UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Champagne Guest Book

Vines, Wines and Vine Growers

While merchants played a vital role in the success of champagne in the nineteenth century their activities depended heavily on those of the vine growers and wine makers who supplied the trade with good quality grapes and wines.


Vines were at this time cultivated in Champagne according to traditional methods which dated back to the early Middle Ages, if one is to judge by the the description of vines given by the Polyptique of the Abbey of Saint-Rémi. Methods remained unchanged throughout the nineteenth century; identical techniques are described by Maupin [1] in 1799, Guyot [2] in 1868, and by Moreau-Bérillon writing in 1922 about methods in use in 1900.

In many of the vineyards in France vines looked much the same then as they do now, being characterized by regular rows of vines, sometimes supported by horizontal wires. But in Champagne vignes en lignes only existed around Sézanne, in the district of Vitry-le-François and in the north of the Rheims district. In the rest of the region, as moreover in Burgundy, (except around Chablis) and in the Jura, the vigne en foule ("vines in a crowd") [3] with their disorderly and rather unusual appearance must have been disconcerting for those used to vineyards laid out in neat lines. In fact a vineyard en foule involved planting rows every 80 to 100 cm (according to tradition the last vine to be planted had to be watered with champagne) but then two operations were carried out that gradually destroyed this pleasing regularity, these were known as provignage (a kind of layering) and assiselage.

The purpose of provignage was to fill a gap or to increase the number of vines in a given area.

Le provignage est fait en même temps que le bêchage ou aussitôt après avril et mai ;
il a pour but de remplacer les ceps manquants. A l’aide du crochet et du hoyau, le vigneron couche le cep voisin
en laissant hors du sol trois yeux sur chaque bras, met de l’engrais, recouvre de terre et tasse au pied.

A young branch (gaule) on a vigorous vine would be chosen to serve as the provin [4]. A trough (fossette) was dug in front of the vine and then filled with a mixture of earth and manure that was carried in a panier à provigner (layering basket) or a kind of hod. The provin, still attached to the parent vine that would continue to nourish it, would be bent down into the trough and held in place with a special hook (crochet à provigner). The tip of the provin was left exposed, and pruned down to three buds [5] ; it would then root and form a new vine which was either left attached to the parent in order to fill out a sparse section or cut off and transplanted to another area. This was generally carried out with two or three young branches from a single vine that were placed either in the same trough or spread out in several troughs pointing in the directions that needed filling out.

As the British writer Thudichum remarked in 1894, this was a viticultural method that continually rejuvenated the vines, giving a youthful appearance to the vineyards of Champagne [6] . It should, however, be noted that the average age of vines was thirty years in the Marne Valley and the Montagne de Rheims, and fifty years for white grape varieties [7], and that it was not unusual to find hundred year old vines.

Even though provignage was carried out every year it remained a technique that was used in a specific situation. The opposite was true of assiselage, a regional word which described a routine operation in Champagne viticulture, which was part of the hoeing process.

From the second year, or more often in the spring of the third year, one would décule the vine, which involved digging down about twenty centimetres all around, laying the vine down, and burying the old wood up to its "neck", leaving exposed just the shoot that bore the previous year’s crop, pruned to three or four buds. At the same time as aerating the soil this would encourage the abundant formation of new rootlets in all directions and in fresh soil that contained the necessary nutrients. If the vine was laid down sideways, then one was "spreading", and if it was laid down in the direction of the wood, which was more common, one was "advancing". Vines in Champagne are thus always gradually creeping up the vineyard; every four or five years one or two rows are planted at the bottom to replace those that have reached the top. When the culée (the lower part of the vineyard) was empty it was replanted. When a vine at the chevet (the upper part of the vineyard) crossed the path that separated two properties it was customary to let the neighbour have it.

Vines in the Valley of the Marne were generally planted in staggered rows and so tended to grow en foule more quickly than in the Montagne de Rheims where they were planted in parallel lines. But when provignage and assiselage had been carried out for several years the vineyard would be en foule everywhere, and have up to 50,000 vines per hectare.

The various vineyard tasks are known as the roies in Champagne. Here is their cycle in chronological order:

From January to March pruning is carried out; the thumb protected with a dizi, a kind of wooden thimble, which also served as a support for cutting shoots; the rule is to leave two shoots on the upper part of the vine, pruned to three, four or five buds. Traditionally pruning starts on the 22 January, Saint Vincent’s day; Saint Vincent is the patron saint of vine growers. On that day the vine grower goes to his vineyard early in the morning and prunes just one symbolic vine. He "listens to the sap" and takes home with him a shoot that will give an indication (depending on how it grows) of the future montre (the quantity of grapes that may be expected).

March and April are for assiselage and hoeing. Urbain and Jouron write on this subject: This is the most important task in our style of growing, and is a task that is not carried out in any other vineyards of renown anywhere in France. A special hoeing implement is used known as a croc, sarcle or a moine, and an iron hook to hold the vine. The operation is an expensive one because a person cannot do more than 2 or 3 ares a day (one are = 100 square metres).

From March to May, provignage, which has already been mentioned, is carried out, often at the same time as hoeing.

In April and May when the hoeing is finished the ficherie (staking) takes place (also referred to as fichage or piquage in the Valley of the Marne), which consists of inserting a stake in the ground, known as the bâton, measuring between 1 and 1.15 metres in length, preferably made out of chestnut wood, or of the wood from the middle of oak trees, but also from acacia or pine. The stakes were a major expense for vineyards, which sometimes needed 50,000 per hectare to échalasser or stake all the vines. Nicolas Bidet had already written in 1752 that this excessive expense absorbs a large part of the income from the vines [8]. Staking was hard work, and was carried out using the hands, chest and feet, or a combination of all three, and with the help of accessories such as a mallet, a manique (protection for the hands or chest) made of thick stiff leather, a fichoir (a sort of breastplate made of wood with an indentation in the centre to hold the stake which was then pushed in with the upper part of the body), and a clef-ficheuse (a "stake-key") attached to the sole of the vine-grower’s boot, which was a kind of stirrup fitted with a hook.

In May and June, as staking was gradually completed and the vines were growing, there was also the lierie to be carried out, which was the attaching of the vines to the stakes. This was done using blanched rye straw, which was sold in bunches, known as glus which, for ease of use, were divided into torchettes that were kept damp in a cloth known as a pailleron; the torchettes, which were about 40 cm long, were passed through the vine-grower’s belt, who would then attach the vine to a stake by twisting two lengths of straw to make a sort of eyelet known as a marionnette.

From June to August there was an operation known as rognage (trimming), the point of which was to concentrate the sap in the useful part of the vine, by trimming off the ends of the shoots about 70 cm above the soil. At the same time one would also perform ébroutages (thinning) by removing the weakest shoots. All of these operations were carried out by hand, and trimming was done twice over the course of the summer.

In November and December there was the acherie or hachage ("chopping") which consisted of removing all the stakes and placing them either point down in cone shaped stacks called moyères, or horizontally on kinds of trestles (chevalets), which would be located every one or two hundred square metres. During the winter the stakes had to be maintained, which involved sharpening them, disinfecting them (usually by scalding them), and replacing any that were no longer usable.

As part of this cycle there was another task that had to be performed three times every year, which was known as raclage (literally scraping, but essentially a kind of weeding), the aim of which was to destroy any weeds; the first raclage was done with a small grubbing hoe, and subsequent ones with a short hoe or the roots of thistles were pulled up with the bare hands. The third raclage provided an opportunity to dig around the vines in order to prevent heavy bunches of grapes from touching the soil. Raclage was sometimes combined with balayage, which involved sweeping under the vines with a birch broom.

In the winter fresh earth was spread under the vines in order to rejuvenate the soil, an operation that Nicolas Bidet called terrure (in modern French terreau means soil-based compost); some fertilizer was also added but, in accordance with a long-standing tradition in Champagne, always in small quantities so as not to harm the quality of the grapes. We read in Maupin’s Méthode that in Champagne they add little earth so as not to denature the vines and take away from the finesse of the wines... every twelve years for light soils and every fifteen years for richer soils. As for fertilizers, Mennesson explains that in the best vineyards the vines are hardly ever manured; they are wary of the effect of over-rich fertilizers which have destroyed the reputation of some of the most renowned wines. These texts date from the very beginning of the nineteenth century and it is certain that vine-growers were gradually persuaded to enrich the soil in order to cope with the increasing demand, but even then only on a limited basis.

In the vineyards of Champagne it was the custom to prepare the fertilizer-earth mix in advance. A place would be established where one could build up what Urbain and Jouron defined as a deposit made up partly of good manure from horned animals, and partly from fresh mountain soil, that one adds in regular layers, mixing in, depending on the nature of the soil where it is to be applied, either sandy earth, chalk, or earth rich in ash and sulphur. However a survey of vines that was carried out in 1883 warned against the excessive use of sulphurous ash because it could disagreeably affect the taste of the wine. When these mixtures were prepared in the autumn the cooked residue from the wine presses (marc de raisin) was frequently added.

