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FACTS ABOUT CHAMPAGNE
OTHER SPARKLING WINES,
Collected During Numerous Visits to the Champagne and Other Viticultural Districts of France, and the Principal Remaining Wine-Producing Countries of Europe.
Chevalier of the Order of Franz Josef. Wine Juror for Great Britain at the Vienna and Paris Exhibitions of 1873 and 1878. Author of "The Wines of the World Characterized and Classed," &c.
WITH ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE ILLUSTRATIONS, Drawn by Jules Pelcoq, W. Prater, Bertall, etc., From Original Sketches.
London: Ward, Lock, and Co., Salisbury Square. 1879.
This little book scarcely needs a preface, as it speaks sufficiently for itself. It is for the most part the result of studies on the spot of everything of interest connected with the various sparkling wines which it professes to describe. Neither pains nor expense have been spared to render it both accurate and complete, and the large number of authentic engravings with which it is illustrated will conduce, it is hoped, to its value.
Uniform with the present work and the Author's "Facts About Sherry,"
FACTS ABOUT PORT AND MADEIRA,
Including Chapters on the Wines Vintaged Around Lisbon and the Wines of Teneriffe.
Illustrated with 80 Engravings from Original Sketches.
PAGE. I.—THE ORIGIN OF CHAMPAGNE.
The Early Vineyards of the Champagne— Their Produce esteemed by Popes and Kings, Courtiers and Prelates— Controversy regarding the rival Merits of the Wines of Burgundy and the Champagne— Dom Perignon's happy Discovery of Sparkling Wine— Its Patrons under Louis Quatorze and the Regency— The Ancient Church and Abbey of Hautvillers— Farre and Co.'s Champagne Cellars— The Abbey of St. Peter now a Farm— Existing Remains of the Monastic Buildings— The Tombs and Decorations of the Ancient Church— The Last Resting-Place of Dom Perignon— The Legend of the Holy Dove— Good Champagne the Result of Labour, Skill, Minute Precaution, and Careful Observation 9
II.—THE VINTAGE IN THE CHAMPAGNE. THE VINEYARDS OF THE RIVER.
Ay, the Vineyard of Golden Plants— Summoning the Vintagers by Beat of Drum— Excitement in the Surrounding Villages— The Pickers at Work— Sorting the Grapes— Grapes Gathered at Sunrise the Best— Varieties of Vines in the Ay Vineyards— Few of the Growers in the Champagne Crush their own Grapes— Squeezing the Grapes in the "Pressoir" and Drawing off the Must— Cheerful Glasses Round— The Vintage at Mareuil— Bringing in the Grapes on Mules and Donkeys— The Vineyards of Avenay, Mutigny, and Cumires— Damery and Adrienne Lecouvreur, Marchal de Saxe, and the obese Anna Iwanowna— The Vineyards of the Cte d'Epernay— Boursault and its Chteau— Pierry and its Vineyard Cellars— The Clos St. Pierre— Moussy and Vinay— A Hermit's Cave and a Miraculous Fountain— Ablois St. Martin— The Cte d'Avize— The Grand Premier Cr of Cramant— Avize and its Wines— The Vineyards of Oger and Le Mesnil— The Old Town of Vertus and its Vine-clad Slopes— Their Red Wine formerly celebrated 20
III.—THE VINEYARDS OF THE MOUNTAIN.
The Wine of Sillery— Origin of its Renown— The Marchale d'Estres a successful Marchande de Vin— From Reims to Sillery— Failure of the Jacquesson Vineyards— Chteau of Sillery— Wine Making at M. Fortel's— Sillery sec— The Vintage and Vendangeoirs at Verzenay— The Verzy Vineyards— Edward III. at the Abbey of St. Basle— From Reims to Bouzy— The Herring Procession at St. Remi— Rilly, Chigny, and Ludes— The Knights Templars' "Pot" of Wine— Mailly and the View over the Plains of the Champagne— Wine Making at Mailly— The Village in the Wood— Village and Chteau of Louvois— Louis-le-Grand's War Minister— Bouzy, its Vineyards and Church Steeple, and the Lottery of the Great Gold Ingot— MM. Werl's and Mot and Chandon's Vendangeoirs— Pressing the Grapes— Still Red Bouzy— Ambonnay— A Peasant Proprietor— The Vineyards of Ville-Dommange and Sacy, Hermonville, and St. Thierry— The Still Red Wine of the latter 32
IV.—THE VINES OF THE CHAMPAGNE AND THE SYSTEM OF CULTIVATION.
The Vines chiefly of the Pineau Variety— The Plant dor of Ay, the Plant vert dor, the Plant gris, and the Epinette— The Soil of the Vineyards— Close Mode of Plantation— The Operation of Provinage— The Stems of the Vines never more than Three Years Old— Fixing the Stakes to the Vines— Manuring and General Cultivation— Spring Frosts in the Champagne— Various Modes of Protecting the Vines against them— Dr. Guyot's System— The Parasites that Prey upon the Vines 42
V.—PREPARATION OF CHAMPAGNE.
Treatment of Champagne after it comes from the Wine-Press— Racking and Blending of the Wine— Deficiency and Excess of Effervescence— Strength and Form of Champagne Bottles— The "Tirage" or Bottling of the Wine— The Process of Gas-making commences— Inevitable Breakage follows— Wine Stacked in Piles— Formation of Sediment— Bottles placed "sur pointe" and Daily Shaken— Effect of this occupation on those incessantly engaged in it— "Claws" and "Masks"— Champagne Cellars— Their Construction and Aspect— Transforming the "vin brut" into Champagne— Disgorging and Liqueuring the Wine— The Corking, Stringing, Wiring, and Amalgamating— The Wine's Agitated Existence comes to an End— The Bottles have their Toilettes made— Champagne sets out on its beneficial Pilgrimage 48
VI.—THE REIMS CHAMPAGNE ESTABLISHMENTS.
Messrs. Werl and Co., successors to the Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin— Their Offices and Cellars on the site of a Former Commanderie of the Templars— Origin of the Celebrity of Madame Clicquot's Wines— M. Werl and his Son— The Forty-five Cellars of the Clicquot-Werl Establishment— Our Tour of Inspection— Ingenious Liqueuring Machine— An Explosion and its Consequences— M. Werl's Gallery of Paintings— Madame Clicquot's Renaissance House and its Picturesque Bas-reliefs— The Werl Vineyards and Vendangeoirs— M. Louis Roederer's Establishment— Heidsieck and Co. and their Famous "Monopole" Brand— The Firm Founded in the Last Century— Their various Establishments Inside and Outside Reims— The Matured Wines Shipped by them 63
VII.—THE REIMS ESTABLISHMENTS (continued).
