Monday, March 19, 2012

Champagne – An Introduction, France

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with a Glass of Champagne Rose in Reims


Champagne is the name of the world’s most famous sparkling wine. It is also the wine region in France from which Champagne comes and an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée according to French Law.

The Champagne region lies at the northern edge of the world’s vineyard-growing areas. So, Champagne’s grapes bear the hallmark acidity of a cool climate region. In 1927, the viticultural boundaries of Champagne were legally defined and split into five wine producing districts - The Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. The Champagne area covers 33,500 hectares of vineyards around 319 villages that are home to 100 Champagne Houses that buy grapes and make their own Champagne, 5,000 growers who grow grapes and  make their own wine and 14,000 growers who only sell grapes. The region is set to expand to include 359 villages in the near future.

Pictures: Ambonnay in the Montagne de Reims region. Grapes from Ambonnay are the source of Krug's Clos d'Ambonnay Champagne. This single vineyard Champagne is the rarest (and most expensive) in the world. Produced from 1 1/2 acres of Pinot Noir, only 3000 bottles are made from 11 tiny 200 liter Krug casks. The Clos has been around since the year 1700, and the Krug family has been getting the grapes from here for three generations. In 1994 they bought the vineyard and changed the pruning methods and made their first single vineyard wine from the Clos the following year- the 1995, which currently sells for $ 2500.

Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the primary grape varieties used to make Champagne.  Champagne may be either Blanc de Noirs (made from red grapes), Blanc de Blancs (made from white grapes, most often Chardonnay - A famous example is Ruinart) or Rose, either by adding red wine to a white blend or sometimes by fermenting the juice in contact with the skins.

Champagne comes with varying degrees of sweetness, due to the addition of a dosage just before the wine is finally bottled. The most common is brut, although throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century Champagne was generally much sweeter than it is today.The sweetest level is doux and then, in increasing dryness, demi-sec, sec (dry), extra sec, brut (less than 12 grams of sugar per litre), extra brut ((less than 6 grams of sugar per litre), brut nature/brut zero/ultra brut (less than 3 grams of sugar per litre).

Typically, Champagne is made of still wine from several vintages (non-vintage, NV). Champagne's AOC regulations further require that NV Champagne cannot legally be sold until it has aged on the lees in the bottle for at least 15 months and  vintage Champagne be aged for three years. Most top producers exceed the requirement for vintage Champagne, holding bottles on the lees for 6 to 8 years.

EU law and the laws of most countries reserve the term "Champagne" exclusively for wines that come from the Champagne region.

Champagne also makes still wines: Rose des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois, typically high in natural acidity.

Méthode Champenoise

Méthode Champenoise is the (traditional) method by which Champagne is produced: After primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by the addition of yeast and sugars. It is this that generates the carbon dioxide bubbles responsible for the pop and sparkle that are the symbols of Champagne.

After aging, the bottle is manipulated, either manually or mechanically, in a process called remuage, so that the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in solution. Some syrup (le dosage) is added to achieve the desired level of sweetness in the Champagne.


The remuage technique was invented by Veuve Clicquot and her German cellar master Anton Mueller.They revolutionized sparkling wine drinking. Until the beginning of the 1800s, the appearance of Champagne was marred by the lees, the sediment of dead yeast cells that remained suspended in the wine following the secondary fermentation in the bottle. In consuming a bottle of Champagne it was thus necessary to either decant the sparkling wine before serving it or to leave it in the glass for some time so the sediment could settle before drinking the Champagne. The remuage technique put an end to that. See: "German Wine Makers in the World: Anton Mueller Invented the Remuage Technique Revolutionizing Sparkling Wine Drinking, 1800s, France"

Types of Champagne

The type of Champagne producer can be identified from the abbreviations followed by the official number on the bottle:

NM: Négociant manipulant. These companies (including the majority of the larger brands, such as: Ayala, Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Canard-Duchêne, Deutz, Heidsieck & Co., Henriot, Krug, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Moët et Chandon, Mumm, Perrier-Jouët, Joseph Perrier, Piper Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Pommery, Louis Roederer, Ruinart, Salon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot) buy grapes (hence négociant) and make Champagne themselves (hence manipulant).

