The Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs
By Tom Stevenson and Michael Edwards
This Guide was last updated on 14 August 2014
To explore this Wine Travel Guide, select from the menu on the left
With its distinctive chalky soil, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is known for producing the greatest, longest-lived and most expressive Chardonnay in Champagne. © Mick Rock/Cephas
Reims is the great city of Champagne; Epernay is its true wine capital. Strategically placed in a bowl of prime vineyards between the top of the Côte des Blancs and the central part of the Marne Valley, Epernay's raison d'etre is making champagne. Ninety per cent of this pleasant little town's population have wine-related jobs, mainly in one of the 37 Champagne houses, led by the giant Moët & Chandon. A major attraction is that the grand houses on the town's Avenue de Champagne can all be visited on foot. And little bijou firms at the western end of the town are also within walking distance.
Venturing out of the town, some of the finest vineyards can be visited by car within half an hour. The historic bourg of Aÿ, the cradle of Pinot Noir is just across the Marne, its steep south-facing slopes produce the base for the most sumptuous Champagne cuvées, epitomised in the great blends of famous houses like Bollinger and Deutz. Westwards along the Marne as far as Dormans lie prime spots for the Pinot Meunier grape, a key ingredient of such 'classics' as Billecart-Salmon, Krug and Pol Roger. Just south of Epernay, the 20-kilometre long lozenge-shaped hillside of the Côte de Blancs is home to superbly crystalline, mineral-charged Chardonnay. Drive east to Chalons-en-Champagne, the administrative capital of the region, to find lovely old churches and the still family-owned Maison Joseph Perrier, a hidden jewel of Champagne.
Champagne is the most northerly AC wine region in France and the climate is greatly influenced by the Atlantic, which has a cooling effect in the summer and makes the seasons very variable. Frost is a serious problem in spring and autumn, and the growing season is dependent on the vagaries of the weather. The three principal zones are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs. Just to the south is the much smaller Côte de Sézanne and then further south, to the east of Troyes is the Aube or Côte des Bar. The subsoil over the whole region is chalk which drains well, though retaining enough water for the vines to survive in a drought. There is a thin layer of topsoil which can consist of sand, marl, loam, clay, lignite and chalk itself.
To the south of Epernay is the Côte des Blancs, so called because it is principally planted with Chardonnay on slopes which are protected from the prevailing wind and rain. In the Vallée de la Marne the main grape is Pinot Meunier, planted here because it flowers later so avoiding the late spring frosts. Some of the vineyards are planted on steep south facing slopes close to the river.
Epernay is situated 150km northeast of Paris. By road it takes just under two hours using the A4 motorway, exit 21. There is a new TGV train service running eight times per day from Paris and reaching Reims in just 45 minutes. There are connecting trains to Epernay. The closest international airport is Charles de Gaulle in Paris and there is now a direct TGV rail link from the airport to Reims-Ardennes station (on the Epernay side of the city), taking 30 minutes. From the main English Channel port Calais, the journey takes 3 hours by motorway A26 then the A4, exit 25.
Epernay Tourist Office,
7 Avenue de Champagne, 51201 Epernay
Châlons-en-Champagne Tourist Office,
3 Quai des Arts, 51000 Châlons-en-Champagne
Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne,
5 Rue Henri Martin, 51200 Epernay
Union des Maisons de Champagne (the Champagne Houses)
COPYRIGHT AND DISCLAIMER
This information is provided free of charge, however it is strictly the copyright of Wine Travel Guides and its contributors. We try to do our best in keeping our guides and information up-to-date and accurate, but if you notice any mistakes, please contact us. Note that we take no responsibility for any inaccuracies. Thanks for your respect and understanding. For full details see our Terms and Conditions.