Cellars Armand de Brignac Champagne
The glittering cellars of Armand de Brignac Champagne
What is so special about Champagne that the many of us instinctively but incorrectly call any Sparkling Wine a ‘Champagne’? The answer has its origin in the 18th century when the famous French Benédictine monk called Dom Pérignon stumbled upon an effervescent wine that he intended producing as a still red wine- and euphorically called out to his assistant – “come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”- words that have now been etched in history.


Billecart-Salmon cellars
Ageing bottles at Champagne Billecart-Salmon

In the present day, the same production method is known as Méthode Champenoise, when the wine is made in Champagne, and Méthode Traditionelle when made elsewhere. The method involves double fermentation of wine, once in the fermentation vats and the second time within the bottle wherein the carbon-dioxide produced during the secondary fermentation gets assimilated into the wine, giving Champagne it’s trademark sparkle.

Billecart-Salmon fermentation room
Maintenance of fermentation tanks at Champagne Billecart-Salmon
Bollinger barrel yard
Barrels outside Champagne Bollinger cooperage
Cattier Champagne cellars
Cattier Champagne cellars

For a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, the wine must be produced in the geographically demarcated Champagne region of France, and adhere to the production norms formalised by the French Government. The region has 33,500 hectares of vineyards sub classified into 17 Grands Crus and 44 Premiers Crus. The three grape varietals permissible in the production of Champagne are- Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay.


Quite recently On 4 July 2015, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Bonn (Germany), took the decision to include the Coteaux, Maisons and Caves de Champagne (Champagne hillsides, houses and cellars) on its World Heritage list- a recognition long overdue and well deserved.


Champagne Bollinger pre phylloxera vineyard
Pre phylloxera grapes at vineyard situated atop Champagne Bollinger cellars
The commune of Hautvillers – the erstwhile abode of Dom Pérignon – as seen from the road from Reims to Mareuil-sur-Aÿ
Château de la Marquetterie vineyards
Sampling Taittinger Champagne in the vineyards surrounding Château de la Marquetterie

As a winner of the Champagne Scholarship India, I had the privilege to be sponsored on a study tour to  Champagne, by  Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC)-  a semi autonomous public body representing the interests of independent Champagne producers and Champagne houses. During this trip, I had the opportunity to visit prestigious Champagne houses viz. Billecart-Salmon, Taittinger, Cattier, Michel Gonet and Bollinger as also the CIVC headquarters. The images alongside attempt to chart my Champagne experience.

Billecart-Salmon barrels
Wine ageing in barrels at Champagne Billecart-Salmon