Western Marne valley
The vineyards in the western Marne valley and in the valley of the Surmelin, a tributary of the Marne, both in the south of the Aisne (Hauts de France) have belonged to the ‘champagne’ appellation since 1908. Together they are the doors to Champagne.
Vines have been cultivated since 855, on the land of the Abbey of Chézy-sur-Marne, from 1090 in the Abbey of Augustine de Saint-Ferréol in Essomes-sur-Marne.
The grape variety in this part of the Marne Valley is 70% Meunier, 15% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir.
It concerns 3,420 hectares, accounting for 10% of the Champagne designation, more than 39 wine-growing municipalities and 560 operators, of which around 200 ‘recoltants manipulants’, independent winegrowers who only manage the entire process with their own juice.
Champagne is also produced by négociants manipulants, cooperatives, négociants distributors (like the big houses).
Located in 3 valleys, the villages of Saint Agnan, La Chapelle-Monthodon and Baulne-en-Brie, together the commune of Vallées en Champagne have 240 ha of planted areas, including 28 ha Chardonnay, 181 ha Meunier and 31 ha Pinot Noir, at 65 winegrowers.
The Champagne grape varieties mainly consist of 3 known grape varieties (99.7%): Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. The latter two have a black peel, which makes the ‘blanc de noirs’, and are also used to make red wine (coteaux).
However, 4 older varieties (0.3%) are also allowed: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane and Petit Meslier.
After the choice of the terroir (the spot and the soil), daily activities of soil-, pruning- and binding work follow. At the end of the summer – as soon as the grapes have reached an ideal ripeness – the winegrower harvests the grapes by hand, to select the best and to be left with pure white juice after pressing. 4000 kg of grapes yield 2500l of juice when pressed. The ‘rebèche’, the juice of the last pressing, is distilled to ‘Fine de la Marne’.
Due to the natural yeasts in the must, the grape juice ferments into ‘vin clair’. The sugar is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide is released. The wines of the year are often mixed with reserve wines before bottling. For ‘millisimés’, the wine of the same year is used.
The aging of the wines on their fermentation nut takes at least 15 months, after which the ‘degorgement’ of the deposit takes place. At the same time, the winegrower adds (or not) liqueur for a second fermentation in the bottle and in order to make the sparkling wine extra brut or natural (no liqueur), brut (little liqueur), semi-dry to dry (more liqueur). At the end, the bottles are corked, muzzled, washed and dressed (labels).
Rosé is a mixture of red wine with champagne. The new Rosé de Saignée is made by a more intensive pressure of the black grapes, creating a more red (pink) juice.
The surroundings are rich and varied: soft hills, with fields, meadows, vineyards, valleys and forests. The subsoil consists largely of chalk, marl and limestone.
Calcite (fossil) is due to its porosity a real water reservoir (300l/m3) for the vine. The force they have to use to absorb the water promotes the balance between the acids of the fruit, the sugar and the precursors of aromas.