“This book is not a reference book or compendium. Or at least not in the first place. It aims to show what champagne is today. In fact, even if everyone (or every woman) has a seemingly pretty clear opinion about it, the French sparkling wine is the most misunderstood drink. Few great wines are consumed so thoughtlessly. Those who remember it think mostly of labels, brands and design, rarely of the contents of the bottles. At most, the term still stands for the production process named after it. The fact that “le Champagne” comes from “la Champagne”, that the sparkling wine of this name also has an origin, is almost forgotten.
Champagne means one thing above all: diversity. Hardly any other wine appellation in France knows such a variety of regions, soils and traditions. Nowhere else are the differences in vinification more significant, the history more complex, and the present more exciting. It is not for nothing that each Champagne house prides itself on its “style de la maison,” its own unique way of producing Champagne. This book aims to describe this diversity in the variety of their voices: in 100 portraits of the most important maisons, vintners and cooperatives.
Paths to diversity
There are two ways for the reader to immerse himself in this diversity. The first is not to always open the same favorite champagne, but to taste two bottles from different producers against each other as a first step. Nothing teaches you more than comparative drinking. Because through the question that then arises as to why one champagne tastes one way and the other another already begins the process of understanding.
The second way is a trip to the Champagne region. Not alone to Reims to the impressive chalk cellars of the great trading houses on the Butte Saint-Nicaise or to the magnificent Avenue de Champagne in Épernay. It should also lead to the steep slope of the Clos des Goisses in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, to the “Gothic hill” of Montgueux near Troyes or to the Champagne rosé wine in Les Riceys on the border with Burgundy. Here, one experiences how much the respective champagnes are shaped by both the terroir and their history, and how different they are from what we commonly associate with champagne.
Diversity in Champagne, however, is not just a matter of relaxed coexistence, but also of emotional debate. Around 1985, a movement called the Grower Champagne Revolution took off. According to their diagnosis, champagne had degenerated into a branded product that was always the same and it was therefore high time to consider it as a serious wine again. This was accompanied by a vineyard management that was in many cases ecologically or biodynamically inspired, an emphasis on origin and individuality through single-vineyard and vintage champagnes, and a return to more traditional (especially Burgundian) vinification methods. This, however, was fundamentally in opposition to the classic assemblage philosophy of the major trading houses, which considered the artful blend of different grape varieties, origins, and vintages to be the royal road to producing great sparkling wines.
The new complexity
Today, the boundaries between the two factions have been blurred in many cases, as each has integrated impulses from the other side into its production. In some cases, however, they have also become more hardened, as is the case with many controversial issues today. This book aims to set out the positions without joining any one camp. The author’s experience shows at least that in recent years even the basic cuvées of most of the big houses have become better – while, conversely, individuality is not in itself a guarantee of quality.
Today, one hears even from cellar masters of the trading houses the confession that their product is first a wine and only then a champagne. As likeable as the basic impulse behind this idea sounds, it is itself a misunderstanding. The little bubbles are not simply a necessary accessory; in fact, they are what make Champagne unique. Even great wines are in the end only wine, however much that may mean. Champagne, on the other hand, breaks out of the everyday and creates singular moments. Like no other beverage, it is able to open our existence to the joy of life. In the words of Winston Churchill: “I could not live without champagne. In victory I deserve it, in defeat I need it.”
The structure of the book
Before the actual portraits of the producers, this book provides a concise introduction to the factors that shape the style of Champagne – these may stem from history (Chapter I), depend on the status of the producer (Chapter II), concern the region (Chapter III), or be related to vineyard sites and management (Chapter IV) and the actual production (Chapter V). Each producer portrait is preceded by a brief profile that provides a basic orientation of distinctive characteristics of the respective houses.
In the fall of 2021, the book received the German Cookbook Award in Gold as the best German wine book. Here is the jury’s reasoning . In his review for kaisergranat. com Benjamin Cordes says: “Ladies and gentlemen: This is the best book about champagne on the market right now. Tchin Tchin!”
Champage. The 100 most important maisons, growers and cooperatives
240 pages, format: 29 x 30 cm, numerous illustrations
published by Tre Torri