The Southern Champagne Vineyards
By Tom Stevenson and Michael Edwards
This Guide was last updated on 24 June 2010
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Near the village of Essoyes, source of inspiration to Renoir. Here, vineyards share the landscape with lush fields and dense forests. ©Mick Rock/Cephas
Isolated a couple of hours’ drive south-east of Epernay, the Aube vineyards of the Côte des Bar seem like a different wine region. But this is still Champagne, even if the rich vinous character of the wines is closer in style to that of Chablis just an hour's drive to the west. The main vineyards of the Côte des Bar lie on the Kimmeridgian strata of chalk, marl and hard limestone that runs from the Haute Marne, through the Southern Aube, onto Chablis and then to Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire. These remarkable terrains support some of the best white wines of Northern France and the Aube also produces some of the most succulent Rosé Champagnes. The once rustic style of Aubois Champagne is evolving as a new generation of eco-friendly growers fashion Champagnes with a finesse and purity to match their sturdiness.
The medieval heart of Troyes, the capital of the Aube, has been restored, and this young-at-heart city has charming bars down narrow alleyways and a host of good restaurants. The Côte des Bar is around 40km east of Troyes. Around Bar-sur-Seine is lovely wooded country, its valleys irrigated by the waters of the Seine, the Ource and the Laignes. Further east around Bar-sur-Aube more open, colder terrain is planted to Chardonnay as well as Pinot. Nearby Colombey les Deux Eglises, the old home of Charles de Gaulle, is worth a visit and the Fôret de l'Orient is great walking and boating country.
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. In the Aube, the Kimmeridgian clay and limestone soils, which are richer than the more chalky scalps around Epernay.
Very much in the south of Champagne, the attractive region of the Aube bears more resemblance to nearby Chablis than to the Champagne regions to the north. The climate is semi-continental with the risk of spring frosts and the region favours Pinot Noir. The landscape is rolling and hilly with mixed agriculture and steep, south facing vineyard slopes.
Troyes is situated 170km east of Paris. It takes just under two hours by road using the A5 motorway, exit 20, with a further 30 minutes to reach Bar-sur-Aube. From Paris there are hourly train services to Troyes taking 1½ hours or to Bar-sur-Aube taking two hours. The closest international airport is Paris.
Troyes Tourist Office,
16 Boulevard Carnot, 10000 Troyes
Bar-sur-Aube Tourist Office,
4 Boulevard de 14 Juillet, 10200 Bar-sur-Aube
Aube en Champagne Tourist Board,
34 Quai Dampierre, 10000 Troyes
Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne,
5 Rue Henri Martin, 51200 Epernay
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