The Firm of G. H. Mumm and Co.— Their Large Shipments to the United States— Their Establishments in the Rue Andrieux and the Rue Coquebert— Bottle-Washing with Glass Beads— The Cuve and the Tirage— G. H. Mumm and Co.'s Vendangeoirs at Verzenay— Their Various Wines— The Gate of Mars— The Establishment of M. Gustave Gibert on the Site of the Chteau des Archevques— His Cellars in the Vaults of St. Peter's Abbey and beneath the old Htel des Fermes in the Place Royale— Louis XV. and Jean Baptiste Colbert— M. Gibert's Wines— Jules Mumm and Co., and Ruinart pre et fils— House of the Musicians— The Counts de la Marck— The Brotherhood of Minstrels of Reims— Establishment of Prinet et fils— Their Cellars of Three Stories in Solid Masonry— Their Soft, Light, and Delicate Wines— A Rare Still Verzenay— M. Duchtel-Ohaus's Establishment and Renaissance House— His Cellars in the Cour St. Jacques and Outside the Porte Dieu-Lumire 74
VIII.—THE REIMS ESTABLISHMENTS (continued).
M. Ernest Irroy's Cellars, Vineyards, and Vendangeoirs— Recognition by the Reims Agricultural Association of his Plantations of Vines— His Wines and their Popularity at the best London Clubs— Messrs. Binet fils and Co.'s Establishment— Wines Sold by the Firm to Shippers— Their Cellars— Samples of Fine Still Ay and Bouzy— Their Still Sillery, Vintage 1857, and their Creaming Vin Brut, Vintage 1865— The Offices and Cellars of Messrs. Charles Farre and Co.— Testing the Wine before Bottling— A Promenade between Bottles in Piles and Racks— Repute in which these Wines are held in England and on the Continent— The New Establishment of Fisse, Thirion, and Co. in the Place de Betheny— Its Construction exclusively in Stone, Brick, and Iron— The Vast Celliers of Two Stories— Bottling the Wine by the Aid of Machinery— The Cool and Lofty Cellars— Ingenious Method of Securing the Corks, rendering the Uncorking exceedingly simple— The Wines Shipped by the Firm 86
IX.—THE REIMS ESTABLISHMENTS (concluded).
La Prison de Bonne Semaine— Mary Queen of Scots at Reims— Messrs. Pommery and Greno's Offices— A Fine Collection of Faence— The Rue des Anglais a former Refuge of English Catholics— Remains of the Old University of Reims— Ancient Roman Tower and Curious Grotto— The handsome Castellated Pommery Establishment— The Spacious Cellier and Huge Carved Cuve Tun— The Descent to the Cellars— Their Great Extent— These Lofty Subterranean Chambers Originally Quarries— Ancient Places of Refuge of the Early Christians and the Protestants— Madame Pommery's Splendid Cuve of 1868— Messrs. de St. Marceaux and Co.'s New Establishment in the Avenue de Sillery— Its Garden-Court and Circular Shaft— Animated Scene in the Large Packing Hall— Lowering Bottled Wine to the Cellars— Great Depth and Extent of these Cellars— Messrs. de St. Marceaux and Co.'s Various Wines 93
X.—EPERNAY CHAMPAGNE ESTABLISHMENTS.
Early Records of the Mot Family at Reims and Epernay— Jean Remi Mot Founder of the Commerce in Champagne Wines— Extracts from the Old Account-Books of the Mots— First Sales of Sparkling Wines— Sales to England in 1788— "Milords" Farnham and Findlater— Jean Remi Mot receives the Emperor Napoleon, Josephine, and the King of Westphalia— The Firm of Mot and Chandon Constituted— Their Establishment in the Rue du Commerce— Delivering and Washing the New Bottles— The Numerous Vineyards and Vendangeoirs of the Firm— Making the Cuve in Vats of 12,000 Gallons— The Bottling of the Wine by 200 Hands— A Hundred Thousand Bottles Completed Daily— 20,000 Francs' worth of Broken Glass in Two Years— A Subterranean City, with miles of Streets, Cross Roads, Open Spaces, Tramways, and Stations— The Ancient Entrance to these Vaults— Tablet Commemorative of the Visit of Napoleon I.— Millions of Bottles of Champagne in Piles and Racks— The Original Vaults known as Siberia— Scene in the Packing Hall— Messrs. Mot and Chandon's Large and Complete Staff— Provision for Illness and Old Age— Annual Fte Given by the Firm— Their Famous "Star" Brand— M. Perrier-Jout, the lucky Grandson of a little Epernay Grocer— His Offices and Cellars— His Wine Classed according to its Deserts— Messrs. Roussillon and Co.'s Establishment— The Recognition accorded to their Wines— Their Stock of Old Vintages— The Extensive Establishment of Messrs. Pol Roger and Co.— Their Large Stock of the Fine 1874 Vintage— Preparations for the Tirage— Their Vast Fireproof Cellier and its Admirable Temperature— Their Lofty and Capacious Cellars of Two Stories 101
XI.—CHAMPAGNE ESTABLISHMENTS AT AY AND MAREUIL.
The Establishment of Deutz and Geldermann— Drawing off the Cuve— Mode of Excavating Cellars in the Champagne— The Firm's New Cellars, Vineyards, and Vendangeoir— The old Chteau of Ay and its Terraced Garden— The Gambling Propensities of Balthazar Constance Dang-Doray, a former Owner of the Chteau— The Picturesque Situation and Aspect of Messrs. Ayala's Establishment— A Promenade through their Cellars— M. Duminy's Cellars and Wines— His new Model Construction— The House Founded in 1814— Messrs. Bollinger's Establishment— Their Vineyard of La Grange— The Tirage in Progress— The Fine Cellars of the Firm— Messrs. Pfungst frres and Co.'s Cellars— Their Dry Champagnes of 1868, '70, '72, and '74— The Old Church of Ay and its Decorations of Grapes and Vineleaves— The Vendangeoir of Henri Quatre— The Montebello Establishment at Mareuil— The Chteau formerly the Property of the Dukes of Orleans— A Titled Champagne Firm— The Brilliant Career of Marshal Lannes— A Promenade through the Montebello Establishment— The Press House, the Cuve Vat, the Packing-Room, the Offices, and the Cellars— Portraits and Relics at the Chteau— The Establishment of Bruch-Foucher and Co.— The handsome Carved Gigantic Cuve Tun— The Cellars and their Lofty Shafts— The Wines of the Firm 117
XII.—CHAMPAGNE ESTABLISHMENTS AT ATIZE AND RILLY.
