Travel log Maigret's journeys in France
Dizy - 2
Le charretier de "La Providence"
Paray-le-Frélsil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
Home Page - summary of works - Travel log (main page)
Champagne
"Remember gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!"


- Winston S. Churchill, 1918
1920's poster for Champagne De Venoge
"On the left and on the right the view on the horizon was bound by chalky hills engraved with white and black traces, on which the vines, in this season, seemed like wooden crosses on a war cemetery."

"- Do you have ordinary Champagne? Non sparkling?
- I have some...
- Bring a bottle then..."
These are the only two references in Le charretier de "la Providence" to the most distinguishing feature of this region: Champagne!
Dizy is situated in the very heart of the area where this illustrious wine is produced, very close to Epernay which is, together with Reims, the capital of the Champagne.
Champagne is possibly the world's most famous wine. It is associated with wealth, celebration, glamour and good cheer. In people's minds it is so connected with festivity that after the tragic events of 9/11 the import of Champagne in the U.S.A. was blocked for two months. For a long time it was the preferred beverage of the affluent and influential classes. Although today more people can meet the expense of it, it still is rather classy. A bottle of a reasonable quality still costs about 15 € to 20 €. Real good quality Champagne can cost from 50 € to 300 €. Some exclusive varieties are from 500 € to more than 1.000 € (1 Euro = 1.2 USD or 0.6 GBP).
Champagne-vineyards around Epernay and Dizy
The reasons for this high cost are numerous. Making Champagne is very labor intensive, only the best grapes from a very limited area can be used and the production process is lengthy and complicated.
Of course also the fashionable and exclusive image of the wine defines prices.
It is interesting to know that the price of a bottle of Champagne is only partly subjected to the rules of supply and demand. Grape prices are set by a central committee before the harvest. Some years this is in favor of the wine-growers, the other years of the producers. This permits to keep the price of the finished product more or less steady, even in years with a large supply of grapes.
The very stricty delineated area of the Champagne
Champagne in figures
The Champagne area is the biggest wine area in terms of turnover In France. The Bordeaux and Cognac areas are second.
Actually, the Champagne business represents 2.1% of the total food/drink revenue in France and a 1/4 of the wine business.
In the domain of exports, the Champagne is also a champion. 13% of the total French commercial positive balance is provided by sales of Champagne wine.

268 million bottles of Champagne are produced every year.
165 million are sold in France.

The main export markets are: U.K. (22 mi.), Germany, U.S. (15 mi.), Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Australia, Spain.

The production areas are strictly delineated to about 30.350 ha (75,000 acres).
The Champenois vineyards are exclusively planted with the varieties: Pinot Noir (37%), Pinot Meunier (37%) and Chardonnay (26%).
Wine of festivity and celebration
Winegrowing
Wines of all three grape-varieties are blended in a good champagne.
The Pinot Noir, a grape with a black skin and white pulp must be pressed right after the harvest to avoid the black skin leaving any coloring in the juice. The Pinot Noir contributes power, they are the back-bone of the Champagne.
The Pinot Meunier adds harmony, a fruitier bouquet and intensity. The Chardonnay produces wine with crispness, finesse and elegance.
Wine-growers in the Champagne region don't produce their own wine, they sell the grapes to the production companies. The great "champagne-houses" are world-wide known: Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger, Mercier, Piper - Heidsieck, Mumm, Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin, Taittinger and many others. Only 14% of the vineyards is owned by the production companies.
Orangerie of the Champagne-house Moët & Chandon in Epernay
The other 86% belong to individual owners. In a lot of cases these properties are not larger than 1 ha (2.5 acres) and winegrowing is a part-time job for the owners.
The making of...
In September, after harvesting, the grapes are pressed and the turbid must is transported hastily to the production houses in Reims and Epernay.
When it gets colder outside and the fermenting process is almost over, the cold winter air is allowed into the fermenting-chambers. Under influence of the low temperatures all fermenting stops, but there still remains some fermenting potential in the must.
Actually this is how the making of Champagne was discovered.
In this stage of the process, in the 17th century, the local wines were transported to England, in barrels.
Once there the wine was bottled. Because of the remaining fermenting potential the wine started to rise again in the bottle. The CO2 that was produced by fermenting in the closed bottle could not get away and "the bubbles" were born!
So, in fact Champagne is an English creation.
But it is obvious that this totally uncontrolled process could not produce the superb wines we know today. The merits for further development and control of this process undoubtedly go to the French. Dom Perignon, a monk, and La Dame Cliquot, the widow of a winegrower, discovered, subsequently to a lot of experiments and a lot of exploded bottles, the real secrets of the "Queen of wines".

