Champagne (part 1)

Daniel was only half an hour late picking us up and his driving was not nearly as erratic as I’d feared. However, Bear insisted on sitting in the back to reduce his stress levels (he hates being driven).

Our driver pointed out interesting landmarks en route and when we arrived in the champagne villages he took us on a tour of the vineyards. First he showed us the newly planted vines which wouldn’t produce grapes for three years. He explained that his wife and her brother owned ‘parcelles’ in various places. The best were on the higher ground as they were less likely to be affected by frost. Picking had started last week (the 16th) and was due to finish next Wednesday.

Most of their pickers were students from the dental school at Reims. A few were provided with beds but all 10 of them were fed three meals a day. We found them in another vinyard , beavering away. It was surprising to find white (unripe grapes) above the red ones but Daniel said this was a sign of a good harvest next year.  If there was no frost they could pick these grapes before Christmas. The vines are cut back every year leaving just the main branch with 7 or 8 shoots and a secondary branch, also with 7 or 8 shoots. Each plant produces about 3kilos of grapes – enough to make two bottles of champagne.

The pickers fill  baskets and tip the contents into crates. Another worker brings two crates at a time to the edge of the field where they are collected by a tractor and taken to the co-operative.    

About 70 growers send their grapes to be pressed here. Some producers still press their own but , despite first appearances, it seems that working together is the best option. Everyone benefits from the best grapes and a state of the art pressing procedure,  but the resulting champagnes are not identical because each producer blends his share of the juice (from three grape varieties) in his own way.

The crates arrive by tractor and are weighed and labelled before going to a waiting area to be pressed.

They are poured into one of the ‘pressoirs’ for three pressings.

The first produces the ‘cru’ or best juice and then the grapes are squashed again and a third time to produce T1 and T2 qualities. It was interesting to learn that the producers used the ‘cru’ themselves and sold the other two pressings to make poorer quality champagne (the sort you buy for 25 euros in supermarkets), or white wine. The remains of the grapeskins are not thrown away, they go to produce chemical alcohol, animal feed – or Marc de Champagne!

The resulting juice is filtered twice and stored in huge tanks in a wonderfully clean underground room until it is redistributed to the producers.  We were given a taste of the ‘finished juice’ and although Daniel warned us it wasn’t very nice I found it quite refreshing.

3 Responses to “Champagne (part 1)”

  1. canisfamiliaris Says:

    You have dental students who have time to pick grapes???? Quick, send them to the UK, because we need so many more dentists. We can keep them busy filling teeth, not grape baskets!!!

    They do the grape harvest to help finance their studies. The harvest didn’t start until after the University Term had begun so I’m not sure how they are managing to fit it in.

  2. Keith Says:

    Dental students? There are no such animals here. Apparently they don’t breed very well due to a deadly disease called “The Government”. This destroys their will to work for the National Health Service . If they do, then they can’t find enough money to buy their Porsches, yachts, and big houses, so they are forced to migrate to other countries or go private and charge extortionate amounts of money.

    Regarding the champagne, I afraid that I don’t care for the stuff no matter how expensive it is. Groo! Give me a good red plonk off the market any day.

    In Glanes, where my step-daughter lives everybody in the village is connected with the wine production, many of them have vineyards or work in the big co-operative production plant. I have had a tour and it is similar to the one you visited. As you say, it is immaculately clean and every thing that touches the wine now is stainless steel. Our Daniel (who is in charge, and also the Mayor) said that they can’t risk even the tiniest bit if infection getting to the wine because if it did that everybody loses their crop that year. Who would want to buy 100,000 bottles of vinegar then?

    I enjoy a glass of red too but i’m fond of champagne as well.

  3. Little old me Says:

    I love a drop of champagne, it’s lovely with very dark chocolate.

    With chocolate eh? I must try that. The traditional accompaniment of Fossier’s pink langues de chat doesn’t appeal to me at all but Daniel was quite shocked when I admitted I didn’t like them.

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