In the world of Champagne you have probably heard many Houses talking about the fact that their cuvees, especially for their vintage Champagne have this or that percentage of fruit harvested from Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyards and said in a way that suggests this is a very positive thing, but they don’t explain what this really means. So our summary will give you an overview of why this is indeed an important component in the production of fine Champagne.
Back in the 19th Century, the authorities decided that all of the vineyards in France, were to be classified, to reflect the quality. In Champagne this meant quality-rated status, village area by village area also called communes. The system that was adopted in Champagne was a percentile system known as ‘Echelle des Crus’. Ratings were for the quality of their grapes, the aspect of their vineyards, the soil and topography. The top villages with the best of the best in all areas were given a 100% rating Grand Cru, the next best vineyards were the Premier Cru given ratings between 99% and 90%, right down to lowly valley floor areas rated as little as around 22%. Historically the Committee agreed on a price that the grapes will command and the percentage the growers receive for their grapes depended upon their rating. Nowadays the classification is part of the pricing process, though more importance these days is based on a vineyards current performance, however the price for grapes from the 100% rated villages still command the largest premium.
You can now see why it is so important to have access to the top vineyards in Champagne as they have been classified as having the ideal environment or Terroir to produce the most amazing grapes in the region. They are also the most expensive grapes to buy and hence the more Grand Cru or Premier Cru juice in the Champagne the more expensive the final bottle.
This is one of Champagne Bollinger’s Pinot Noir vineyards in Goutte d’Or in Aÿ
Champagne Louis Roederer – Vaularon in Aÿ.
The most prestigious vineyards to own are the Grand Cru Vineyards, of which there are 17 all located exclusively in the Côte des Blancs (Chardonnay) and Motagnes de Reims (Pinot Noir). To put it in perspective they only account for just 8.5% or 3,000 hectares of Champagne.
The Communes or Villages are: Ambonnay, Avize, Aÿ-Champagne, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Chouilly (white grapes only), Cramant, Louvois, Mailly-Champagne, le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Oiry, Puisieulx, Sillery, Tours-Sur Marne (red grapes only), Verzenay, Verzy.
The next best vineyards to own are the Premier Cru vineyards of which there are 43 villages located accross the Champagne Region. Out of the 43 villages two, Chouilly and Tours-sur-Marne are Grand Cru vineyards but only for one specific grape variety the other varieties are Premier Cru. There are also two villages Etrechy and Grauves that are Premier Crus but just for one grape variety only.
In total there are 7,500 acres of Premier Cru Champagne amounting to almost 22% of Champagne. Here the classifications range from 99% to 90% depending on the village and indeed the aspect of the vineyard and the quality of the grapes. Out of the 43 villages the historic ratings are as follows: 2 villages 99%, 13 villages 95%, 7 village 94%, 5 villages 93% and finally 16 villages rated 90%.
The premier cru villages / communes are:
99% Mareuil-sur-Ay, Tauxieres
95% Bergeres-les-Vertus, Billy-le-Grand, Bisseuil, Chouilly – Black Grapes Only, Cuis – White Grapes Only, Dizy, Grauves – White Grapes Only, Trepail, Vaudemanges, Vertus, Villeneuve-Renneville, Villers-Marmery, Voipreux
94% Chigny-les-Roses, Cormontreuil, Ludes, Montbre, Rilly-la-Montagne, Taissy, Trois-Puits
93% Avenay, Champillon, Cumieres, Hautvillers, Mutigny
90% Bezannes, Chamery, Coligny – White Grapes Only, Cuis – Red Grapes Only, Ecueil, Etrechy – White Grapes Only, Grauves – Red Grapes Only, Jouy-les-Reims, Le Mesneux, Pargny-les-Reims, Pierry, Sacy, Tours-sur-Marne – White Grapes Only, Villedommange, Villers-Allerand, Villers-aux-Noeuds