They experimented with the addition of yeast and sugar, blending wine from different kinds of grapes, the use of bottles of thicker glass (to avoid explosions), the sealing of the cork with wire and, above all the techniques of "Remuer" and "Dégorger".

"Remuer": The bottled wine is placed, almost upside-down, in wooden "pupitres" (desks). Day by day the cellar-hands turn every single bottle a little bit with a slight movement of the hand. This way the deposit in the bottle accumulates against the cork.
Dom Pérignon a monk and champagne-pioneer
"Dégorger": The bottles, with the deposit accumulated against the cork, are re-opened. The wine foams out of the bottle and takes the deposit out. With lightning speed the cellar-hands replenish the bottle with wine from another bottle and close it with a new cork.
All this can only be done by hand.
Still wonder why Champagne is expensive?
Kinds of Champagne
"Non-millésimé: the less-expensive kinds of Champagne are made of blends of wines of different years. Most brands offer wines with a different degree of sweetness. Most common are the "Brut" which is essentially a dry wine and the "Demi-sec", which is sweeter.
Old postcard, "Rémuage" in the celars, the bottles are turned
"Millésimé": is a, more expensive, wine of a very good year. Its also comes in different degrees of sweetness.
"Blanc de Blancs": a Champagne that is produced from only white grapes (no Pinot-Noir grapes).
"Champagne rosé": pink Champagne. With addition of a hint of red wine that is made from only Pinot-Noir grapes.
A normal bottle of Champagne is 75 cl (25.3 floz) a "Magnum" is 2 normal bottles. The biggest bottle is called a "Nebukadnezar" and its contents is 15 liters (3.96 gallons). The bigger the bottle, the better the quality of the wine.
No bubbles?
The attentive reader of Le charretier de "La Providence" will observe that Carl orders a non-sparkling Champagne.
It does exist! Although it is no Champagne in technical terms. It is a white wine made from the same grapes. Today it is very rare. I could only find two brands of this "Châteaux Champenois".
In 1931, when the novel was written, it was called "Vin ordinaire de Champagne" (Ordinary wine from Champagne). In 1953 this denomination changed into "Vin nature de Champagne" (Natural wine from Champagne) and since 1974 it is called "Châteaux Champenois". It is a fragile, very scanty, rather harsh wine. Nice to drink chilled in hot weather. I certainly wouldn't drink it in the circumstances in the novel, on a cold and rainy day.
Visiting "Les Maisons de Champagne"
Most main producers of Champagne in Epernay and in Reims offer guided tours with free wine tasting in their cellars. This is really worth doing. The cellars are impressive! They go on for kilometers under the city (100 km, 60 mi.). Visitors are shown around on small trains.
Coteaux Champenois
"Buxeuil Blanc"
No bubbles...
Wine cellars under the town of Epernay
Paray-le-Frélsil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
Home Page - summary of works - Travel log (main page)
Images
1920's poster for Champagne De Venoge: poster de venoge & co, op: http://www.vintageposters.com.au/
Map: http://www9.mappy.com, © 2003 Mappy
Bottle of Champagne Piper: : http://www.davidcavephotography.co.uk/champ.htm , David Cave Photography website
Champagne-vineyards around Epernay and Dizy: : http://www.thoward.com/photo/Champagne.html, Website of "Wine Universe"
Orangerie of the Champagne-house Moët & Chandon in Epernay: - http://www.kiwanis-aachen.de/seite1.htm, orangerie of the house of Moet & chandon, Website Kiwanis club aachen.
Dom Pérignon a monk and champagne-pioneer: : http://www.thoward.com/photo/Champagne.html, Website of "Wine Universe".
Old postcard, "Rémuage" in the celars, the bottles are turned: http://arc.chalons.free.fr/region/Lechampagne/images_passe.htm.
Wine cellars under the town of Epernay: http://www.kobrandwine.com/photo_gallery/master_photo_list.html: Kobrand wine and spirits Website.
Coteaux Champenois, "Buxeuil Blanc", No bubbles...: http://www.champagne-moutard.fr, Champagne.moutard@wanadoo.fr