Champagne Making in France, an article from the July 5, 1867 New York Times  

The New York Times,
    July 5, 1867, p. 2:


Where Champagne is Made--
Process of Manufacture--
The Supply for this Country.

    ...Fifty years ago the trade in Champagne wine was comparatively insignificant. Though the wine of that country has been famous from time immemorial, and long shared with the Clarets and Burgundies of France the esteem of the world, the wine which we now know as Champagne hardly dates beyond the beginning of the last century, and even so late as the middle of that century was so rare and costly that it was used only be a few rich and privileged amateurs.

    In 1780 the great house of Moet & Chandon thought it would be a bold venture to make six thousand bottles in the year. Their present annual sale is over a hundred and fifty thousand dozen...
  click for
Champagne ad from the Dec 17, 1955 NY Times


    The famous vineyards of the champagne country are upon an amphitheatre of hills, which commences about six miles from Rheims and which continues, in successive waves of rolling heights, for a distance of about ten leagues, until it subsides in the vast plain which forms the Department of the Marne.
    The vine, which is almost the only product suited to the soil of this region, is cultivated in the five arrondissements of the department: Chalons sur Marne, Epernay, Rheims, Sainte-Menehould and Vitry-le-Francais. It is only, however, in those of Rheims and Epernay were the grape is produced of which the genuine champagne is made.

    The conformation of the vineyard-hills is very slightly varied. Their height is nearly the same, and whatever irregularities there may have been on their surfaces have long since been smoothed over by constant and careful culture. The exclusive growth of the vine, the even height to which it is cut, the regularity with which it is planted, the uniform length and color of the poles to which it is attached, the absence of all landmarks except the almost invisible boundary stones, and the entire want of trees or shrubs of any kind, make these vine-clad hills of Champagne so alike that none but a proprietor, stimulated by the interest of ownership, can distinguish one from another.
    These lands are minutely subdivided, and many a proprietor has a vineyard which he could cover with the broad linen sheets of his best bed. There are about 41,000 acres of land shared among 16,095 owners. These small proprietors live in the various hamlets which are inclosed by the vine hills. They form a very thriving population, unconscious of pauperism and undisturbed by fears of it. The villages in which they live are all built of stone, and each house is a plain but solid structure.

    The grape from which champagne is made is grown chiefly in the vineyards of Verzenay, Bouzy, Mareuil sur Ay, Dizy, Hautvillers, Epernay, Pierry, Cramant, Avize, Mesnil, and Virtus.

    The grape, contrary to what is generally supposed, is chiefly a red or black one, though the champagne wine, as we all know, which it produces is of a light amber color. The white grape is also cultivated, chiefly at Cramant, but much less abundantly than the red or black.
    Each place produces a wine with qualities peculiar to itself, and no champagne wine is deemed complete unless it combines by "marriage" (or mixture) the separate qualities of each vineyard. In making his wine, the manufacturer selects, with discriminating taste, the products of the several vineyards, and by combining their different qualities, presents us with the finest and most popular of convivial beverages, the true Champagne.


    When the grapes are ready for gathering, the whole population turns out for the work. Men, women and boys, each one carrying a basket, pass regularly along the rows of vines, cutting the bunches with a hooked knife and placing them carefully in the basket, which, when full, is emptied into a larger one at the roadside.
    The grapes, as fast as they are gathered, are sorted by a group of women and girls seated around a tray of open wicker work, like the cover of a gigantic basket. These pull off the decayed, unripe, crushed, or otherwise spoiled grapes, which are allowed to fall through the interstices of the tray into a receptacle below, while the bunches thus purified are carefully put into panniers, which, when filled, are lifted upon donkeys and borne into Verzenay.

    No grapes are used in making the best wines that have not been thoroughly examined and sifted of all spoiled and inferior fruit. The latter, however, especially if of a famous vintage, like that of 1865, is not lost, but used to make ordinary wine, or to distill into common brandies.


