We have talked about some of the different villages in Champagne France when we looked at the different regions and introduced the idea of grand cru and premier cru villages.
There are 318 villages in the Champagne region and under the historic system called the Échelle des Crus (which literally means ‘ladder of growth’) each village (not a specific vineyard or house) is classified based on a rating of 100% – 80%.
The history of the Cru system
The system was actually established in 1919 as a result of a “battle royal” between (grape) growers and (champagne) producers borne out of the fundamental business issue of supply and demand. A string of circumstances (including several years poor weather, poor vintages and the phylloxera epidemic) created a crisis in Champagne which culminated in the champagne riots of 1910 and 1911. There were a number of diplomatic solutions including establishing the Cru System to help set grape prices… a price per kilo was set each harvest and villages were paid a percentage of that price depending on their classification. So the higher the rating of the village, the higher the price the growers are paid for the grapes. Growers in Grand Cru villages were paid 100% and so forth.
The system isn’t without controversy, with many winemakers arguing it is not a direct measure of grape or wine quality. Many say having a cru classification applying to an entire village (rather than a vineyard as applies in Burgundy) doesn’t account for variances in terroir… but the classification system remains in place.
While the system no longer officially applies for setting grape prices (houses and growers again negotiate with each other), the classifications can still be used by champagne makers for labelling champagnes and marketing purposes.
What it means for you?
All the best wines must then be made exclusively with grapes from Grand Cru villages, right?
Actually… no! Champagne is fundamentally a blended wine… blends of grape types, or years or vineyards. While often cuvee de prestige wines are made exclusively from grand cru villages, many of the great cuvée de prestige wines are made with blends with some grapes from premier cru villages including Bollinger’s Grand Annee and Krug (although Krug does produce a single vineyard vine in its Clos de Mesnil).
Grower champagnes are more likely to be single vineyard and if they have grand cru designation, they will label their wines accordingly.
There are two main classifications – grand cru and premier cru.
17 Grand Cru villages are rated at 100%. All the grand cru villages are in the three most regarded districts – nine in the Montagne de Reims, six in the Côte des Blancs and two in the Vallée de la Marne.
Five villages were given a promotion in 1989, making the list of Grand Cru villages in Champagne France….
- Mailly Champagne
- Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
The 44 Premier Cru are rated 90-99% and the remaining 257 villages in Champagne France are rated between 80 and 89%.
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