Nowhere else in the world are you allowed to make a drink called champagne, though many people do, calling it “champan”, “shampanskoye” and all manner of variants. You can blend grape juice harvested from chalk-soil vineyards, double-ferment it, store the result for years at the requisite constant temperature and high humidity in sweating underground caves, turn and tilt the bottles little by little to clear the sediment, add some vintage liqueur, and finally produce a bubbling golden (or pink) liquid; but according to European law you may refer to it only as “méthode traditionnelle”. The jealously guarded monopoly helps keep the region’s sparkling wines in the luxury class, although the locals will tell you the difference comes from the squid fossils in the chalk, the lay of the land and its climate, the evolution of the grapes, the regulated pruning methods and the legally enforced quantity of juice pressed.

Three authorized grape varieties are used: chardonnay, the only white grape, grown best on the Côte des Blancs and contributing a light and elegant element; pinot noir, grown mainly on the Montagne de Reims slopes, giving body and long life; and pinot meunier, cultivated primarily in the Marne valley, adding flowery aromas.

The vineyards are owned either by maisons, who produce the grande marque champagne, or by small cultivators called vignerons, who sell the grapes to the maisons. The vignerons also make their own champagne and will happily offer you a glass and sell you a bottle at two-thirds the price of a grande marque (ask at any tourist office in the Champagne region for a list of addresses). The difference between the two comes down to capital. The maisons can afford to blend grapes from up to sixty different vineyards and to tie up their investment while their champagne matures for several years longer than the legal minimum (one year for non-vintage, three years vintage). So the wine they produce is undoubtedly superior.

If you could visit the head offices of Cartier or Dior, you’d probably find the atmosphere similar to that of the champagne maisons, whose palaces are divided between Épernay and Reims. Visits to the handful that organize regular tours are not free, and most require appointments, but don’t be put off – their staff all speak English and a generous dégustation is thrown in. Their audiovisuals and (cold) cellar tours are on the whole very informative, and do more than merely plug brand names. Local tourist offices can provide full lists of addresses and times of visits.

If you want to work on the harvest, contact any of the maisons direct or (03 177 86 39 49)

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

France features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Christmas markets in Paris: how to plan a festive foray to the French capital

Christmas markets in Paris: how to plan a festive foray to the French capital

Christmas markets in Paris: how to plan a festive foray to the French capital.  Paris is a city in thrall to electric light. From the sparkling stars that fli…

11 Oct 2018 • Jenny Cahill-Jones insert_drive_file Article
The French Alps: summer amongst the peaks

The French Alps: summer amongst the peaks

It's difficult to picture the Alps in your mind's eye without a blanket covering of white. But when the snows melt, another side to the region comes alive. Neil…

31 Aug 2018 • Neil McQuillian local_activity Special feature
Paris off the beaten track

Paris off the beaten track

Paris is the world's most visited city. It draws in a barely comprehensible 30 million travellers each year – and its monuments, museums and galleries are so…

20 Aug 2018 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs