How Champagne Works

The Houses of Champagne

We mentioned earlier the two cities that make up the Champagne region: Rheims and Epernay. The world's most famous champagne houses reside in one of these two cities.

Wine historians say champagne was invented in the 1700s as an accidental discovery by Dom Pérignon. He was a Benedictine monk who worked with wine and put great passion into chemistry and developing something other than still and red wines. His statement to other monks, "Come quickly, I am drinking stars," ultimately alluded to his misplaced discovery of what we know to be champagne [source: Marshall]. The House of Möet & Chandon, from the Epernay village, takes ownership of his discovery and has named its most popular champagne after him.

Other famous houses of champagne market their champagnes as the best in the world. But what really makes champagne better than any other sparkling wine? Climate, soil quality and the precise locations of the vineyards determine the quality of grapes used to make the still wine. Different houses plant and ferment grapes differently. Additionally, the blending or selecting of the cuvée is probably the most important element in making champagne.

The houses, depending on their specialty and distinct qualities, establish their fermentation times and exercise unique blending techniques. One thing to note is whether the champagne is vintage or non-vintage. Non-vintage champagnes are made up with several different blends from various years of grape harvesting. They only ferment 17 months. In contrast, vintage champagnes spend at least two years working their magic. Vintage champagnes are blended wines from one particular year [source: Johnson and Robinson].

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