A Guide to Champagne Terroir
7th April 2023
Let us first take a look at the French word of Terroir and define its meaning as there is no actual word it translates into. Synonymous in it’s usage within the wine industry and for many wine professionals, it is the key to what makes a good wine:
Terroir: Origination stories; of the Latin ‘terre’ or ‘territoire’ meaning land/earth and also from the French of ‘terre’, meaning land. It’s usage within the wine sector is in relation to a combination of factors, namely the soils, terrain, climate and production values of a specified region. Example “This Champagne really exhibits the characters of the terroir from this village in Vallee de la Marne.“
Many wine regions globally are quite vast and with that comes much variation in the terroir. These varying terroirs will offer something different to the vines that are grown on them thus the grape juices produced and ultimately the aromas and flavours of the wine in your glass.
Now we understand that wine regions are divided into terroirs, we can understand that wine types, such as Champagne, hold many variations thanks to the soil, the weather, the positioning of vines, the winemaker, the winemakers production techniques. Outside of the grape variety, there are a lot of external influences affecting Champagne!
“When it comes to terroir we are talking about all the influences, outside of grape variety, affecting the Champagne. Such things as soil type, irrigation, steepness of slopes, orientation, oak barrels, malolactic fermentations are all key words that effect the expression of the bubbly wine we all love to drink. Land, location, weather and production are for me the key points to the meaning of terroir.” Christopher Walkey
Champagne is a cool wine growing region which makes it a perfect place to produce sparkling wine which has been the practice of this region for hundreds of years. Around 35,000 hectares of vineyards are in Champagne within some 319 villages – These are all classified in to five main wine growing regions:
Montagne de Reims: Holding the most Grand Cru villages including Bouzy and Verzy. Northern part of the Champagne region famed for it’s hilly terrain and forestry. Some see it as holding the best Pinot Noir examples. Chalk and rock soils.
Vallee de la Marne: Alongside the Marne River which it gets plenty of influence from. Known for being the (Pinot) Meunier growing region. Clay and sand soils.
Cote des Blancs: The ‘Slopes of the White’ if we translate from French so it is not surprising that the white grape of Chardonnay is common. Chalk and rock soil. Holding Grand Cru villages including Avize, Le Mesnil-sur-0ger and Cramant.
Cote de Sezzane: South of Epernay, a smaller area with a clay rich / silt / chalky soil type.
Aube (Cote des Bar): Separated from and south of the main region of Champagne we will find the Aube. Champagnes are seen to be richer and hold more rustic characters. Limestone soil type mostly.
Soil Types in Champagne are mostly chalk, limestone, clay and stone/rock. Champagne wine-growers over the years have worked out which grape varieties grow best on which soil and in which regions so we generally see more of one variety in certain regions over others.
Different climates in Champagne, once again within the expression of terroir, will have an effect on the grapes grown and qualities produced. From altitudes of vineyards, which vary between 90 and 300 metres above sea level, to geographical Northern hemisphere locations with both continental and oceanic influences. Known as holding a dual climate, Champagne vineyards receive a generous supply of rainfall and sunshine annually with milder temperatures both in winter and summer – There will be slight temperature / weather variations as we travel from northern Champagne down to the southern part. The average annual temperature is quoted as being 11°C.
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.