Additions of earth and fertilizer were sometimes carried by mules or donkeys, using containers with removable bottoms, but more usually on a man’s back in wicker or wooden baskets. Considering the weight of the earth that had to be moved this was very hard work. Wooden basket holders were installed in vineyards which consisted of a kind of platform on which the vineyard worker could rest the bottom of the basket in order to put it down more easily. Generally speaking all of the tasks involved in the vigne en foule style of growing were hard work, and most of the time there was no help in either mechanical or animal form. Draught animals were not used for transport. In 1865 for the18,000 hectares of vines in the Marne there were only 1,000 horses, 297 mules and 9,552 donkeys. Men, women and even children often found themselves engaged in tedious tasks, made all the more awkward between April and November by the numerous irregularly placed stakes that held the growing vines in place; a vineyard worker evoking the old days once said, we used to writhe in there like snakes.

Dressed in corduroy or canvas trousers, and sometimes an apron known as a devantiot, the men were relatively well-equipped to deal with the muddy slopes of the vineyards (known as galipes in the local dialect). The women were less fortunate, with wide long skirts of which they attempted to reduce the volume by tightly knotting their apron strings around their legs, or which they arranged with the help of a great many pins, as a jupe-culotte ("trouser-skirt"), a term already in use at that time in the vineyards of Champagne. The only practical article in their viticultural wardrobe was the bagnolet, a very wide-brimmed hat made out of a printed cotton fabric, that covered both the front of the head and the shoulders, and which provided excellent protection in bad weather; in the Aube they were also known as quichenottes, or "kiss me nots" which are said to have originated in the Middle Ages as a deterrent against the English.

The women took on even the most challenging tasks. Cavoleau wrote in 1806 that their situation is scarcely more comfortable than that of the men... they are real athletes in terms of both strength and courage. Here is what is said on the subject in Le Calendrier du Vigneron Champenois (The Calendar of the Champagne Vine-Grower), published in 1877, In the past the women planted stakes by themselves...The "staker" would insert the top end of the bâton in the indentation of the breastplate that she was wearing and use all the weight of her body to push the stake into the ground. This monstrous task would push her breasts upwards, sometimes breaking the skin and crushing the chest. However the less tiring task of pruning was usually carried out by the men due to a very old prejudice from the days when pruning was considered to be a task that was beyond the limited intellect of women.

Workers remained in the vineyards all day. In order to prevent anyone prowling about at night and damaging the vines the municipality of Epernay decreed that vineyard workers are expressly forbidden to enter the fields before sunrise or to remain after sunset; to avoid anyone claiming ignorance of the working hours their start and finish will be announced by the sound of the bell ringing in the mornings and evenings (A34). In any event vineyard workers were early risers; to fortify themselves for the long day ahead they would eat a breakfast of cossiers, which were a kind of large bean, and would be sure to take a flask of wine in the basket that served to carry their tools and possibly their lunch.

The various vineyard tasks required a considerable amount of manual labour and the demand for qualified workers was high, although there were frequent complaints that vineyard workers were not as good as they used to be in the previous century. As early as1806 Mennesson observed that vineyard labourers have become more demanding about their rates of pay and less careful in their work. They were recruited at the louée (a kind of labour exchange) in Damery, which was superseded at the end of the century by the one in Epernay. The labourers were generally piece workers, and were taken on for hoeing and the entire range of vineyard tasks, except for provignage and the winter jobs, which fell to the vineyard owner and his family. However in the second half of the century employment by the day rather than by the task became widespread. Pay was between three and five francs per day, which was the equivalent of a bottle or a bottle and a half of champagne; they were not fed but it was the custom to give them every morning, before setting off into the vineyards, a small measure of eau-de-vie de marc (a kind of brandy), a terrible drink which was however very popular amongst the workers. For hoeing, which lasted about two months, the usual rate was 180 francs per arpent (about an acre), which was the equivalent of a hundred bottles of champagne per hectare (2.47 acres), and the labourer was also given eighteen bottles of wine. As the twentieth century approached owners began to take on labourers by the month and to lodge and feed them; labourers were even taken on for the year, but then they were neither lodged nor fed. Just before the First World War vineyard labourers considered their lives better than that of the master vine-grower, since they were sure of their wages, whereas the latter would win one year and lose another.

It was true that while the vineyard worker led a relatively care-free life the owner was often overwhelmed with work, as well as being in a constant state of anxiety over the various calamities, diseases and parasites that could befall his vines. In the summer there was the threat of storms, the rain from which would run off the land and turn the paths into gullies, or hail, which, according to the note-book of a vine-grower in Champagne by the name of Louis Ciret, was the size of a walnut in 1861 and the size of a turkey egg in 1895! In the spring the threat of frost was a constant source of worry.

Here by way of example are the notes of the same vine-grower for the years from 1872 to 1874: 1872, all the vineyards in Champagne had frost this spring except in Venteuil; 1873, a frost everywhere that was as harsh as those of mid-winter destroyed 3/4 of the harvest (25, 26 and 27 April); 1874, frost destroyed three quarters of the buds; for from 1st to 22 May, there was a frost more or less every day.

To combat these spring frosts protective sheeting was employed but with very limited success, and then towards 1860 a type of matting made from straw tied together with oiled string, and from the 1870s artificially produced smoke. It should also be noted that the stakes, on account of their huge number, offered, once they were in place, some protection against the frost.

Added to these natural disasters was also the possibility of sometimes considerable damage being caused by insects and cryptogamic diseases, not to mention rodents, such as the voles that ravaged the vines in 1873. Amongst the most dangerous insects were the grape moth (pyrale), which was particularly active in all French vineyards between 1835 and 1840, the grape berry moth (cochylis), the destruction of which was ordered by the local authorities, the leaf-roller (cigarier), and the grape rootworm (gribouri); the last two being known in Champagne since ancient times.

The authorities ordered the destruction of any vine pests. As early as 1753 Henry-Louis de Barberie de Saint-Contest, the steward of Champagne, stipulated that leaf-rollers should be destroyed, any one failing to do so was liable to a fine of twenty pounds. The city of Epernay passed a decree on the 9 Prairial (the ninth month of the French Republican calendar) year VIII ordering owners of vines to destroy grape berry moths, and the Almanach for the Marne District for the year 1806 records that mayors must oversee the execution of the law of the 26 Ventôse (the sixth month) year IV concerning the removal of worms.

Phylloxera needs to be considered apart; this was a small insect like many of the other pests, but one that completely turned the vineyards of Champagne upside down. Vine-growers had to graft French vines onto American stock with the indirect consequence that the vines en foule were replaced by vines in lines. Appearing in Champagne in 1890, phylloxera only became widespread at the beginning of the twentieth century, and will be considered in detail in the next chapter.

Cryptogamic diseases were particularly serious. Vineyards were attacked by oïdium (a type of powdery mildew), a nation-wide problem which appeared in the Marne in the1850s, and by mildiou (another type of mildew) that was even more dangerous. It was introduced to Europe in 1869 via the American root stock and, having first appeared in Champagne in 1882, it suddenly spread through all the vineyards in 1886, and destroyed a large part of the harvest in 1907 and 1908. Root rot and grey rot also posed serious threats and caused Louis Ciret to enter in his notebook for 1901: big storms - rot - lost 1/2 harvest, many vines were left unharvested. According to the Almanach Matot-Braine the yields for 1908 and 1907 were 28,300,000 litres and 7,000,000 litres respectively. At that time the average total yield for the the Marne area was 56,000,000 litres.

In those days there was very little that could be done against root rot and grey rot. However against oïdium and mildiou there was sulphuring and sulphating; mechanical spraying devices that were worn on the back became available in 1890. It was necessary to treat the vines between ten and fifteen times every year; we can only imagine the fatigue of the vine-grower who, during a rainy summer, sometimes had to spend six weeks at a time "in the harness" spraying the vines.

The vine-growers formed associations to help combat the various threats that could damage the vines. For example in 1894 in Bouzy there was an association for the protection of the vines against spring frosts by use of artificial clouds produced with tar. In 1903, in order to combat grape moths and grape berry moths, the same association acquired lamps that would be lit every night to attract the moths, which would then become stuck on trays covered with glue. And in 1904 they acquired galvanized iron cloches in order to kill the worms that were in the stakes with flower of sulphur that was burnt underneath them (523); it was acknowledged that stakes were better disinfected by this method than by scalding them. The Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne (which later became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques, and then in 1994, Union des Maisons de Champagne) was formed with the same objective and financed a vine laboratory that was set up in Epernay in 1895 by Emile Manceau, which worked in association with the regional laboratory of Châlons-sur-Marne.


The vine-grower works with the hope that the harvest will be a good one, but due to bad weather and the various pests and diseases his efforts are not always rewarded.