Avize the Centre of the White Grape District— Its Situation and Aspect— The Establishment of Giesler and Co.— The Tirage and the Cuve— Vin Brut in Racks and on Tables— The Packing-Hall, the Extensive Cellars, and the Disgorging Cellier— Bottle Stores and Bottle-Washing Machines— Messrs. Giesler's Wine-Presses at Avize and Vendangeoir at Bouzy— Their Vineyards and their Purchases of Grapes— Reputation of the Giesler Brand— The Establishment of M. Charles de Cazanove— A Tame Young Boar— Boar-Hunting in the Champagne— M. de Cazanove's Commodious Cellars and Carefully-Selected Wines— Vineyards Owned by Him and His Family— Reputation of his Wines in Paris and their Growing Popularity in England— Interesting View from M. de Cazanove's Terraced Garden— The Vintaging of the White Grapes in the Champagne— Roper frres' Establishment at Rilly-la-Montague— Their Cellars Penetrated by Roots of Trees— Some Samples of Fine Old Champagnes— The Principal Chlons Establishments— Poem on Champagne by M. Amaury de Cazanove 129
XIII.—SPARKLING SAUMUR AND SPARKLING SAUTERNES.
The Sparkling Wines of the Loire often palmed off as Champagnes— The Finer qualities Improve with Age— Anjou the Cradle of the Plantagenet Kings— Saumur and its Dominating Feudal Chteau und Antique Htel de Ville— Its Sinister Rue des Payens and Steep Tortuons Grande Rue— The Vineyards of the Coteau of Saumur— Abandoned Stone Quarries converted into Dwellings— The Vintage in Progress— Old-fashioned Pressoirs— The Making of the Wine— The Vouvray Vineyards— Balzac's Picture of La Valle Coquette— The Village of Vouvray and the Chteau of Moucontour— Vernou with its Reminiscences of Sully and Ppin-le-Bref— The Vineyards around Saumur— Remarkable Ancient Dolmens— Ackerman-Laurance's Establishment at Saint-Florent— Their Extensive Cellars, Ancient and Modern— Treatment of the Newly-Vintaged Wine— The Cuve— Proportions of Wine from Black and White Grapes— The Bottling and Disgorging of the Wine and Finishing Operations— The Chteau of Varrains and the Establishment of M. Louis Duvau an— His Cellars a succession of Gloomy Galleries— The Disgorging of the Wine accomplished in a Melodramatic-looking Cave— M. Duvau's Vineyard— His Sparkling Saumur of Various Ages— Marked Superiority of the more Matured Samples— M. Alfred Ronsteaux's Establishments at Saint-Florent and Saint-Cyr— His convenient Celliers and extensive Cellars— Mingling of Wine from the Champagne with the finer Sparkling Saumur— His Vineyard at La Perrire— M. E. Normandin's Sparkling Sauternes Manufactory at Chteauneuf— Angoulme and its Ancient Fortifications— Vin de Colombar— M. Normandin's Sparkling Sauternes Cuve— His Cellars near Chteauneuf— High recognition accorded to the Wine at the Concours Rgional d'Angoulme 139
XIV.—THE SPARKLING WINES OF BURGUNDY AND THE JURA.
Sparkling Wines of the Cte d'Or at the Paris Exhibition— Chambertin, Romane, and Vougeot— Burgundy Wines and Vines formerly the Presents of Princes— Vintaging Sparkling Burgundies— Their After-Treatment in the Cellars— Excess of Breakage— Similarity of Proceeding to that followed in the Champagne— Principal Manufacturers of Sparkling Burgundies— Sparkling Wines of Tonnerre, the birthplace of the Chevalier d'Eon— The Vin d'Arbanne of Bar-sur-Aube— Death there of the Bastard de Bourbon— Madame de la Motto's Ostentatious Display and Arrest there— Sparkling Wines of the Beaujolais— The Mont-Bronilly Vineyards— Ancient Reputation of the Wines of the Jura— The Vin Jaune of Arbois beloved of Henri Quatre— Rhymes by him in its Honour— Lons-le-Saulnier— Vineyards yielding the Sparkling Jura Wines— Their Vintaging and Subsequent Treatment— Their High Alcoholic Strength and General Drawbacks 157
XV.—THE SPARKLING WINES OF THE SOUTH OF FRANCE.
Sparkling Wines of Auvergne, Guienne, Dauphin, and Languedoc— Sparkling Saint-Pray the Champagne of the South— Valence with its Reminiscences of Pius VI. and Napoleon I.— The "Horns of Crussol" on the Banks of the Rhne— Vintage Scene at Saint-Pray— The Vines and Vineyards Producing Sparkling Wine— Manipulation of Sparkling Saint-Pray— Its Abundance of Natural Sugar— The Cellars of M. de Saint-Prix and Samples of his Wines— Sparkling Cte-Rotie, Chteau-Grill, and Hermitage— Annual Production and Principal Markets of Sparkling Saint-Pray— Clairette de Die— The Porte Rouge of Die Cathedral— How the Die Wine is Made— The Sparkling White and Rose-Coloured Muscatels of Die— Sparkling Wines of Vercheny and Lagrasse— Barnave and the Royal Flight to Varennes— Narbonne formerly a Miniature Rome, now Noted merely for its Wine and Honey— Fte of the Black Virgin at Limoux— Preference given to the New Wine over the Miraculous Water— Blanquette of Limoux and How it is Made— Characteristics of this Overrated Wine 165
XVI.—THE SPARKLING WINES OF GERMANY.
Origin of Sparkling Hock and Moselle— Sparkling German Wines First Made on the Neckar— Heilbronn, and Gtz von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand— Lauteren of Mayence and Rambs of Trves turn their attention to Sparkling Wines— Change of late years in the Character of Sparkling Hocks and Moselles— Difference between them and Moussirender Rheinwein— Vintaging of Black and White Grapes for Sparkling Wine— The Treatment which German Sparkling Wines Undergo— Artificial Flavouring and Perfuming of Sparkling Moselles— Fine Natural Bouquet of High-Class Sparkling Hocks— Impetus given to the Manufacture of German Sparkling Wines during the Franco-German War— Annual Production— Deinhard and Co.'s Splendid New Cellars at Coblenz— The Firm's Collection of Choice Rhine and Moselle Wines— Their Trade in German Sparkling Wines— Their Sources of Supply— The Vintaging and After-Treatment of their Wines— Characteristics of their Sparkling Hocks and Moselles 172
XVII.—THE SPARKLING WINES OF GERMANY (continued).