    The whole product of the vintage has already been disposed of to the great proprietors, whose immense vineyards are not extensive enough to supply them with the quantities and qualities of grapes which they require. The grapes being thus the property of the manufacturers are at once carried to their wine-presses.

    When the baskets arrive they are emptied into a great wooden measure, called a caque, which is roughly estimated to hold one hundred and twenty pounds weight. Each proprietor brings in his supply himself, and eagerly watches the measurement of his load. As each measure is filled a tally is kept by half a dozen at the same time, in the rudest way, by chalk-marks on the door posts or on a convenient cask lying near.

    The wine-presses are very much like those used in our country for making cider, although they are never worked, like the latter, by horses. As different classes of wine are obtained according to the degree of pressure, this can only be properly regulated by the discreet force of men's hands.

    As soon as the caque or measure is filled, its weight estimated, and its number marked, it is emptied on the floor of the wine-press. These wine-presses can hold from five to ten thousand pounds of grapes at a time. When their floors are well covered, the fruit is first trampled down with the feet, and smoothed into a uniform layer about two feet and a half thick. This is covered with planks, and the machine being adjusted its pressure is carefully applied.

    The grapes are thrown in in bunches with their stalks. The tannin which the latter contain is deemed an essential element of the wine, as it gives solidity to it and renders it durable.

    The juice flows into a gutter at the base of the press, and thence through a spout, guarded, to prevent the escape of the skins and pulps, by a large wicker basket, through which it passes into the tub or vat below.

    From this it is dipped out with buckets and poured into ordinary wine barrels, if it is to be moved to a distance, or if to remain stationary, into large hogsheads.

    The juice of the first and second pressures is alone used for the manufacture of the finest champagne; that of the third for inferior grades; and the fourth and fifth for ordinary red wines, or for distillation into a common brandy.
    The juice, as it comes from the press, has a very light pink color, which it loses entirely in the course of its fermentation. Thus the red or black grape, without the use of any artificial means of bleaching, produces the clear amber-colored champagne wine we all admire. Great care must be taken, however, to keep the juice of the red grape free from the skins and pulp.

    The refuse of the grapes is left by the pressure in the form of a solid cake about half a foot in thickness. This is either cut with a spade into small square blocks, and dried for fuel, or broken up and mixed with stable manure, to fertilize the vine-fields.

    The vintage generally lasts a fortnight, and is carefully watched by the manufacturer. He is present the whole time, and keeps his eye upon every detail of the operation--the plucking and assorting of the grapes, the weighing, pressing, and filling the barrels, &c.
    When we are told that even if a few crumbs of bread should fall among the grapes, they would, by the fermentation of the gluten they contain, produce ammonia, and spoil the flavor of the wine, the necessity of watchfulness can be appreciated. The laborers are accordingly expected to refrain from taking their meals near the grapes destined for the wine-press.


    Some weeks after the vintage the juices of the various vineyards are mixed together in a huge vat. The fluid has already purged itself, and flows out limpid and almost colorless. That, however, coming from the red grape may still have a slight pink hue, like the dying reflection of the setting sun in a pure stream; while the juice of the white grape retains but the slightest tinge of its yellow color.
    This mixture of the various wines is accounted the most important discovery in the manufacture of champagne. The juice of the white contains a strong effervescing element, while that of the red grape give it great body and fineness. These qualities, moreover, vary in degree in the products of the several vineyards.

    The different juices are then thoroughly mixed by means of a long pole, armed with cross pieces. The mixture is then drawn off into large hogsheads, and left to ferment under the ordinary temperature of the air. At the end of about fifteen days these hogsheads are placed in underground cellars, where the cooler temperature arrests the activity of the fermentation.
    Here the wine is left undisturbed until January, when it is carefully tested in order to ascertain the amount of natural sugar it contains. If too much, a less saccharine wine must be mixed with it, if too little, a proper quantity of cane sugar is put into it. After this operation, the wine is left in the first cellar underground until April, when it is bottled.