Champagne, unlike most of the other vine growing areas of France, was not subject to the harvest proclamation, which was the official date on which picking was supposed to begin. Each vine-grower could choose the day when the harvest would be started. In the nineteenth century, or at least from the time when the sparkling process had been suitably mastered, and in contrast to the eighteenth century, it became customary to harvest the grapes when they were fully mature in order to achieve a better quality of wine, rather than when they still had the "greenness" that was more likely to produce effervescence. Harvests were thus carried out as late as possible. A light frost on the vines is thought excellent and in his Manuel du Vigneron (Vine-Growers Handbook), the Comte Odart even writes, the wines of Champagne, even though they are dry, must be harvested immoderately late.

Before taking the decision vine-growers had to make sure that all their equipment was in good condition. In the Montagne de Rheims, where the vine-grower never makes his wine himself, cooperage was not a concern. But elsewhere the sound of mallets hammering on barrels resounded through the villages as they prepared them for the harvest, and which once rhabillés (dressed or repaired) were abreuvés ("watered") to make the wood swell and to clean them, for they had to be perfectly clean in order to avoid any goûts de fût (taste of the barrel). Some were new and were mostly bought in Argonne to replace those which had served their time. In the Champagne houses the preparation of the barrels for the harvest involved huge numbers of coopers, some employed as many as a hundred. Automatic barrel stackers and strapping machines came into service in around 1880. At the same time as the barrel work the smaller items of harvest equipment were checked. Small wicker baskets had to be repaired and the larger ones soaked, if the willow had become too dry. A fair was held in Epernay in mid-September that gave vine owners an opportunity to stock up on anything that they needed.

Pickers came mainly from Lorraine and Argonne. The mayors of villages were often part of the team, and were the only ones who had the right to a bed, along with the Mère des vendangeurs (the "pickers’ mother"), a woman of a certain age who had the respect of everyone and who, according to the traditions of the guilds, accompanied the pickers from Lorraine. The others slept on straw or hay in dormitories in which a central aisle separated the men from the women, such mixed accommodation did not present too much of a problem since everyone kept their clothes on.

The workforce was topped up on a daily basis at local hiring stations the opening of which used to be announced at dawn by a drum roll in the village squares. Tomorrow at three o’clock in the morning wrote Violart, the bell will wake us up to go to the square for hiring. There we will find men and women to work during the harvest (646) . The rate for these last minute hired hands was fixed on the day according to the law of supply and demand. It was displayed on the door of the school or the town hall, along with the rates for the hire of wagons and pack animals.

For a long time the only nourishment that harvest workers were given was a quarter of a maroilles (a type of cheese)33 and a loaf of bread, and it was up to them to come up with the rest of their food. However it became the custom to provide a midday meal, and gradually to offer something at every mealtime, if only some soup, which would have been a very simplified version of the traditional potée champenoise (a regional hotpot), a piece of lard and two or three glasses of wine.

The principles of harvesting remained unchanged from those of the eighteenth century, because it was still vin gris (white wine from black grapes) that was being made. It was therefore necessary to avoid the juice taking any colour from the skins, and so the grapes were treated with the greatest of care.

At four o’clock in the morning the bell would ring to wake the harvesters (62). They would be given a measure of marc brandy and a piece of bread and would form into teams known as ordons or hordes, which consisted of cueilleurs (pickers), porteurs de petits paniers (carriers of small baskets), porteurs de grands paniers (carriers of large baskets), and the éplucheuses (quality checkers). A large basket contained between 80 and 100 kilos of grapes (or only 60 kilos in the Montagne de Rheims) and small baskets contained five kilos.

Picking was originally carried out using a pruning knife; spring-loaded secateurs were used from around 1860, which were then replaced by small pointed secateurs (épinette) towards the end of the century. When the small baskets were filled the carriers would tip them into a large basket. Two of the large basket carriers (débardeurs) would then carry it on their shoulders to the edge of the road, with the help of a specially shaped stretcher or a wooden bar, called a barre à débarder, which was passed through the handles of the basket, or a bâton à paniers which was similar but with two hooks for the handles. The baskets were then loaded on to a sprung wagon or a beast of burden and transported to the press.

Bunches or any parts of bunches of grapes that were damaged were discarded and any grapes that were not fully ripe, known as the maumûrs, were removed and used to make a rough and ready drink. This stage was called the épluchage, or triage (sorting), an operation that was unknown in other vineyards in France, and which was carried out with a cutting implement, with a small basket or on racks resting on the baskets (629), once these had been brought to the edges of the vines by the carriers; the long, narrow racks were called clayettes [9].

However, a pamphlet produced by the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne in 1889 (which became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques, and then, in 1994, the Union des Maisons de Champagne), states that this procedure was unique to the Montagne de Rheims and that this was due to the way that the harvest was sold. Indeed, in this region the grape growers sold their entire harvest and the buyer had the right to demand that the grapes were sorted and cleaned as if they were table grapes [10]. Elsewhere, unless the merchant demanded otherwise, the usual practice was for the pickers to quickly remove, with the points of their scissors, green or rotten grapes. So when there was not a specific sorting stage the grapes were briefly checked over at the end of the rows; trust was placed in the ability and conscience of the pickers, who would be watched over by the vine grower or his wife. In the case of pickers who were directly employed by champagne houses the grapes were checked by team leaders, who were in turn inspected by the chefs de culture (a kind of vineyard manager) who travelled on horseback. However the pickers were organized, the basic rule was that set down by Chaptal: Only the healthy, ripe grapes should be picked: anything rotten must be carefully discarded, and grapes that are still green should be left on the vine.

The harvest lasted about twenty days. As well as working there was singing, courting and, unfortunately, fights were fairly commonplace; undesirable elements often wormed their way into the harvest crews with the result that brawls and even murders were not unheard of. In 1888 the Figaro reported that: dozen gendarmes were in Ay to keep order amongst nearly six thousand vagabonds and that it would be extremely unwise to travel from Epernay to Ay after nightfall unless one was armed with a good pistol.

After the grapes were picked they were taken to the presses one or even two days later. Baskets of grapes arriving from the vines were transported using tube shaped metal wheel-barrows known as gaillottes, and stored in the vendangeoirs, which were the buildings that housed the presses.

Presses were mostly of the round or square étiquet type, as in the eighteenth century, which involved a screw turning directly on the round or square press surface, and could take about 4,000 kilos of grapes at a time; they were called vertical presses in order to distinguish them from the much less common cylinder presses, which were known as horizontal presses, (referred to by the Vigneron Champenois of September 1874). Chest type presses, which held less, were sometimes used at the eng of the pressing, and hydraulic presses came into service in the early years of the twentieth century.

From the 1880s onwards, in order to facilitate loading, the mobile pressing platform of the vertical presses was made up of sections of wood reinforced with iron, that were lowered and held in a horizontal position by metal buttresses or locking bars.

The stalks were not removed, until at least 1820, according to Cavoleau, and 1890 according to Bonnedame. Perhaps, however this started in the middle of the century if one is to believe Dr Guyot, a renowned oenologist and hospital doctor in Champagne, who wrote in 1868 in his Etude des Vignobles de France (Study of the Vineyards of France) that when champagne was made the grapes are passed through the de-stalker and then the double fluted cylinder before being put on the press.

The practice of separating various qualities of must during pressing was preserved. The first three turns of the screw gave around 2,000 litres of vin de cuvée, also called vin d’élite, vin de choix. The fourth turn or sometimes the fourth and fifth turns, gave 300 to 400 litres of première taille ("first cut"). Further turns, possibly carried out in a chest-press, gave a further 250 to 300 litres of wine known as the seconde taille and then the same quantity again of rebêche. The vin de cuvée was used mainly for the best champagnes.

The other categories made up the vins de suite ("following wines") which was used for other champagnes, with the exception of the rebêche and sometimes part of the seconde taille which were used for non sparkling table wine. Dr Guyot states that some vineyard owners and merchants keep the wines separate that are obtained without pressing, which are known as moût-vierge (virgin-must) and use only this wine or that of the first pressing for their "première cuvée". The aignes (skins, stems and pips) were used to make an eau-de-vie (marc brandy) known as dédaine. It was also used as a fertilizer and, dried in the sun into cakes, as a combustible fuel.


What grape varieties were being grown in the vineyards of Champagne? The well-known problem is the identification of species and varieties in that, with the passage of time, have been given numerous names in different regions within the wine growing world. Olivier de Serres was already writing in 1600, after Virgil: La vigne est différante / En autant de surnoms / Comme on void abondante / La Libye en sablons (The vine is changeable / With as many different names / As there are grains of sand / In the deserts of Libya). Here we will give the varieties most likely in use in nineteenth century Champagne, as recorded in the works of Doctor Guyot, Odartthe, André Jullien and his son, Lenoir, the specialists of the time, who were not, moreover, always in agreement, and according to further research carried out by modern authors, notably Chappaz and Galet, and, for the Aube, Pierre Gabriel, given that within the same variety synonymy does sometimes allow slight differences.

For good quality white grapes there were, at the start of the century, the varieties of Pinot Blanc [11] of the great wines of Burgundy, the former Morillon Blanc. These were, in the Marne, Petit Blanc, Blanc doré, Gros Blanc, Épinette (or Épinette Blanche) and Beaunois, in the Aisne Bon Blanc and Bargeois, and in the Aube Arboisier and Beaunois37. It was not until 1860 that a variety began to be called Chardonnay, or Chardonnet, the distinction between Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay not being made until the twentieth century. In 1900 varieties of Pinot Blanc accounted for a third of the grapes used for champagne and were concentrated in the area now known as the Côte des Blancs. The Enquête sur la Vigne of 1883 notes on this subject that it is acknowledged that only pineau blanc can ensure the preservation and fame of the vines planted on the slopes of Chouilly in Mesnil; it is not very fertile, but produces a very fine wine.

In the Champagne region there were several good local varieties of white grape, such as, in the Venteuil area (in the Marne Valley), Petit Meslier which was, according to Merlet, one of the best grapes for making wine (414), in the Marne Chasselas Dur, also known as Chasselas Blanc and Bar-sur-Aube. In the Aube the latter was sometimes incorrectly called Muscat blanc; it is close to François Blanc and particularly to Arbanne, or Arbane, a white grape giving pleasing dry sparkling wines (254). This variety, already present in the sixteenth century in the Aube, was also around in the nineteenth century in the Epernay region and in the Aisne under the name of Vert-Blanc. For lower quality white wines the main grapes were Gros Plant, various varieties of Gouais Blanc or Marmot, Gamay or Gamet blanc, Plant Verdilasse, Languedoc Blanc; and in the Aube, Peurion known as Peurichon, Milleron, and Troyen Blanc [12].

When it comes to black grapes the great champion was indisputably Pinot Noir, the former Morillon Noir, sometimes called Noirien or in the Aisne, Bon Noir. This was the basic grape for the great wines made with black grapes, what Guyot called the fins noirs (fine blacks) (283). Just as in Burgundy, there were several varieties of Pinot Noir grown in Champagne that, for the most part, may be divided into two categories, plants dorés (bronzed vines), giving the best wines, and plants gris (grey vines) (96). In the bronzed group were Petit Plant Doré, the most well known, also called Petit Plant Doré d’Ay, which has a small yield but gives the finest wine (355) and of which there was a variety grown near Epernay called Demi-Plant Noir39 ; there was also, mostly in the Montagne de Reims, Rouge Doré. Both of these were gradually replaced by other more productive varieties, still producing excellent quality, namely Gros Plant Doré Noir d’Ay, and Vert Doré. For the grey vines (plants gris), there were Petit Plant Gris, which gave light, perfumed wines, and the more productive but less fine Gros Plant Gris; care must be taken not to confuse them with Pinot Gris of which we will hear more later. There were local Pinots Noirs that did not fit into either of the aforementioned categories such as Plant d’Écueil, Plant de Trépail and, above all, Plant de Vertus, which spread in the Montagne de Reims at the end of the century. The vineyards of the Aube, for black grapes, remained faithful to the various Burgundy Pinots, of which the most well known was known locally as Pinot Noir Fin, Pineau Rouge, and Pineau Franc or Gamery.

The Pinot Gris Vrai and Fromentau of the previous centuries was hardly to be found, except in the Aube where it was called Fromenté Violet or Fromenté Rose. In Alsace it was becoming widespread under the regional name of Tokay but in Champagne the merchants used it less and less, preferring for their blends grapes that were either completely black or completely white; the almost total disappearance of this excellent variety, which did so much for the fame of the wines of Champagne, is to be regretted.

The black grapes used for ordinary table wines came from an extremely wide range of fairly coarse vines. There was notably Teinturier, also called Noiraut or Alicante, which was used to strengthen the colour of red wines, Enfumé Noir, Chasselas Rouge, also known as Muscat Rouge, Gouais Noir, and Gamay or Gamet. In the Aube there was François Noir, Troyen Noir, Bachet, Beaunoir and Samoreau. Within this multitude of varieties there were, however, two black grapes that deserve to be treated separately since, whilst not being top quality, they were used to make champagne; these were Meunier and Gouais.

Meunier has a long history in Champagne, where it used to be called Morillon Taconné. It did not have a very good reputation and the Enquête sur la Vigne even described it as perfidious and in 1883 requested that the government give bonuses to vineyard owners who replant with Pineau Noir or Blanc and Vert-Doré d’Ay, thereby eliminating the Meunier vine. It continued, nevertheless, to spread throughout the nineteenth century, due to its hardiness and good yield, even replacing Pinots Noirs in some very respectable areas of the Marne and covering three-quarters of the vineyards in the Aisne. The grands crus areas producing the best wines understood the absolute necessity of only having the best quality grape varieties, which were essentially these Pinots which are making a name for Burgundy and Champagne. Elsewhere, however, as in the eighteenth century, the vine growers succumbed to the temptation of vines with high yields in the hope of better profits, but with an inevitable compromise in quality.

Gouais, both white and black, was a threat to the vineyards. It was marvellously robust and prolific41, but its quality was deplorable. As far back as the thirteenth century, for the purposes of rents paid with wine, the Coutume de Beauvaisis attributes to the wine of the large black grape or Goet a value of less than half that of the vin formentel. At the beginning of the century André Jullien noted that in Champagne the vine growers often plant Gouais Blanc, that they call Marmot, and that they usually only use the grapes to make wines for their own consumption: and in particular those in areas with a reputation to maintain would never sell wines made from these grapes so as not to compromise the good name of the locality. Unfortunately, this was no longer the case in the second half of the nineteenth century. The vin de Gouais began to be sold, even becoming involved in fraudulent transactions and thus potentially finding its way into blends used in the production of champagne. The phylloxera invasion gave the variety a further boost because vine growers had the imprudence to plant Gouais and vines from Austria, thinking that they would be more resistant to the insect’s ravages.

Whether the vines were indigenous or imported their renewal was carried out in situ. Liger, in 1790, was already writing in La Nouvelle Maison Rustique that nurseries are common in the country, adding that the individual who has a lot of vines can make his own nursery. Research into the vines that were most suited to the region, and best able to satisfy the growing demand of the merchants, began at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Bonuses were given to vine growers who planted the recommended varieties. In 1806 the County Council of the Marne decided to set up two experimental nurseries, one in the Marne Valley, the other in the Montagne de Reims; the plan was to compare the various vines used in Champagne with the best vines of Burgundy.

As in the previous century, but to a greater extent, yield depended, on the one hand, on the choice of grape variety, and on the other on additions of fresh earth and fertilizer. In 1800 the average yield was 10 hl per hectare for good quality wines and 20 for table wines. This yield grew rapidly in the latter category if a variety was selected and cultivated with a view to obtaining quantity rather than quality. The average in 1846 had risen to 30 hl and then stabilized to between 30 and 33 hl, although some years produced up to 60 hl. For vineyards producing champagne the yield per hectare settled at a more resonable 20 hl in around 1846; one does not aim for more, quality taking precedence over quantity. This figure rose only slightly, there being a distrust of highly productive varieties. Armand Maizière, in a question inserted in the program for the Congrès sur l’Industrie des Vins Mousseux of 1845, called for improvements concerning the replanting of the slopes most favoured by nature with fine varieties, where the desire for immediate gain has sometimes caused coarse high yield vines to be favoured. In the last quarter of the century shortfalls in harvests resulting from various calamities (oidium, mildew, frosts, etc.) led to the increased use of fertilizers, but vine growers generally remained within reasonable limits, given that in normal years the yield would increase due to the boost that the vineyards received from numerous new plantations. During the last fifteen years of the century the average yield per hectare for champagne producing vines settled at around 3,675 kilos, or 24.5 hl.

The general pattern in Champagne throughout the nineteenth century was that areas of vines increased in the vineyards that were producing grapes for sparkling wines, and that in the rest of the region vines gradually disappeared. It has been established that just before the Revolution the total area of vines was about 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres). Wines sold well at the beginning of the imperial regime, and even better after the return of the monarchy, and so vines were planted. In 1822 according to André Jullien’s Topographie de Tous les Vignobles Connus (Topography of all Known Vineyards), the total area was 65,700 hectares, of which 20,600 were in the Marne, 4,000 were in the Aisne, 21,000 in the Aube, 17,600 in the Haute-Marne and 2,500 in the Ardennes [13]. In 1881 there were only 15,000 hectares in the Marne, 14,000 in the Aube, and a few thousand in the rest of Champagne. Areas of vines continued to decrease until 1900.