From Coblenz to Rdesheim— Ewald and Co.'s Establishment and its Pleasant Situation— Their Fine Vaulted Cellars and Convenient Accessories— Their Supplies of Wine drawn from the most favoured Localities— The Celebrated Vineyards of the Rheingau— Eltville and the extensive Establishment of Matheus Mller— His Vast Stocks of Still and Sparkling German Wines— The Vineyards laid under contribution for the latter— M. Mller's Sparkling Johannisberger, Champagne, and Red Sparkling Assmannshauser— The Site of Gutenberg's Birthplace at Mayence occupied by the Offices and Wine-cellars of Lauteren Sohn— The Sparkling Wine Establishment of the Firm and their Fine Collection of Hocks and Moselles— The Hochheim Sparkling Wine Association— Foundation of the Establishment— Its Superior Sparkling Hocks and Moselles— The Sparkling Wine Establishments of Stock and Sons at Creuznach in the Nahe Valley, of Kessler and Co. at Esslingen, on the Neckar, and of M. Oppmann at Wrzburg— The Historic Cellars of the King of Bavaria beneath the Residenz— The Establishment of F. A. Siligmller 183
XVIII.—THE SPARKLING WINES OF AUSTRO-HUNGARY, SWITZERLAND, ITALY, SPAIN, RUSSIA, &C.
Sparkling Voslauer— The Sparkling Wine Manufactories of Graz— Establishment of Kleinoscheg Brothers— Vintaging and Treatment of Styrian Champagnes— Sparkling Red, Rose, and White Wines of Hungary— The Establishment of Hubert and Habermann at Pressburg— Sparkling Wines of Croatia, Galicia, Bohemia, Moravia, Dalmatia, the Tyrol, Transylvania, and the Banat— Neuchtel Champagne— Sparkling Wine Factories at Vevay and Sion— The Vevay Vineyards— Establishment of De Riedmatten and De Quay— Sparkling Muscatel, Malmsey, Brachetto, Castagnolo, and Lacryma Christi of Italy— Sparkling Wines of Spain, Greece, Algeria, and Russia— The Krimski and Donski Champagnes— The Latter Chiefly Consumed at the Great Russian Fairs 196
XIX.—THE SPARKLING WINES OF THE UNITED STATES.
Earliest Efforts at Wine-Making in America— Failures to Acclimatise European Vines— Wines Made by the Swiss Settlers and the Mission Fathers— The Yield of the Mission Vineyards— The Monster Vine of the Montecito Valley— The Catawba Vine and its General Cultivation— Mr. Longworth one of the Founders of American Viticulture— Fresh Attempts to make Sparkling Wine at Cincinnati— Existing Sparkling Wine Manufactures there— Longfellow's Song in Praise of Catawba— The Kelley Island Wine Company— Vintaging and Treatment of their Sparkling Wines— Decrease of Consumption— The Vineyards of Hammondsport— Varieties of Grapes used for Sparkling Wines— The Vintage— After Treatment of the Wines— The Pleasant Valley and Urbana Wine Companies and their Various Brands— Californian Sparkling Wines— The Buena Vista Vinicultural Society of San Francisco— Its Early Failures and Eventual Success in Manufacturing Sparkling Wines— The Vintage in California— Chinese Vintagers— How the Wine is Made— American Spurious Sparkling Wines 203
XX.—CONCLUDING FACTS AND HINTS.
Dry and Sweet Champagnes— Their Sparkling Properties— Form of Champagne Glasses— Style of Sparkling Wines Consumed in Different Countries— The Colour and Alcoholic Strength of Champagne— Champagne Approved of by the Faculty— Its Use in Nervous Derangements— The Icing of Champagne— Scarcity of Grand Vintages in the Champagne— The Quality of the Wine has little influence on the Price— Prices realised by the Ay and Verzenay Crs in Grand Years— Suggestions for laying down Champagnes of Grand Vintages— The Improvement they Develop after a few Years— The Wine of 1874— The proper kind of Cellar to lay down Champagne in— Advantages of Burrow's Patent Slider Wine Bins— Increase in the Consumption of Champagne— Tabular Statement of Stocks, Exports, and Home Consumption from 1844-5 to 1877-8— When to Serve Champagne at a Dinner Party— Charles Dickens's dictum that its proper place is at a Ball— Advantageous Effect of Champagne at an Ordinary British Dinner Party— Sparkling Wine Cups 212
THE PRINCIPAL SPARKLING WINE BRANDS 225
FACTS ABOUT CHAMPAGNE AND OTHER SPARKLING WINES.
I.—THE ORIGIN OF CHAMPAGNE.
The Early Vineyards of the Champagne— Their Produce esteemed by Popes and Kings, Courtiers and Prelates— Controversy regarding the rival Merits of the Wines of Burgundy and the Champagne— Dom Perignon's happy Discovery of Sparkling Wine— Its Patrons under Louis Quatorze and the Regency— The Ancient Church and Abbey of Hautvillers— Farre and Co.'s Champagne Cellars— The Abbey of St. Peter now a Farm— Existing Remains of the Monastic Buildings— The Tombs and Decorations of the Ancient Church— The Last Resting-Place of Dom Perignon—The Legend of the Holy Dove— Good Champagne the Result of Labour, Skill, Minute Precaution, and Careful Observation.
Strong men, we know, lived before Agamemnon; and strong wine was made in the fair province of Champagne long before the days of the sagacious Dom Perignon, to whom we are indebted for the sparkling vintage known under the now familiar name. The chalky slopes that border the Marne were early recognised as offering special advantages for the culture of the vine. The priests and monks, whose vows of sobriety certainly did not lessen their appreciation of the good things of this life, and the produce of whose vineyards usually enjoyed a higher reputation than that of their lay neighbours, were clever enough to seize upon the most eligible sites, and quick to spread abroad the fame of their wines. St. Remi, baptiser of Clovis, the first Christian king in France, at the end of the fifth century left by will, to various churches, the vineyards which he owned at Reims and Laon, together with the "vilains" employed in their cultivation. Some three and a half centuries later we find worthy Bishop Pardulus of Laon imitating Paul's advice to Timothy, and urging Archbishop Hincmar to drink of the wines of Epernay and Reims for his stomach's sake. The crusade-preaching Pope, Urban II., who was born among the vineyards of the Champagne, dearly loved the wine of Ay; and his energetic appeals to the princes of Europe to take up arms for the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre may have owed some of their eloquence to his favourite beverage.