Pictures: Taittinger, in the Middle of Reims

CM: Coopérative de manipulation. Cooperatives that make Champagne from the growers who are members, with all the grapes pooled together.

RM: Récoltant manipulant. (Also known as Grower Champagne) A grower that makes Champagne from its own grapes.

RC: Récoltant coopérateur. A co-operative member selling Champagne produced by the co-operative under his or her own name and label.

SR: Société de récoltants. An association of growers making a shared Champagne but who are not a co-operative.

ND: Négociant-Distributeur. . A wine merchant selling Champagne under his own name, but not producing it.

MA: Marque auxiliaire or Marque d'acheteur. Increasingly common, such wines are essentially own-brand Champagnes, bottled for specific retailers under a specific label (usually owned by the retailer), usually produced by a co-operative.

Cuvée de Prestige

The Cuvée de Prestige is the top of a producer's range. Famous examples include Louis Roederer's Cristal, Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle, Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, Duval-Leroy's Cuvée Femme and Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. The first prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. Then came Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne (first vintage 1952), and Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle 'La Cuvée' in 1960, a blend of three vintages (1952, 1953, and 1955) and Perrier Jouet's 'La Belle Epoque'.


Champagne first gained world renown because of its association with the French Court. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine from Champagne and its association with luxury and power in the 17th, 18th and 19th century.

The Ruinart Champagne House was the first Champagne House founded in 1729, soon followed by Taittinger (1734), Moët et Chandon (1743), Veuve Clicquot (1772) and others.

Sparkling wine houses sprung up all over Europe in the 1800s. In Germany, Kessler, was the first Sekt house, founded in 1826 by Georg Kessler, who had worked for Veuve Clicqot. Fürst von Metternich started to produce Sekt in a beautiful castle overlooking the Rhein river in the Rheingau. Von Metternich received the castle from the Austrian Emperor Franz I in 1816 as a gift for his skillful negotiations as his Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Vienna congress (1814 -15). In Austria, the German Robert Schlumberger moved from the Champagne region with his future wife to Vienna and established in 1842 a Sekt House there. Schlumberger was born in Germany, worked in Reims in a Champagne house and married an Austrian, who brought him to the capital of Austria. There, he rose quickly and became the “father” of the Austrian Sekt industry. For over 150 years Schlumberger has been producing their Sekts in the méthode champenoise. See: "German Wine Makers in the World: Robert Alwin Schlumberger--the Father of Austrian Sekt (Austria)"

German Roots

Many famous Champagne Houses have German roots.


Veuve Clicquot's cellar master, the German Anton Mueller, who invented the remuage technique, married into the Ruinart family. With the Ruinart daughter, Anton Mueller created his own Champagne House, Ruinart-Mueller, which does not exist anymore. While at the helm of Ruinart-Mueller, his compatriot Bollinger was one of his employees, before leaving Ruinart-Mueller and setting up his own Champagne House.


Bollinger joined Mueller-Ruinart in 1822 to sell their Champagne in the Kingdoms of Bavaria, Hanover, Wuerttemberg and the Netherlands. In 1829, with his Mueller-Ruinart colleague Paul Renaudin de Villermont and with Athanase Hennequin de Villermont, Joseph-Jacob Bollinger (he took the name of Jacques Bollinger when he was naturalised French in 1854) formed the Renaudin-Bollinger Champagne House which would become the famous Bollinger Champagne House.


The Champagne House Mumm was founded in Reims in 1827 by the 3 German brothers Gottlieb, Jacobus and Philipp Mumm; they named it Champagne House P.A. Mumm, after their father, the German banker and wine merchant P. A. Mumm. After the death of Gottlieb Mumm, the Champagne House P.A. Mumm was broken up into two: G. H. Mumm + Co. (named after Gottlieb Mumm’s son Georg Hermann) and Jules Mumm + Co. (named after Jacobus Mumm’s son Julius Engelbert).

