CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE

By Decanter

30 MAR 2013

Apart from the famous wines, the Champagne region is rich with world heritage sites, history and art. Read our guide to Champagne, including the best houses to visit, plus top places to stay, eat, shop and relax.

Champagne fact file:

Vineyard area: 34,000 hectares

Vineyards owned by négociant houses: 10% (3,167ha)

Vineyards owned by growers: 90% (29,910ha)

Main grapes: Pinot Noir (38.5%), Pinot Meunier (32.5%), Chardonnay (29%)

Quick links:

- Six of the best houses to visit

- Where to stay, shop, eat and relax

Introduction:

Champagne produces unique wine sought the world over as the drink of celebration. Once there, you are among the vines in just a few minutes’ drive of Reims or Epernay, the two towns at the region’s cultural, gastronomic and vinous heart.

For a long weekend, Reims is a good base from which to pack in two full days exploring the city on foot; half-day outings using the signposted wine routes into the nearby Montagne de Reims villages and vineyards are easily manageable. If you have more time, consider Epernay as the starting point. It lies at the intersection of three of the four main vineyard regions – the southern end of the Montagne de Reims, the northern tip of the Côte des Blancs and the Marne Valley running east to west between the two. Reims, half an hour’s drive away, is close enough for a day’s exploration.

Stay in Epernay or nearby Aÿ if you are planning to go mid-harvest (likely to be late August or early September). This is the most exciting time to visit but more difficult to plan as the Champenois have to accommodate their pickers, and the small-grower operations you’ll want to visit to experience the real beating heart of the region will be busy picking and pressing their grapes – although some producers with rooms do offer specific harvest tour packages.

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