The red wine of the Champagne sparkled on the boards of monarchs in the Middle Ages when they sat at meat amidst their mailclad chivalry, and quaffed mighty beakers to the confusion of the Paynim. Henry of Andely has sung in his fabliau of the "Bataille des Vins," how, when stout Philip Augustus and his chaplain constituted themselves the earliest known wine-jury, the crs of Espernai, Auviler, Chaalons, and Reims were amongst those which found most favour in their eyes, though nearly a couple of centuries elapsed before Eustace Deschamps recorded in verse the rival merits of those of Cumires and Ay. King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, a mighty toper, got so royally drunk day after day upon the vintages of the Champagne, that he forgot all about the treaty with Charles VI., that had formed the pretext of his visit to France, and would probably have lingered, goblet in hand, in the old cathedral city till the day of his death, but for the presentation of a little account for wine consumed, which sobered him to repentance and led to his abrupt departure. Dunois, Lahire, Xaintrailles, and their fellows, when they rode with Joan of Arc to the coronation of Charles VII., drank the same generous fluid, through helmets barred, to the speedy expulsion of the detested English from the soil of France.
The vin d'Ay—vinum Dei as Dominicus Baudoin punningly styled it—was, according to old Paulmier, the ordinary drink of the kings and princes of his day. It fostered bluff King Hal's fits of passion and the tenth Leo's artistic extravagance; consoled Francis I. for the field of Pavia, and solaced his great rival in his retirement at St. Just. All of them had their commissioners at Ay to secure the best wine for their own consumption. Henri Quatre, whose vendangeoir is still shown in the village, held the wine in such honour that he was wont to style himself the Seigneur d'Ay, just as James of Scotland was known as the Gudeman of Ballangeich. When his son, Louis XIII., was crowned, the wines of the Champagne were the only growths allowed to grace the board at the royal banquet. Freely too did they flow at the coronation feast of the Grand Monarque, when the crowd of assembled courtiers, who quaffed them in his honour, hailed them as the finest wines of the day.
But the wines which drew forth all these encomiums were far from resembling the champagne of modern times. They were not, as has been asserted, all as red as burgundy and as flat as port; for at the close of the sixteenth, century some of them were of a fauve or yellowish hue, and of the intermediate tint between red and white which the French call clairet, and which our old writers translate as the "complexion of a cherry" or the "colour of a partridge's eye." But, as a rule, the wines of the Champagne up to this period closely resembled those produced in the adjacent province, where Charles the Bold had once held sway; a resemblance, no doubt, having much to do with the great medical controversy regarding their respective merits which arose in 1652. In that year a young medical student, hard pressed for the subject of his inaugural thesis, and in the firm faith that
"None but a clever dialectician Can hope to become a good physician, And that logic plays an important part In the mystery of the healing art,"
propounded the theory that the wines of Burgundy were preferable to those of the Champagne, and that the latter were irritating to the nerves and conducive to gout. The faculty of medicine at Reims naturally rose in arms at this insolent assertion. They seized their pens and poured forth a deluge of French and Latin in defence of the wines of their province, eulogising alike their purity, their brilliancy of colour, their exquisite flavour and perfume, their great keeping powers, and, in a word, their general superiority to the Burgundy growths. The partisans of the latter were equally prompt in rallying in their defence, and the faculty of medicine of Beaune, having put their learned periwigs together, enunciated their views and handled their opponents without mercy. The dispute spread to the entire medical profession, and the champions went on pelting each other with pamphlets in prose and tractates in verse, until in 1778—long after the bones of the original disputants were dust and their lancets rust—the faculty of Paris, to whom the matter was referred, gave a final and formal decision in favour of the wines of the Champagne.
Meanwhile an entirely new kind of wine, which was to carry the name of the province producing it to the uttermost corners of the earth, had been introduced. On the picturesque slopes of the Marne, about fifteen miles from Reims, and some four or five miles from Epernay, stands the little hamlet of Hautvillers, which, in pre-revolutionary days, was a mere dependency upon a spacious abbey dedicated to St. Peter. Here the worthy monks of the order of St. Benedict had lived in peace and prosperity for several hundred years, carefully cultivating the acres of vineland extending around the abbey, and religiously exacting a tithe of all the other wine pressed in their district. The revenue of the community thus depending in no small degree upon the vintage, it was natural that the post of "celerer" should be one of importance. It happened that about the year 1688 this office was conferred upon a worthy monk named Perignon. Poets and roasters, we know, are born, and not made; and the monk in question seems to have been a heaven-born cellarman, with a strong head and a discriminating palate. The wine exacted from the neighbouring cultivators was of all qualities—good, bad, and indifferent; and with the spirit of a true Benedictine, Dom Perignon hit upon the idea of "marrying" the produce of one vineyard with that of another. He had noted that one kind of soil imparted fragrance and another generosity, and discovered that a white wine could be made from the blackest grapes, which would keep good, instead of turning yellow and degenerating like the wine obtained from white ones. Moreover, the happy thought occurred to him that a piece of cork was a much more suitable stopper for a bottle than the flax dipped in oil which had heretofore served that purpose.
The white, or, as it was sometimes styled, the grey wine of the Champagne grew famous, and the manufacture spread throughout the province, but that of Hautvillers held the predominance. To Dom Perignon the abbey's well-stocked cellar was a far cheerfuller place than the cell. Nothing delighted him more than
"To come down among this brotherhood Dwelling for ever underground, Silent, contemplative, round and sound, Each one old and brown with mould, But filled to the lips with the ardour of youth, With the latent power and love of truth, And with virtues fervent and manifold."
Ever busy among his vats and presses, barrels and bottles, Perignon alighted upon a discovery destined to be most important in its results. He found out the way of making an effervescent wine—a wine that burst out of the bottle and overflowed the glass, that was twice as dainty to the taste, and twice as exhilarating in its effects. It was at the close of the seventeenth century that this discovery was made—when the glory of the Roi Soleil was on the wane, and with it the splendour of the Court of Versailles. Louis XIV., for whose especial benefit liqueurs had been invented, recovered a gleam of his youthful energy as he sipped the creamy foaming vintage that enlivened his dreary ttes—ttes with the widow of Scarron. It found its chief patrons however, amongst the bands of gay young roysterers, the future roues of the Regency, whom the Duc d'Orlans and the Duc de Vendme had gathered round them, at the Palais Royal and at Anet. It was at one of the famous soupers d'Anet that the Marquis de Sillery—who had turned his sword into a pruning-knife, and applied himself to the cultivation of his paternal vineyards on the principles inculcated by the celerer of St. Peter's—first introduced the sparkling wine bearing his name. The flower-wreathed bottles, which, at a given signal, a dozen of blooming young damsels scantily draped in the guise of Bacchanals placed upon the table, were hailed with rapture, and thenceforth sparkling wine was an indispensable adjunct at all the petits soupers of the period. In the highest circles the popping of champagne-corks seemed to ring the knell of sadness, and the victories of Marlborough were in a measure compensated for by this happy discovery.
