Châlons-en-Marne, regional capital of Champagne-Ardennes, holds a special place in Champagne history as the home of the gleuco-œnomètre, a "wine sugar meter" that from 1831 onwards made it possible to control the rate of second fermentation in the bottle. Its inventor was Jean-Baptiste François, a pharmacist and former soldier in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, and his technique became known as the Reduction François.
Châlons-en-Champagne is also the place where famous Champagne House Joseph Perrier was founded in 1825. The House and cellars are still headquartered at 69 Avenue de Paris, on the left bank of the Mau River, where the grape musts are delivered to this day. Some come from the House vineyards, some from winegrowers who have been supplying Joseph Perrier for three or four generations. Every batch and every grape variety is fermented separately prior to blending, bottling and long aging in the cellars.
In 1825 these Gallo-Roman cellars were lit by candles and comprised just three tunnels. As production expanded over the course of the 19th Century, some 30 new galleries were added. Each one was excavated in the chalk and featured a lightwell-cum-ventilation shaft that brought fresh air down from the surface and allowed workmen to see "as if in full daylight". A polished metal reflector at the foot of each shaft was specially placed so as to reflect indirect light to the areas where it was needed — an entirely ecological invention before its time!
Since the early 20th Century, the reflectors have been replaced by an electric lighting system that casts a pale halo of light over the cellar floor but without lighting the bottles of Champagne in the side galleries. "To explore these three-kilometre long cellars is to embark on a quest through the mountainside in pursuit of magnificent wines", wrote Richard Cremonini. The American dancer Carolyn Carlson once compared these cellars to "an underground cathedral". There are no lifts and no stairs. Just immensely thick walls, huge beams, vaults 20-30 metres high and ancient fissures dating far back in time. Here and there, pickaxe marks and other traces of human activity (names, dates, initials carved into the stone) remind you that this was originally a crayère
Joseph Perrier Champagne is still made in the traditional manner, using ancestral winemaking techniques that echo their ancient surroundings. Pointage, riddling, dépointage, disgorgement and labelling (Jeroboam, Mathusalem and Salmanazar) are all done manually. These labyrinthine cellars are home to millions of bottles, some sur lattes (or sur tas). All of them are stored at a constant cool temperature, watched over by huge trees on the hill outside that keep the humidity inside at just the right level.