    The bottles are filled to within an inch of the mouth, and then corked and laid carefully in layers, supported by narrow horizontal strips of oak. When the wine has been properly made, fermentation now goes on rapidly, and reaches its height in about three weeks.
    This is a period of great anxiety to the manufacturer, as the loss from breakage in consequence of the development of gas is sometimes enormous. Ten per cent. is the average, and in some years it amounts to twenty-five per cent. of the wine bottled. If the breakage becomes too lively, the manufacturer checks it by removing his whole stock into a lower and cooler cellar; if the wine should be chilled and torpid, he removes it to a warmer place. It is thus continually shifted about for three or four years, until ready for the final corking.

    During its frequent migrations from place to place the wine has been much disturbed, and a muddy sediment has rendered it opaque. The bottles are now placed on the side and left undisturbed until this sediment has been deposited, leaving the wine pure and limpid. The bottles then are gently inclined, neck downward, upon racks, and daily turned very slightly, until the sediment is shaken down into the neck, and rests upon the cork.
    They are then ready for the next operation. The workman entrusted with this delicate task is provided with a hooked and sharp-pointed steel, and a basin opening into a reservoir below, supported by a wooden frame and partly covered with a hood. Placing himself before the basin he seizes the bottle, holding it diagonally with its neck downward, removes its iron fastening with a single touch of his hook, and the cork, driven out by the gas, pops out with great force, followed by the sediment which was clinging to it, and a spirting flow of frothy wine.
    The issue of the latter is checked somewhat by the finger of the operator, who at the same time gives the bottle several quick half-rotatory turns, the the wine which is allowed to escape may rinse out from the neck every particle of deposit.
    The whole operation is completed in an instant of time, and with a loss ordinarily of not more than a couple of tablespoonfuls of wine.

    The bottles, as soon as disgorged, are ready for the subsequent stages of preparation. To prevent the further escape of gas and wine, he puts into each bottle a cork which, having been already used and well compressed, is easily applied.
    The bottles are now ready for "dosing" and corking, and are hoisted from the cave into an upper apartment. Here the doser uncorks each bottle, and allowing what he deems a sufficient quantity of wine to escape, fills up the space thus emptied to within a short distance of the mouth with a liqueur composed of white sugar-candy, the finest of white wine and spirits of Cognac. The bottle is then corked by means of an ingenious machine which has the appearance of a miniature guillotine. Cord and wire are then applied and the process is complete.


    Thirteen millions of bottles of champagne wine are annually sent to market from Rheims and neighboring places, and of this number the United States receive about two millions.
    All the chief manufacturers send their products to this country. H. Piper & Co., whose wine is so well known in our country under the brand of Heidsieck (Piper,) are by far the largest exporters. They send to the United States about 40,000 dozen annually.
    None of this, however, according to the evidence of their agents, in a case now pending in the New-York Courts, is above the third quality--the first and second being reserved for Europe. G. H. Mumm & Co., and Charles Heidsieck & Co., export each 12,000; Krug & Co., 11,000; Heidsieck & Co., 10,000; D. St. Marceaux & Co., 8,000; L. Roederer, Moet & Chandon, and Jules Mumm & Co., each about 7,000; and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, some 5,000 dozen. Other houses of less note contribute in proportion to their importance, to make up the large quantity consumed in the United States.

    Though most of the wine consumed in this country through these sources is probably genuine, it is certainly not of the highest quality. The best wine is kept for home consumption, or for the use of courts.
    Of course an immense amount of spurious champagne finds its way here, or is manufactured by parties whose vineyards are to be found only in chemical laboratories. One taste of the genuine vintage will put it out of the power of these racally manufacturers with their detestable concoctions. The quantity of real champagne imported into this country is yearly on the increase, and the danger of being cheated diminishes in proportion.

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Classic Wine Articles:
White Wines of Bordeaux 1876
Wine Making at Home 1919

Classic Champagne Articles:
Champagne Making in France 1867
Making Champagne in France 1891
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