Why the wine foamed and sparkled was a mystery even to the very makers themselves; for as yet Baume's aerometer was unknown, and the connection between sugar and carbonic acid undreamt of. The general belief was that the degree of effervescence depended upon the time of year at which the wine was bottled, and that the rising of the sap in the vine had everything to do with it. Certain wiseacres held that it was influenced by the age of the moon at the time of bottling; whilst others thought the effervescence could be best secured by the addition of spirit, alum, and various nastinesses. It was this belief in the use and efficacy of drugs that led to a temporary reaction against the wine about 1715, in which year Dom Perignon departed this life. In his latter days he had grown blind, but his discriminating taste enabled him to discharge his duties with unabated efficiency to the end. Many of the tall tapering glasses invented by him have been emptied to the memory of the old Benedictine, whose remains repose beneath a black marble slab in the chancel of the archaic abbey church of Hautvillers.
Time and the iconoclasts of the great Revolution have spared but little of the royal abbey of St. Peter where Dom Perignon lighted upon his happy discovery of the effervescent quality of champagne. The quaint old church, scraps of which date back to the 12th century, the remnants of the cloisters, and a couple of ancient gateways, marking the limits of the abbey precincts, are all that remain to testify to the grandeur of its past. It was the proud boast of the brotherhood that it had given nine archbishops to the see of Reims, and two-and-twenty abbots to various celebrated monasteries, but this pales beside the enduring fame it has acquired from having been the cradle of the sparkling vintage of the Champagne.
It was in the budding springtime when we made our pilgrimage to Hautvillers across the swollen waters of the Marne at Epernay. Our way lay for a time along a straight level poplar-bordered road, with verdant meadows on either hand, then diverged sharply to the left and we commenced ascending the vine-clad hills, on a narrow plateau of which the church and abbey remains are picturesquely perched. Vines climb the undulating slopes to the summit of the plateau, and wooded heights rise up beyond, affording shelter from the bleak winds sweeping over from the north. As we near the village of Hautvillers we notice on our left hand a couple of isolated buildings overlooking a small ravine with their bright tiled roofs flashing in the sunlight. These prove to be a branch establishment of Messrs. Charles Farre and Co., a well-known champagne firm having its head-quarters at Reims. The grassy space beyond, dotted over with low stone shafts giving light and ventilation to the cellars beneath, is alive with workmen unloading waggons densely packed with new champagne bottles, while under a neighbouring shed is a crowd of women actively engaged in washing the bottles as they are brought to them. The large apartment aboveground, known as the cellier, contains wine in cask already blended, and to bottle which preparations are now being made. On descending into the cellars, which, excavated in the chalk and of regular construction, comprise a series of long, lofty, and well-ventilated galleries, we find them stocked with bottles of fine wine reposing in huge compact piles ready for transport to the head establishment, where they will undergo their final manipulation. The cellars consist of two stories, the lowermost of which has an iron gate communicating with the ravine already mentioned. On passing out here and looking up behind we see the buildings perched some hundred feet above us, hemmed in on every side with budding vines.
The church of Hautvillers and the remains of the neighbouring abbey are situated at the farther extremity of the village, at the end of its one long street, named, pertinently enough, the Rue de Bacchus. Passing through an unpretentious gateway we find ourselves in a spacious courtyard, bounded by buildings somewhat complex in character. On our right rises the tower of the church with the remains of the old cloisters, now walled-in and lighted by small square windows, and propped up by heavy buttresses. To the left stands the residence of the bailiff, and beyond it an 18th-century chteau on the site of the abbot's house, the abbey precincts being bounded on this side by a picturesque gateway tower leading to the vineyards, and known as the "porte des pressoirs," from its contiguity to the existing wine-presses. Huge barn-like buildings, stables, and cart-sheds inclose the court on its remaining sides, and roaming about are numerous live stock, indicating that what remains of the once-famous royal abbey of St. Peter has degenerated into an ordinary farm. To-day the abbey buildings and certain of its lands are the property of Messrs. Mot and Chandon, the great champagne manufacturers of Epernay, who maintain them as a farm, keeping some six-and-thirty cows there with the object of securing the necessary manure for the numerous vineyards which they own hereabouts.
The dilapidated cloisters, littered with old casks, farm implements, and the like, preserve ample traces of their former architectural character, and the Louis Quatorze gateway on the northern side of the inclosure still displays above its arch a grandiose carved shield, with surrounding palm-branches and half-obliterated bearings. Vine-leaves and bunches of grapes decorate some of the more ancient columns inside the church, and grotesque medival monsters, such as monkish architects habitually delighted in, entwine themselves around the capitals of others. The stalls of the choir are elaborately carved with cherubs' heads, medallions and figures of saints, cupids supporting shields, and free and graceful arabesques of the epoch of the Renaissance. In the chancel, close by the altar steps, are a couple of black marble slabs, with Latin inscriptions of dubious orthography, the one to Johannes Royer, who died in 1527, and the other setting forth the virtues and merits of Dom Petrus Perignon, the discoverer of champagne. In the central aisle a similar slab marks the resting-place of Dom Thedoricus Ruynart—obit 1709—an ancestor of the Reims Ruinarts, and little square stones interspersed among the tiles with which the side aisles of the church are paved record the deaths of other members of the Benedictine brotherhood during the 17th and 18th centuries. Several large pictures grace the walls of the church, the most interesting one representing St. Nivard, Bishop of Reims, and his friend, St. Berchier, designating to some medival architect the site the contemplated abbey of St. Peter was to occupy. There was a monkish legend that about the middle of the 7th century this pair of saints set out in search of a suitable site for the future monastery. The way was long, the day was warm, and St. Nivard and St. Berchier as yet were simply mortal. Weary and faint, they sat them down to rest at a spot identified by tradition with a vineyard at Dizy, belonging to-day to the Messrs. Bollinger, but at that period forming part of the forest of the Marne. St. Nivard fell asleep with his head on his companion's lap, and the one in a dream, and the other with waking eyes, saw a snow-white dove—the same, firm believers in miracles suggested, which had brought down the holy oil for the anointment of Clovis at his coronation at Reims—flutter through the wood, and finally alight on the stump of a tree.
In those superstitious times such a significant omen was not to be disregarded, the site thus miraculously indicated was at once decided upon, the high altar of the abbey church being erected upon the precise spot where the tree stood on which the snow-white dove had alighted.