This reduction was due to the gradual disappearance of red wine production in the region which, in the first third of the century, accounted for at least nine tenths of the harvests and mainly consisted of table wines for every day drinking. The only top quality wines were those made in the privileged part of the department of the Marne and a few red wines from the Aube. In 1850 red wines still made up two thirds of the wine production of Champagne and were still exported, especially to Belgium and to provinces in the Rhine area. But the decrease in red wine production quickly accelerated.

The decline was mainly due to a deterioration in quality, the result of the unfortunate choice of common high yield vines and the immoderate use of fertilizers, which greatly compromised the finesse and agreeableness of the wines. The Enquête sur la Vigne of 1883 declared that the decadence of the wine industry in Châlons goes back more than forty years; the wine that came from common vines was of mediocre quality and could not compete with those from the vineyards of Petite Bourgogne and the Barrois.

With the exception of the reputable wines from the best crus of the Marne that we have just noted, the fairly delicate wines which, however, lacked body and alcohol of Château-Thierry (318), and a few reds well-respected, with reason, in the Aube (284), the wines were all too often hard, acid and low in alcohol, as observed by the Moniteur Viticole of the 30 October 1877. In Les Récoltes Vinicoles de Bouzy et d’Ambonnay (The Grape Harvests of Bouzy and Ambonnay) one frequently comes across years when the colour is described as fausse ("off"), or not solid, and even years when it had no colour or was totally colourless..

Furthermore, some blends were adulterated by excessive additions of sugar and alcohol, or by being mixed with wines from the Midi or even with water.

These unfortunate practices were fairly widespread in France. In 1804 the following appeared in the Almanach des Gourmands: Most of the agents for Burgundy, Champagne and Bordeaux prepare these wines themselves before bringing them to the market. The wines should be seized as they leave the cellars, in the same way that in the past young women were closely guarded when they left their convent, if one wanted to be as sure as possible of having an untainted wife; and even so one is often deceived, for complete purity is as rare in wine as it is in young women. In 1827, according to Cavoleau: when red wines tend towards weakness one is obliged to add between 10 and 12 litres per barrel of a strong, generous wine from the vineyards of the Midi of France. And in the same way, or by the addition of a colouring agent, white wines were transformed into red ones.

Having rather lost their prestige the red wines of Champagne did not sell well, their prices fell and they suffered from fluctuations in the market. They were even replaced by other local drinks with which they could no longer compete. Ciret, a vine grower, wrote in his notes for 1847 for example that they had gone down to 10 francs a barrel due to the abundance of cider. And from 1850 it became comparatively easy to transport wines from the Languedoc via the railroad, and soon afterwards from Algeria, where large quantities of cheap wines were produced that were excellent for "extending" other wines. Far from coming to the rescue of Champagne’s red wines the railroad hastened their demise. This was foretold by Maizière as early as 1846, when he wrote: It has to be conceded that on the one hand there is competition from the wines of the Midi, which are more generous, have more colour, are longer lasting, and which have become cheaper, and, on the other, that our red wines do not keep well, in normal years, and in bad cellars, that good years are rare, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain worthwhile prices and that, finally, the surprising good fortune, albeit deserved, of the sparkling wines, can only complete the enforced decline of the last remaining antique non sparkling wines of Champagne. And, confirming the soundness of this sombre prediction, the Enquête sur la Vigne of 1883 records that wine production in the Châlons region was destroyed when the railroads brought in wines from the Midi at very low prices.

A few good quality red wines were still made but only out of necessity, when conditions did not enable the use of grapes that were usually used for champagne. The 1829 Pétition des Propriétaires de Vignes des Arrondissements d’Épernay et de Chaalons, states that if grapes are perfectly mature, then almost the entire harvest is used to make the "vin de Champagne"; if it is a bad year then only red wine is made. In October 1885 the Vigneron Champenois noted: Not much buying at the harvests, most owners in Champagne have decided to make red wines this year, to the great satisfaction of those who like them. But this occurred only rarely and in a few areas of the Marne. Inexorably, the red wines of Champagne continued to decline and from the 1860s the process began to accelerate. Previously classed as vins ordinaires de bonne qualité, they became vins de boisson (wines for everyday drinking), also known as vins de pays (local wine), and, paradoxically, vins naturels (natural wines), in order to distinguish them from seconds vins, vins de sucre (sugar wines) and vins de cochon (pig wines), which were made from mixtures of unripe grapes and aignes (the residue from the presses), or of raisins and aignes, or just aignes, sugar and water.

Urbain and Jouron were able to write in 1873: Our region hardly makes any red wines anymore, they serve only for what could be called local consumption. It then followed that vineyards that were not producing grapes for sparkling wine production were left to lie fallow. However, at around the same time, new possibilities emerged for the cultivation of the difficult soil of Champagne with the development of chemical fertilizers. These made cereal and fodder crops much more attractive to vine growers, who were already disillusioned by repeated poor harvests and the continuing threat of phylloxera. Moreover, many vine growers were farmers for whom vines were only a secondary income, an income that they had seen relentlessly decreasing for the reasons given above. As for those who depended exclusively on vines, they let themselves be tempted by the hope of a better life in the towns and joined the rural exodus. Vines thus gradually disappeared from regions where they been grown for centuries. In the Enquête sur la Vigne of 1883 a summary for the district of Sainte-Menehould states that vines are disappearing from day to day because they produce only losses and the product has no commercial importance; the district had 700 hectares of vines in 1800, 127 in 1880 and 3 in 1900.

Of course, the same was not true in the vineyards of the Marne which supplied the sparkling wine merchants of Champagne. In 1822 the area planted with vines has been estimated at between 3,000 and 3,500 hectares, and this covered only part of the districts of Rheims and Epernay and, in that of Châlons-sur-Marne, the canton of Vertus. Under the Second Empire prosperity favoured the sparkling wines of Champagne and the demand for good quality grapes increased significantly. In order to satisfy this demand vines producing table wine were replaced with selected varieties, when they were appropriately located. Vines for champagne thus spread and in 1846 reached 4,500 hectares, increasing to 6,000 by 1873, thereby nearly doubling in a quarter of a century.

After 1870 the replanting of existing vines was no longer enough, and up to 500 hectares were planted every year, despite the threat of phylloxera (351). The Vigneron Champenois noted in December 1873 that in many communes ploughed or uncultivated land is being planted with vines, in particular in the best areas. It was thus that the Sillery vineyards expanded from 50 hectares in 1830 to 111 hectares in 1893. In some cases the expansion was even more dramatic, Moreau-Bérillon wrote that: following the prodigious rise of the commerce in the wines of Champagne, the cultivation of vines has attracted the attention of certain capitalists who anticipate a very productive industrial opportunity. But the difficulty of finding a sufficient number of parcels of land together on the same hillside, as is generally the case with the reputable vineyards, has led to the creation of large vineyards in areas where there were no vines, or where there used to be vines, on slopes variously well exposed, at altitudes lower than those of the well-known vineyards of Champagne.

The large vineyards in question were only large on the scale of vineyards in Champagne, single tenants generally having a maximum of twenty to thirty hectares. Among the above mentioned capitalists, should be included the champagne houses which, combined, owned about 3,400 hectares of the vines in the Marne. As for the vine growers’ properties, they were divided up to an almost unbelievable degree. The Vigneron Champenois of October 1899 records that in Tréloup, in the Aisne, but on the edge of the Marne, 2,099 hectares of land was divided into 33,000 parcels. Those planted with vines were proportionally much smaller than those covered in woods or serving for other purposes and an example is given of a vine grower owning 2.25 hectares in 186 parcels spread over a hillside seven kilometres long. In 1900 the area planted with vines supplying the champagne trade reached 14,000 hectares (one percent of the total area of vines in France), which represents an increase of almost 500 % since 1820, although with 16,000 hectares the total area of vines in the Marne had decreased over the same period by 22%.

The location of champagne vineyards had not changed since the beginning of the century, when André Jullien wrote: It is only in the districts of Rheims and Epernay that one finds these famous slopes, the produce of which is so highly regarded and sought by one and all; he omitted to mention the district of Châlons which included the Côte de Vertus. The latter, producing both black and white grapes, extended down to the south of the Côte d’Avize, which had been planted almost exclusively with white grapes since the end of the eighteenth century, the Vallée de la Marne and the Montagne de Reims being the black grape kingdoms, accounting for three quarters of all the champagne vines. Each region produced wines with different characteristics: those of the Montagne de Reims were known for their freshness and richness in alcohol; those of the Vallée de la Marne for their incomparable bouquet; and those of the Côte d’Avize for their exquisite delicacy and a unusual finesse. On the slopes of the valleys and those of the Ile-de-France cliff, the small parcels of vines gradually came closer together, eventually joining up and creating large areas of vines. This was an advantage since they had for a long time suffered from the proximity of pastures and orchards that increased the risks of frost, and also of damage from wandering farm animals, which was particularly worrying when vines were planted en foule (in crowds or clusters). They would knock down the stakes as they grazed on vine shoots, which resulted in some communes instituting garde-vignes ("vine guards") also known as vigniers, and of prohibiting leaving animals to graze near vines and the leading of animals through vines without muzzles.

