Cru system of classification

The classification of Champagne vineyards developed in mid-20th century as a means of setting the price of grapes grown through the villages of the Champagne wine region. Unlike the classification of Bordeaux wine estates or Burgundy Grand cru vineyards, the classification of Champagne is based on which village the vineyards are located. A percentile system (Échelle des Crus) acts as a pro-rata system for determining grape prices. Vineyards located in villages with high rates will receive higher prices for their grapes than vineyards located in villages with a lower rating. While the Échelle des Crus system was originally conceived as a 1-100 point scale, in practice, the lowest rated villages are rated at 80%. Premier crus villages are rated between 90 and 99 percent while the highest rated villages, with 100% ratings are Grand crus.

The system resulted from a battle royal between (grape) growers and (champagne) producers borne out of the fundamental business issue of supply and demand. A string of circumstances (including several years’ poor weather, poor vintages and the phylloxera epidemic) created a crisis in Champagne which culminated in a the champagne riots of 1910 and 1911 – the French love nothing more than a good protest!

The system isn’t without controversy, with many winemakers arguing it is not a direct measure of grape or wine quality. Many say having a cru classification applying to an entire village (rather than a vineyard as applies in Burgundy) doesn’t account for variances in terroir…..… but the classification system remains in place.

While the system no longer officially applies for setting grape prices (houses and growers again negotiate with each other), the classifications can still be used by champagne makers for labeling champagnes and marketing purposes.

So what does it all mean?

The logical conclusion is that all the best wines must then be made exclusively with grapes from Grand Cru villages. But this isn’t the case because Champagne is fundamentally a blended wine: blends of grape types, or years or vineyards. While often cuvée de prestige (top product) wines are made exclusively from grand cru villages, many of the great cuvée de prestige wines are made with blends including some grapes from premier cru villages.

Champagne growers are more likely to be single vineyard and if they have grand cru designation, they will label their wines accordingly.

There are two main classifications – grand cru and premier cru.

17 Grand Cru villages are rated at 100%. All the grand cru villages are in the three most regarded districts – nine in the Montagne de Reims, six in the Côte des Blancs and two in the Vallée de la Marne.

  • Ambonnay
  • Avize
  • Ay
  • Beaumont-sur-Vesle
  • Bouzy
  • Chouilly
  • Cramant
  • Louvois
  • Mailly Champagne
  • Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
  • Oger
  • Oiry
  • Puisieulx
  • Sillery
  • Tours-sur-Marne
  • Verzenay
  • Verzy

The 42 Premier Cru are rated 90-99% and the remaining 261 villages in Champagne France are rated between 80 and 89%.

I don’t know about you but I’m thinking a visit to the Champagne region is long overdue.

 

33 thoughts on “Would you like a drink? Part II

  1. Ah nice article of a dear subject to me, actually there are 319, it changes a bit over the years broken down as “319 communes: 39 dans l’Aisne, 63 dans l’Aube, 2 en Haute-Marne, 212 dans la Marne, 3 en Seine et Marne.”
    Enjoy the bubbly !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great read. I don’t drink at all, but I still find reading about the processes involved and visiting wineries to be interesting. I guess I simply appreciate the art and effort involved. 🙂

    That cru system does seem a little arbitrary. I’m not sure how well it could truly handle issues of supply and demand either. In California last year, the glut of everyone thinking they were going to get rich opening their own little winery finally caught up with demand. Some farmers could barely give their grapes away. It literally was that bad. Even in the central valley, which is all reclaimed desert, (and FAR from ideal for wine grapes), there were grape growers and small wineries everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting information about Californian wineries. I’m not particularly knowledgeable either which is why I’m enjoying researching these areas. Once I’ve done France, I’ll spread my wings elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. California has a long history of wineries in Napa and other coastal valleys. Ideal growing conditions there. Christian Brothers Winery has been around since before Prohibition for example. They got to stay in business by selling sacramental wine to churches. The state is the fourth largest wine producer in the world though, which is probably why so many people ignored the bubble I mentioned.

        France has to be fascinating to study though. Some of those wineries and distilleries go back centuries. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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