The celerer of St. Peter's found worthy successors, and thenceforward the manufacture and the popularity of champagne went on steadily increasing, until to-day its production is carried on upon a scale and with an amount of painstaking care that would astonish its originator. For good champagne does not rain down from the clouds, or gush out from the rocks, but is the result of incessant labour, patient skill, minute precaution, and careful observation. In the first place, the soil imparts to the natural wine a special quality which it has been found impossible to imitate in any other quarter of the globe. To the wine of Ay it lends a flavour of peaches, and to that of Avenay the savour of strawberries; the vintage of Hautvillers, though fallen from its former high estate, is yet marked by an unmistakably nutty taste; while that of Pierry smacks of the locally-abounding flint, the well-known pierre fusil flavour. So on the principle that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, the produce of grapes grown in the more favoured vineyards is added in certain proportions to secure certain special characteristics, as well as to maintain a fixed standard of excellence.
II.—THE VINTAGE IN THE CHAMPAGNE. THE VINEYARDS OF THE RIVER.
Ay, the Vineyard of Golden Plants— Summoning the Vintagers by Beat of Drum— Excitement in the Surrounding Villages— The Pickers at Work— Sorting the Grapes— Grapes Gathered at Sunrise the Best— Varieties of Vines in the Ay Vineyards— Few of the Growers in the Champagne Crush their own Grapes— Squeezing the Grapes in the "Pressoir" and Drawing off the Must— Cheerful Glasses Round— The Vintage at Mareuil— Bringing in the Grapes on Mules and Donkeys— The Vineyards of Avenay, Mutigny, and Cumires— Damery and Adrienne Lecouvreur, Marchal de Saxe, and the obese Anna Iwanowna— The Vineyards of the Cte d'Epernay— Boursault and its Chteau— Pierry and its Vineyard Cellars— The Clos St. Pierre— Moussy and Vinay— A Hermit's Cave and a Miraculous Fountain— Ablois St. Martin— The Cte d'Avize— The Grand Premier Cr of Cramant— Avize and its Wines— The Vineyards of Oger and Le Mesnil— The Old Town of Vertus and its Vine-clad Slopes— Their Red Wine formerly celebrated.
With the exception of certain famous vineyards of the Rhne, the vinelands of the Champagne may, perhaps, be classed among the most picturesque of the more notable vine districts of France. Between Paris and Epernay even, the banks of the Marne present a series of scenes of quiet beauty. The undulating ground is everywhere cultivated like a garden. Handsome chteaux and charming country houses peep out from amid luxuriant foliage. Picturesque antiquated villages line the river's bank or climb the hill sides, and after leaving La Fert-sous-Jouarre, the cradle of the Conds, all the more favoured situations commence to be covered with vines.
This is especially the case in the vicinity of Chteau-Thierry—the birthplace of La Fontaine—where the view is shut in on all sides by vine-clad slopes, which the spring frosts seldom spare. Hence merely one good vintage out of four gladdens the hearts of the peasant proprietors, who find eager purchasers for their produce among the lower-class manufacturers of champagne. In the same way the petit vin de Chierry, dexterously prepared and judiciously mingled with other growths, often figures as "Fleur de Sillery" or "Ay Mousseux." In reality it is not until we have passed the ornate modern Gothic chteau of Boursault, erected in her declining years by the wealthy Veuve Clicquot, by far the shrewdest manipulator of the sparkling products of Ay and Bouzy of her day, and the many towers and turrets of which, rising above umbrageous trees, crown the loftiest height within eyeshot of Epernay, that we find ourselves within that charmed circle of vineyards whence champagne—the wine, not merely of princes, as it has been somewhat obsequiously termed, but essentially the vin de socit—is derived.
The vinelands in the vicinity of Epernay, and consequently near the Marne, are commonly known as the "Vineyards of the River," whilst those covering the slopes in the neighbourhood of Reims are termed the "Vineyards of the Mountain." The Vineyards of the River comprise three distinct divisions—first, those lining the right bank of the Marne and enjoying a southern and south-eastern aspect, among which are Ay, Hautvillers, Cumires, Dizy, and Mareuil; secondly, the Cte d'Epernay on the left bank of the river, of which Pierry, Moussy, and Vinay form part; and thirdly, the Cte d'Avize (the region par excellence of white grapes), which stretches towards the south-east, and includes the vinelands of Cramant, Avize, Oger, Le Mesnil, and Vertus. The entire vineyard area is upwards of 40,000 acres.
The Champagne vineyards most widely celebrated abroad are those of Ay and Sillery, although the last-named are really the smallest in the Champagne district. Ay, distant only a few minutes by rail from Epernay, is in the immediate centre of the vinelands of the river, having Mareuil and Avenay on the east, and Dizy, Hautvillers, and Cumires on the west. Sillery, on the other hand, lies at the foot of the so-called Mountain of Reims, and within an hour's drive of the old cathedral city.
The pleasantest season of the year to visit the Champagne is certainly during the vintage. When this is about to commence, the vintagers—some of whom come from Sainte Menehould, forty miles distant, while others hail from as far as Lorraine—are summoned at daybreak by beat of drum in the market-places of the villages adjacent to the vineyards, and then and there a price is made for the day's labour. This is generally either a franc and a half, with food consisting of three meals, or two francs and a half without food, children being paid a franc and a half. The rate of wage satisfactorily arranged, the gangs start off to the vineyards, headed by their overseers.
It was on one of those occasional sunshiny days in the early part of October (1871) when I first visited Ay, the vineyard of golden plants, the unique premier cr of the Wines of the River. The road lay between two rows of closely-planted poplar-trees reaching almost to the village of Dizy, whose quaint grey church tower, with its gabled roof, is dominated by the neighbouring vine-clad slopes, which extend from Avenay to Venteuil, some few miles beyond Hautvillers, the cradle, so to speak, of the vin mousseux of the Champagne.
Everywhere was bustle and excitement; every one was big with the business in hand. In these ordinarily quiet little villages the majority of the inhabitants were afoot, the feeble feminine half with the juveniles threading their way through the rows of vines half-way up the mountain, basket on arm, while the sturdy masculine portion were mostly passing to and fro between the press-houses and the wine-shops. Carts piled up with baskets, or crowded with peasants from a distance on their way to the vineyards, jostled the low railway trucks laden with bran-new casks, and the somewhat rickety cabriolets of the agents of the big champagne houses, reduced to clinch their final bargain for a hundred or more pices of the peerless wine of Ay, beside the reeking wine-press.