As we saw in the eighteenth century the idea of crus (specific areas) was inseparable from that of champagne, even if they were ultimately mixed together in the >blending process. Grapes from certain communes produced better wine than those from others, and the merchants were thus prepared to pay higher prices for the best crus. An unofficial hierarchy became established that remained in place until its consecration in the twentieth century.

In 1816 in his Topographie de Tous les Vignobles Connus André Jullien divides all French wines into five categories. The white wines of the Marne appeared as follows, no distinction was made between sparkling and non sparkling:

First class [14] : Sillery [15] , Ay, Mareuil, Hautvillers, Pierry, Dizy, some vines known as Le Clozet in Epernay.
Second class: Cramant, Avize, Oger et le Mesnil.
Third and fourth classes: Néant.
Fifth class : Chouilly, Monthelon, Grauves, Mancy, Molins, Beaumont, Villers-aux-Noeuds and Montgrim aud,and in a second section of the same class, the wines in the area surrounding Vitry-sur-Marne and Sézanne. In the Aube there are only the white wines of the Riceys in the fourth class, Bar-sur-Aube et Rigny-le-Féron in the fifth class.

In the 1832 edition, Jullien added Epernay and St Martin d’Ablois to the second class (the Clozet vines remaining in first class), and Vinay to the fifth, while Oger moved down to third and Grauves moved up to third. In the 1866 edition, which was updated by André Jullien’s son, Dizy disappeared from the first class and was replaced by Epernay and Moussy, while Ludes, Mailly, Verzenay and Verzy, previously only listed as producing the wines of Sillery, were given a mention in their own right. The other crus of the Marne were not classed. For some of those listed there are restrictive points in the description of the wines which precede the general classification. For example in Dizy it was only the part of the commune known as les Crayons, and in Hautvillers La Côte à Bras and a few other vines that were placed in first class, because several of the best vines had fallen into the hands of owners who did not cultivate them with the same care and their grapes, while very good, can only be ranked as second class.

These classifications had no official standing and so could be modified by whoever saw fit. One version that appeared in 1855 in Le Cuisinier et le Médecin is of particular interest because it concerns only sparkling wines. Jullien’s first two classes are kept, but Cramant moves from the second to the first and Chigny, Dizy, Epernay, Mailly, St Martin, Vertus and Villers-Marmery are added to the second. A third class was added made up of Avenay, Chouilly, Cuis, Grauves, Mardeuil, Monthelon, Moussy and Villers-Allerand.

In 1873, on 29 October, the newspaper La Vigne published a classification that had been drawn up by another paper, the Indépendant Rémois, to serve as an unofficial reference for the setting of prices of champagne grapes, limited to the best crus, divided into three categories:

The very best crus: Ay, Cramant, Verzenay.
First crus: Avize, Bouzy [16] , Dizy, Hautvillers, Oger, Pierry.
Second crus: Ambonnay, Mailly, Le Mesnil, Verzy.

It is to be noted that in this classification the communes of the Côte d’Avize are now on a par with the best black grape crus.

Finally, in September 1895, the Vigneron Champenois gave the classification in three categories of all the wine producing communes supplying grapes or wines to the merchants. The expression grands crus appears for the first time. Forming the first category, these numbered thirteen and consisted of 2,800 hectares of vines in: Ay, Ambonnay, Avize, Bouzy, Cramant, Mailly, Mareuil-sur-Ay, le Mesnil, Monféré, Oger, Sillery, Verzenay and Verzy. The two other categories were premiers crus and seconds crus, which included 38 and 86 communes respectively. This was, however, no more than a unofficial classification, used by the newspaper to indicate the quantities harvested and not the prices paid for each cru and was, moreover, subject to changes: the following September the Vigneron Champenois increased the number of grands crus to sixteen, adding Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bisseuil and Louvois.


We have seen that the decrease in the numbers of vines that took place over the nineteenth century was essentially due to a decrease in the production of still table wines which, under the Empire, accounted by far for most of the wine produced in Champagne. The production of the region’s much esteemed fine wines, both red and white, also decreased on a curve that was inversely proportional to champagne’s success, the reason being that champagne deprived these wines of the top quality grapes to which they owed their reputation. Until around 1840 this production did, however, remain very considerable. When the wine of Champagne was mentioned in works about vines and wine it was mainly, if not exclusively, in reference to the best quality still wines. These fine wines, both red and white, sold at the same or sometimes higher prices than that of champagne. They had their fans. In Ruinart’s accounts ledger for the 21 May 1825 an order appears for the red and white wines of Champagne for King Charles X, and in 1837 Le Cuisinier Royal wrote that any gourmet will vouch that the best quality champagne, and not the sparkling kind, combines the bouquet of Burgundy with the heat of Bordeaux.

Good quality white wines were, as they always had been, in the minority in Champagne. The best of them appear in the classifications drawn up by Jullien without any distinction being made between still and sparkling wines. Concerning those which were not used to make sparkling wine, they came from the Aube, in particular Bar-sur-Aube, where they made very pleasant wines, that keep fairly well despite not being very high in alcohol, and from the Aisne, where Château-Thierry, Charly, Essomme and Azay are surrounded by vineyards that produce a lot of white wines of not very good quality but which are perfectly drinkable. In the Marne, the Côte d’Avize produced, as we know, an agreeable white wine, but which was used almost entirely for sparkling production. The wine of Pierry was more highly regarded, being dry, high in alcohol, and likely to keep longer than the others (88), but most prized of all was that of Sillery, the famous dry Sillery.

The latter was produced, as we have already noted, by several communes on the north face of the Montagne de Reims. It was very highly esteemed; at Véry, in 1803, it fetched seven livres, compared to 5.10 livres for sparkling champagne. For Jullien, again in 1866, this wine, the most highly regarded white wine of Champagne, keeps extremely well and acquires a great deal of quality with age; it is only good when it is not sparkling... It has an amber colour and a characteristic dryness; its body, alcohol, charming bouquet and tonic properties ensure its place above all the other wines; it stays fresh in the mouth and can be drunk in large quantities without discomfort. Notes from the house of Moët described Sillery as, beneficial for the stomach, and as having some similarities with the wines of the Rhine, and recommended that it be drunk with roasted meats, and always chilled on ice .

Cavoleau states that the wines of Sillery were sent to England and also, a little, elsewhere in France, mostly to Paris, but in 1879, Vizetelly, who held Sillery in great esteem, noted that it was hardly sent anywhere.

White vines became rarer over the course of the century, even when there was no longer any requirement to remove the lees in the bottle, as was still the case in 1830 when Cavoleau wrote that non sparkling white wines have to undergo at least one removal of the lees before being transported.

Amongst the white wines of repute there was the tisane de Champagne, a still version of the modest sparkling tisane that began to appear in the early days of the sparkling wines of Champagne. In 1830 it was mainly the Côte d’Avize which supplied this non sparkling wine, this "tisane de Champagne" which the doctor advises for bladder problems, which can be diluted, and offers, when mixed with water, a most refreshing drink. Earlier in the century it was often made with "low wines" or excess wines but this cannot have overly harmed its reputation because in 1866 Prosper Mérimée recommended it to his friend Panizzi.

There also existed a kind of wine that could be said to make the transition between red and white wine, which was known in Champagne as Paillets. We have already come across this wine in previous centuries, otherwise known as still vins rosé, or oeil-de-perdrix (partridge eye). According to Cyrus Redding, they were obtained by pressing, but in the district of Rheims, vins rosés were only second rate wines lightly coloured with a small quantitiy of very strong red wine, or with a few drops of "teinte de Fismes" (a colorant). In 1899 they were still being made but are not very common wrote Feuerheerd in The Gentleman’s Cellar.

In the nineteenth century, as in all previous centuries, Champagne was known mainly for its red wines, and several of the grands crus have preserved their fame.

Le Cuisinier et Le Médecin, which generally followed Jullien, classified them as follows in 1855 :

First class: Bouzy, Ambonnay, Verzenay, Verzy, Aï; Pierry and Clos de St Thierry.
Second class: Lattes, Chigny, Villers-Marmery, Hautvillers and Cumières.
Third class: Vertus, Monthelon and Avenay.

Noting that the first and second class red wines are very fine and require particular care in their keeping, whether they are in barrels or bottles. The red wine of the Riceys was also well respected, but Bouzy enjoyed special favour. Cyrus Redding wrote that it’s bouquet approaches that of the best wines of Burgundy, and Delvau that the diners at the Café Anglais and the regimental heads of the Royal-Cocotte, the upper crust of gallant society in Paris, were divided between Clicquot and red Bouzy. But, as the author of Le Cuisinier et Le Médecin wrote in 1855: there is now a small production of these wines in Champagne, because almost all of the grapes are used to make white wines (the implication is that these were sparkling).