Jules Mumm created the famous Mumm Cordon Rouge in France. In 1910, after the dissolution of Jules Mumm + Co., G. H. Mumm + Co bought back the rights of the brand Jules Mumm. So, all the Mumm brands were again in one hand at that point.

Following the end of World War I, the French Government confiscated all of the Mumm's property, although the Mumms had lived in Champagne for almost a century, because they had never bothered to become French citizens. The Mumm family returned to Germany and settled in Frankfurt am Main.

In 1922, the Sekt House Mumm + Co. was founded in Germany by Godefroy H. von Mumm. In 1970, the Canadian Seagram Group bought both the French Champagne House G.H. Mumm and the German Sekt House Mumm + Co.

In 2002, the Canadian Seagam Group decided to divest from both the French and the German Mumm branches. Pernod Ricard bought the Champage House G.H. Mumm and Rotkaeppchen bought the German Sekt House Mumm + Co, including Jules Mumm.

See: Visiting Rotkaeppchen-Mumm - the Second Largest Producer of Sparkling Wine in the World - in Freyburg (Saale-Unstrut), Germany


Krug was established in 1843 by Johann-Joseph Krug, a German from Mainz. Johann-Joseph learned his trade at the Champagne House Jacquesson before setting up Krug in Reims. His son, Paul continued the family business, who was succeeded by his son, Joseph Krug II in 1910. Today, Krug is part of the global luxury brands conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH).

Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin

The Champagne House Veuve Clicquot was for many years owned by Eduard Werle from Germany. It operated under the name Werlé & Cie., Successeurs de Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin for 100 years.

Originally, the Clicquot company, established in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot, was dealing not only in champagne, but principally in textiles and finance. In 1801, Philippe handed control of the company to his son, François. At that time, François was already married to Nicole-Barbe Ponsardin, the future Veuve Clicquot. Veuve Clicquot played an important role in establishing Champagne as a favored drink of haute bourgeoisie and nobility throughout Europe, including Russia.

When a financial crisis hit the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne house, Eduard Werle was already a wealthy senior manager and ready to assume responsability. The decline of the finances could have meant the end of the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne house, were it not for the fact that Eduard Werle succeeded in putting together a rescue package and paying off the firm's debts with his own money. In return, he was made a business partner by Madame Clicquot in 1828. Over the coming years, she increasingly relied on Eduard Werle as he put the company back on a sound footing.

During the French Revolution of 1830, the July Revolution, which saw the overthrow of King Charles X, the French Bourbon monarch, and the ascent of his cousin Louis-Philippe, the Duc d’Orleans, Eduard Werle temporarily had to relocate and abandoned the company to go back to Germany. But after the revolution, he returned to Reims to continue to run the finances of the company. He became Deputy Director in 1831. In 1836, he married M. Boisseau.

Eduard Werle assumed full control of the Veuve Clicquot estate in 1841 upon Nicole-Barbe's retirement, 20 years after he had joined the company as a cellar man. 25 years later, when Madame Clicquot died in 1866, in her will, she did not give the company to her daughter or her son-in-law. She was so grateful to Eduard Werle that she made him the sole owner of the Veuve Clicquot estate.

The Champagne House was renamed Werlé & Cie., Successeurs de Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, when Eduard became the sole owner. The Champagne house continued to operate under this name until 1964, when it became Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin again. Since 1987 the Veuve Clicquot company has been part of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy group.

See: German Wine Makers in the World: Eduard Werle --- Owner of the Veuve Cliquot Champagne house (France)

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  1. What is your source that Jules Mumm was the first to produce the "Cordon Rouge" in France? I'm curious, because everything I saw said GH Mumm started the Cordon Rouge in 1875?

  2. "Jules Mumm nutzte die Bekanntheit des roten Bandes der Ehrenlegion als Wiedererkennungszeichen für seine Marke Mumm; die Marke „Cordon Rouge” wurde geboren." Mumm - Wikipedia Deutschland. See also "Visiting Rotkaeppchen-Mumm - the Second Largest Producer of Sparkling Wine in the World - in Freyburg (Saale-Unstrut), Germany"