Be that as it may, the good red wines of the region gradually lost their distinguished rank amongst the best fine wines of the kingdom that Jullien had assigned to them in en 1822 and, generally, their standing as wines of Champagne. The Illustration of the 23 August 1862 wrote that the red wines of Bouzy, Aï, Epernay and Rheims now only exist in the cellars of devotees, like rare old volumes kept apart in a library, and the Vigneron Champenois of October 1874 observed that the red wine of Bouzy, very much appreciated by connoisseurs, is unfortunately becoming increasingly rare.


It goes without saying that the price of land varied depending on the fame of the cru. In the most reputable areas prices were four or five times higher than at the bottom of the ladder. In 1833 Redding wrote that champagne vines fetched around 5,000 francs a hectare, but that one could pay as much as 24,000 francs. In 1843 some vines in Bouzy were sold for 40,000 francs a hectare. In 1896 Legrand gave 7,800 francs as an average price and at around the same time Thudichum recorded sales of vines in Verzy for 25,000 francs and in the Epernay area for 40,000 francs [17]. These very high prices at the end of the century were a consequence of the champagne’s growing success; the merchants were particularly keen to get their hands on the grands crus, but vine growers everywhere saw the value of their land go up.

Income was obviously closely linked to the annual sale of the product of the harvest. In the nineteenth century this was extremely variable because it depended not only on climactic conditions but also needs, numbers and goodwill of potential buyers. A Notice sur le Vin de Champagne from the house of Pommery states that prices vary according to quality, quantities harvested and the requirements of the market. If a vine grower was in an area that produced grapes that could be used for champagne, then the harvest was usually to be sold to the champagne merchants, either as grapes or as wine, since this was more profitable than making and then selling still wine, and vine growers did not have the means to make their own champagne.

The selling of grapes rather than wine had been very common in the eighteenth century. Speaking of sales of batches of grapes, Dudoyer de Vauventrier’s report, that has already been referred to, says that nothing is more common in Champagne than this type of sale to merchants or private individuals, who buy them cut up, or even on the vine so that they can mix them on the press as they wish, with their own grapes or with grapes from other vineyards that they have bought in the same way. However, in the first half of the nineteenth, the vine growers generally made the wine and then sold it to the merchants. But after 1855 the practice became established in most of the grands crus of the Marne to sell grapes by the kilogramme, but this appears only to have been adopted in the Montagne de Reims. The Vigne of 20 September 1873 attributes the practice to Monsieur Roderer. In some areas wine continued to be sold by the barrel, and elsewhere the grapes were sold by the kilo, or a combination of the two. In 1881 the vine grower Ciret wrote in his notes that in Venteuil most of the harvest had been sold by the kilo and that a few growers had sold by the barrel.

In fact, it was the merchants who would impose sales by kilo in the areas producing good grapes because it was to their advantage. In market terms they were in a better position negotiating over the price of a perishable product than one which would keep and whose price might later increase. Technically there was better quality control if the grapes were bought as soon as they were picked. The merchant could then see the grapes for himself and make sure that they had been sorted to his satisfaction. He could then also supervise the pressing and the initial fermentation.

This procedure also had advantages for the seller. According to La Vigne of 20 September 1873, it relieved the small grower of the costs of pressing, barrels, etc., and is to the mutual benefit of both parties, and this was certainly the case for growers for whom vines were a secondary source of income and who would not have had a press or other resources necessary for making wine. He would leave all the worries of this delicate procedure to the merchants, thus sparing the grower any potential problems with making the wine and also the issue of where it would be stored. In the Guide d’Or de Champagne (The Golden Guide to Champagne), which was published in 1977, there is an account from the mayor of Mesnil in which he says that in his commune nearly the entire harvest was bought in kilos by the champagne houses but that a few growers made a few barrels of wine so that they could offer it to the managers of the champagne houses and to a few friends; it was a question of standing, of position, and also of dignity.

The practice of buying grapes rather than wine did, however, present two dangers. The owner-grower would obviously try to grow as many grapes as possible, he might even resort to forcing techniques that increased production at the cost of quality. This is confirmed by some articles that appeared in the Vigneron Champenois of 1873 which particularly mention the tendency to replace quality with quantity since the practice of buying the harvests as grapes has become established. Vine growers replaced Pinots with more productive vines and used more manure, thereby running a risk that the champagne houses would buy elsewhere. There was also the problem that negotiations over prices sometimes took so long that the picking of the grapes would be delayed, and they would no longer be in prime condition.

In the second half of the nineteenth century the grower thus had two possibilities. Doctor Guyot described them as follows in 1868: 1. To sell good quality grapes in "caques" [18] or in baskets; delivery being taken beside the vines by the agents of the trading houses, sale being by weight, which is much to be preferred, not being subject to the variations and cheating that can occur in sales by volume. 2. To press the grapes themselves, decant the musts, put them in barrels, leave them to ferment into wine, top up the barrels, fine the wine, draw it off, look after it, and wait for the best time to sell it. He adds however that some ventured as far as bottling, selling them sooner or later to the big houses, who would draw off the lees, carry out the champagne process and sell them.

Generally, wrote Urbain and Jouron, purchases, either as kilos of grapes, or by barrel after tasting, were effected through the wine agents, who would use a tasse à vin (wine cup) or a tasse à déguster (tasting cup), without "facets" as it was only white wine that was being tasted, and smaller than the tastevin used in Burgundy, which meant that they could keep them in their pockets.

When the big houses needed wine the agents would warn the owner-vine growers, reserve their harvests and indicate the price offered. If on the other hand they did not intend to buy, or only in very small quantities, then it was the vine growers who would have to chase the agents. Owners who were not happy with the price offered and who could afford to wait would store their harvest in the cellar. Later, after the frosts, when the wine had cleared, they would hope to receive a visit from the agent. The "clear wines" market was for the wines of that year. There was also a market for bottled wine. The Vigneron Champenois of October 1877 reports that if the harvest is lacking in quality or quantity then there is a marked interest in the market for old wine in bottles.

Here then was a structure based on supply and demand that should have given satisfaction to both parties. In practice things did not, alas, always turn out for the best or, in any event, for the good of the vine grower. In this completely free market the merchant was almost always in a position of strength and fluctuations in the price of grapes were too great for a healthy economic environment for the growers to be maintained.

On average, prices paid had, however, risen considerably by the end of the nineteenth century. For champagne vines the price for a barrel in a good year was 500 to 1,000 francs in 1873, against 200 to 250 in 1830, and the cost of living did not significantly increase during this period.

But if one looks at the fluctuations in price over a decade then one sees that the price by kilo of grapes varied enormously, sometimes quadrupling. Between 1850 and 1859 it went between 0.30 F and 1.60 F, from 1880 to 1889 between 0.30 F and 2 F, from 1890 to 1899 between 0.25 F and 2.60 F. And then there was the exceptional year of 1889 when, as a result of bidding between several of the big houses, who all needed grapes in order to compete in foreign markets, the price was pushed up to 3.50 F; but then seven years later the crisis that gripped the United States and Great Britain caused the price to drop to 0.60 F. The price even varied substantially on a daily basis [19], changing by twenty per cent or more, thereby causing considerable angst amongst vine growers, who could never be sure if they should sell or leave the grapes on the vines a few more days, assuming that they would not then deteriorate and lose value. Finally, there were differences in prices between communes, depending on the reputation of the crus. Usually, according to a long established custom, the prices were fixed, particularly in the Montagne de Reims, by the rate agreed between the buyers and sellers and adopted for the entire cru, the rate being set for the day and displayed in the commune.

Little by little, due to pressure from the merchants, it became the practice to fix a basic price for the best crus and to calculate the others on the basis of a percentage which was determined by their position in the unofficial classification of the Champagne crus, ranging from grand down to petit. Prices could differ by a factor of four51, which was considered a gross injustice by growers in the petits crus who would sometimes manage to transport their harvest during the night to a better cru, which did not go down very well with those who genuinely owned vineyards there. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that the custom became established of merchants and representatives of the Fédération de Vignerons de la Champagne negotiating prices before the harvest. The Federation was created in 1904, and it was not until 1911 that an official échelle des crus (scale of crus) was established. In the meantime the system in use at the end of the nineteenth century, and which continued into the early years of the twentieth century, came under increasing criticism from the growers, particularly when the merchants formed an organized body. The Vigneron Champenois of October 1888 reported that the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne (which became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques and then, in 1994, the Union des Maisons de Champagne) had assembled and fixed the purchase price. The Syndicat denied this, and maintained that it had simply been a meeting of a few merchants, some of whom were members of the Syndicat.

Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt that the merchants organized themselves in order to avoid over-bidding situations and to impose the lowest possible prices; whether or not it was under the aegis of their Syndicat made no difference to the growers. It also has to be said that the merchants, whose objective was to maximize their profits, would often endeavour to profit from the growers’ difficult situation, their stocks enabling them, for example, to wait for an abundant harvest in order to buy at low prices. As for the agents, they too, in their role as intermediaries, were inclined to exploit the the weaknesses in the growers’ position and to lay down the law. Hamp wrote in 1913 that the agents would tell the growers every autumn that since the merchants’ cellars were full they were only buying the harvest out of pity for their situation, and that prices would therefore have to be low. Not pleasing the agents could result in starvation.

When the harvest was sold as wine, Foureur explains that very often the smaller houses and speculators in clear wine would take advantage of growers’ difficulties to buy their harvest at a low price, then mixing it and improving it and finally selling it at a much higher price to the big houses, profiting from a year when the harvest was scarce, and market prices were therefore higher. In the case of grapes, scarcity was the only guarantee of being able to sell them, but since in that case the harvests were necessarily small then, even if the price per kilo was good, revenues for growers remained low. In any event, despite several attempts at forming an organized body, the growers remained divided in the face of the power of the markets, against which they had no recourse.

It was thus that Ciret came to write in his notes: 1900 - 20 May, 2/3 of the vines have frozen - Excellent quality wine, but the sixty vultures that make up the Syndicat conspired to get it for next to nothing. And for the sale of clear wine, the growers’ inevitable dependence on the vagaries of the market is well described by Violart, a grower in Ay, when he wrote: He waits for December trapped between hope and fear. Will he sell well or badly, will he sell at all? Alas! He does not know. He has harvested well, pressed well, and cared well for his wine; but, despite doing everything that he was able, he still cannot be sure that the wine will please the merchants.

In some years the merchants hardly bought anything and the growers had no choice, as we have seen, but to make red wine. In 1885 this was the fate of two thirds of the harvest! A grower who habitually sold his harvest as grapes would let his barrels deteriorate and sometimes his presses; he would thus be obliged to incur considerable costs in order to make wine that he would then have to sell for very little money. The Vigneron Champenois of the 8 October 1873 reported that several producers, in the hope of selling their grapes by the kilo, have not taken the precaution of equipping themselves with barrels of which they were very much in need; having put off buyers with their pretensions, they are now forced to make wine, and it has to be put into barrels. In any case, this was no more than an expedient, and did little to help growers overcome the despondency that had become widespread at the end of the nineteenth century, despite a considerable improvement in their standard of living.


In 1896 there were, according to Legrand (351), about 25,000 vine growers in the Marne spread over 453 wine producing communes, owning about 16,000 hectares of vines, which works out at an average of a little more than half a hectare each. Couanon and Convert specify that at that time, for the 119 richest wine-producing communes, there were 7,998 owners with less than a hectare, 2,581 with between one and five hectares, 84 with between five and twenty hectares, and 21 with twenty hectares or more. Holdings were thus very small, but it must be said that vines were a secondary activity for most of the growers; those with no other form of revenue would probably have had at least two hectares. This, nevertheless, provided barely enough to support a family in an era when there was no welfare, and children were generally numerous.

The costs of growing vines increased considerably over the course of the century. Rising from 600 to 900 francs a hectare in 1833, to between 1,500 and 2,000 francs in 188952. Vines grown in clusters, as opposed to rows, required a great deal of labour, which became increasingly expensive; day rates for vineyard workers rose from 1.50 F in 1840 to 4 F by the end of the century. The lot of the vine grower had, however, improved enormously compared to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was substantially better than the average peasant labourer. Dr Guyot calculated that in 1860, in the grands crus (i.e. the most profitable), a hectare of champagne vines could bring in up to seven or eight times more than a regularly farmed hectare. The fortunes of the vine grower in Champagne rose and fell throughout the nineteenth century. On the eve of the Revolution Mennesson wrote: His life is hard, but he is not unhappy. There is affluence in the provinces, but hardly great wealth; begging is nearly unknown. The situation could, however, easily quickly deteriorate following changes in the general economic climate, caprices of nature, or of the market, and it could happen that vines became an expensive possession for the owner. This was often the case and the Enquête Agricole du Ministère de l’Agriculture of 1867 observed that, with the exception of the grands crus, which provide the producer with very ample profits, over twice those of the ordinary crus, the vine owner, not acting as a merchant, has seen his situation become gloomy; it is with difficulty that he recovers the costs of growing in several years, which have doubled in 33 years, while selling prices have, conversely, hardly increased by a fifth. However, in around 1880 a considerable improvement was observed. Without being as optimistic as Bertall, who wrote that the small owners are all rich and live comfortably, one might imagine that this was the case for some, and that many were satisfied with their lot.

This was such an unusual state of affairs that some authors were taken aback, such as Armand Bourgeois in 1894, whose introduction to his collection of Opinions sur le Vin de Champagne describes the living conditions of the typical vine grower in Champagne at the end of the nineteenth century as follows: Most of the houses are smart and well built, nice white facades, fresh paint gateways and shutters, pots of flowers in the windows, railings in squares and even pavements. Handsome bedrooms, fine dining rooms. Armand Bourgeois was of the opinion that: The fact that a lot of money can be seen in the vineyards has led the growers to too much luxury... especially when it comes to women’s clothes. Young people wearing morning coats and jackets! Lavish meals with copious quantities of champagne!

Such criticism seems misplaced today, however, what this account shows is that if the growers exercised a tough profession that was full of uncertainties, and if prospects for the future were menaced by the threat of phylloxera that hung heavily over the vines, then they at least, in the last years of the century, had the satisfaction of earning a decent living, some even reaching real prosperity. Content with little, the Enquête sur la Vigne wrote in 1883 that he found remuneration at the end of the year for his troubles and his capital.


[1MAUPIN. Maupin Method of Cultivating Vines and the Art of Making Wine. Paris, 1799.

[2GUYOT (Dr. Jules). Study of the Vineyards of France, for use in the teaching of the cultivation of vines and winemaking in France, Volume III. Paris, 1868.

[3The expression en foule is generally taken to mean "in a crowd" because the disorderly appearance of the vines resembles a crowd of people. It is perhaps more logical to keep to the dictionary definition of en foule of "in large numbers" because in this style of cultivation the density of vines is greater than when they are planted in lines.

[4The word provin is not unique to Champagne and comes from the Latin propaginem (propagare = to replant).

[5A bud or eye, in viticultural terms, is the fruiting bud, or the rudimentary bud which is the point on a shoot from which new growth will start.

[6THUDICHUM (J.L.VV.). A Treatise on Wines. London, 1894.

[7COUANON and F. CONVERT. Board of admission’s report and installation of classes 36 and 60: Viticulture. Wines and wine spirits. International Universal Exhibition of 1900. Saint-Cloud, 1900.

[8Born in Rheims Nicolas Bidet (1709-1782) published a summary of wine-making knowledge of the eighteenth century in 1752.
This work was enriched by a series of finely drawn plates by Maugein, engraved by Choffart, which show presses, vats and various wine-making instruments. He was an officer of the King’s House and sommelier to Queen Marie-Antoinette.

[9Epluchage et triage had the same meaning in the nineteenth century. The clayettes were were wooden boards, and then shallow wicker baskets from about 1870.

[10SURTEES (Robert Smith). Mr Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities. Londres, 1869.

[11In France, depending on the region and the period, one finds Pinot or Pineau. In Champagne, the Pinot spelling was most common. Pinot blanc is sometimes incorrectly called Gamay blanc.

[12In the 1866 edition of his Topographie, Jullien classes Gros Plant Vert in the good quality varieties, and marks Petit Plant Vert as giving mediocre wines. For him Marmot was Gouais blanc, and Bosc was Chasselas. There was also Marmot Vert, which was the Elbing of Alsace, and which Thudichum claimed to have encountered in Champagne.

[13The figure given by Jullien for the Aisne was 10,000 hectares, but the considerable area of the vineyards of the Laonnais, which did not belong to Champagne, must be deducted.

[14For the purposes of comparison, Jullien’s classification for Burgundy had Montrachet in the first class category and, for Bordeaux, Sauternes.

[15In the 1832 edition Jullien specifies: Dry wines said to be from Sillery, that were harvested in Ludes, Mailly, Verzenay and Verzy.

[16Bouzy did not appear in classifications prior to that of 1873 because for a long time it only made red wine. In 1804 Pierre Failly wrote to his correspondent, Monsieur Christophe: A propos of Bouzy you have made a great error in your announcement of 20,000 bottles of sparkling wine when you say from Ay or Bouzy - only red wine is made in the latter (A 26).

[17The upper and lower limits of prices per hectare in 1896, of 7,800 and 40,000 francs, would be the equivalent of about 23,300 and 118,500 euros in 2004.

[18A caque was a basket holding sixty kilos, and was the unit used for establishing prices in the Montagne de Reims. The unit elsewhere was the kilo.

[19In Damery in 1873 the price was 1.20 F a kilo on the 7 October and 1.40 F on the 8th. By way of comparison, a kilo of bread that year cost 0.50 F.