There was a pleasant air of jollity over all, for in the wine-producing districts every one participates in the interest excited by the vintage, which influences the takings of all the artificers and all the tradespeople, bringing grist to the mill of the baker and the bootmaker, as well as to the caf and the cabaret. The various contending interests were singularly satisfied, the vintagers getting their two francs and a half a day, and the men at the pressoirs their three francs and their food. The plethoric commissionaires-en-vins wiped their perspiring foreheads with satisfaction at having at last secured the full number of hogsheads they had been instructed to buy—at a high figure it was true, still this was no disadvantage to them, as their commission mounted up all the higher. And, as regarded the small vine proprietors, even the thickest-skulled among them, who make all their calculations on their fingers, could see at a glance that they were gainers, for, although the crop was no more than half an average one, yet, thanks to the ill-disguised anxiety of the agents to secure all the wine they required, prices had gradually crept up until they doubled those of ordinary years, and this with only half the work in the vineyard and at the wine-press to be done.
On leaving Dizy the road runs immediately at the base of the vine-clad slopes, broken up by an occasional conical peak detaching itself from the mass, and tinted from base to summit with richly-variegated hues, in which deep purple, yellow, green, grey, and crimson by turns predominate. Dotting these slopes like a swarm of huge ants are a crowd of men, women, and children, intent on stripping the vines of their luscious-looking fruit. The men are mostly in blue blouses, and the women in closely-fitting neat white caps, or wearing old-fashioned unbleached straw-bonnets of the contemned coal-scuttle type. They detach the grapes with scissors or hooked knives, technically termed "serpettes," and in some vineyards proceed to remove all damaged, decayed, or unripe fruit from the bunches before placing them in the baskets hanging on their arms, the contents of which are from time to time emptied into a larger basket resembling a deep clothes-basket in shape, numbers of these being dispersed about the vineyard for the purpose, and invariably in the shade. When filled they are carried by a couple of men to the roadside, along which dwarf stones carved with initials, and indicating the boundaries of the respective properties, are encountered every eight or ten yards, into such narrow strips are the vineyards divided. Large carts with railed open sides are continually passing backwards and forwards to pick these baskets up, and when one of them has secured its load it is driven slowly—in order that the grapes may not be shaken—to the neighbouring pressoir, so extreme is the care observed throughout every stage of the process of champagne manufacture.
In many of the vineyards the grapes are inspected in bulk instead of in detail before being sent to the wine-press. The hand-baskets, when filled, are all brought to a particular spot, where their contents are minutely examined by some half-dozen men and women, who pluck off all the bruised, rotten, and unripe berries, and fling them aside into a separate basket. In one vineyard we came upon a party of girls, congregated round a wicker sieve perched on the top of a large tub by the roadside, who were busy sorting the grapes, pruning away the diseased stalks, and picking off all the doubtful berries, and letting the latter fall through the interstices of the sieve, the sound fruit being deposited in large baskets standing by their side, which, as soon as filled, were conveyed to the pressoir.
The picking ordinarily commences with daylight, and the vintagers assert that the grapes gathered at sunrise always produce the lightest and most limpid wine. Moreover by plucking the grapes when the early morning sun is upon them they are believed to yield a fourth more juice. Later on in the day, too, spite of all precautions, it is impossible to prevent some of the detached grapes from partially fermenting, which frequently suffices to give a slight excess of colour to the must, a thing especially to be avoided—no matter how rich and ripe the fruit may be—in a high-class champagne. When the grapes have to be transported in open baskets for some distance to the press-house, jolting along the road either in carts or on the backs of mules, and exposed to the torrid rays of a bright autumnal sun, the juice expressed from the fruit, however gently the latter may be squeezed, is occasionally of a positive purple tinge, and consequently useless for conversion into champagne.
On the right of the road leading from Dizy to Ay we pass a vineyard called Le Lon, which tradition asserts to be the one whence Pope Leo the Magnificent, the patron of Michael Angelo, Raffaelle, and Da Vinci, drew his supply of Ay wine. The village of Ay lies right before us at the foot of the vine-clad slopes, with the tapering spire of its ancient church rising above the neighbouring hills and cutting sharply against the bright blue sky. The vineyards, which spread themselves over a calcareous declivity, have mostly a full southern aspect, and the predominating vines are those known as golden plants, the fruit of which is of a deep purple colour. After these comes the plant vert dor, and then a moderate proportion of the plant gris, the latter a white variety, as its name implies. A limited quantity of wine from white grapes is likewise made in the neighbouring vineyards of Dizy.
We visited the pressoir of the principal producer of vin brut at Ay, who, although the owner of merely five hectares, or about twelve and a half acres of vines, expected to make as many as 1,500 pices of wine that year, mainly of course from grapes purchased from other growers. One peculiarity of the Champagne district is that, contrary to the prevailing practice in the other wine-producing regions of France, where the owner of even a single acre of vines will crush his grapes himself, only a limited number of vine-proprietors press their own grapes. The large champagne houses, possessing vineyards, always have their pressoirs in the neighbourhood, and other large vine-proprietors will press the grapes they grow, but the multitude of small cultivators invariably sell the produce of their vineyards to one or other of the former at a certain rate, either by weight or else per caque, a measure estimated to hold sixty kilogrammes (equal to 132lbs.) of grapes. The price which the fruit fetches varies of course according to the quality of the vintage and the requirements of the manufacturers. In 1873, in all the higher-class vineyards, as much as two francs and a quarter per kilogramme (10d. per lb.) were paid, or between treble and quadruple the average price. And yet the vintage was a most unsatisfactory one owing to the deficiency of sun and abundance of wet throughout the summer. The market, however, was in great need of wine, and the fruit while still ungathered was bought up at most exorbitant prices by the spculateurs who supply the vin brut to the champagne manufacturers.
Carts laden with grapes were continually arriving at the pressoir, and after discharging their loads, and having them weighed, kept driving off for fresh ones. Four powerful presses of recent invention, each worked by a large fly-wheel requiring four sturdy men to turn it, were in operation. The grapes were spread over the floor of the press in a compact mass, and on being subjected to pressure—again and again repeated, the first squeeze only giving a high-class wine—the must filtered through a wicker basket into the reservoir beneath, whence, after remaining a certain time to allow of its ridding itself of the grosser lees, it is pumped through a gutta-percha tube into the casks. The wooden stoppers of the bungholes, instead of being fixed tightly in the apertures, are simply laid over them, and after the lapse of ten or twelve days fermentation usually commences, and during its progress the must, which is originally of a pale pink tint, fades to a light straw colour. The wine usually remains undisturbed until Christmas, when it is drawn off into fresh casks, and delivered to the purchaser.
On our way from Ay to Mareuil, along the lengthy Rue de Chlons, we looked in at the little auberge at the corner of the Boulevard du Sud, where we found a crowd of coopers and others connected in some way with the vintage taking their cheerful glasses round. The walls of the room were appropriately enough decorated with capering bacchanals squeezing bunches of purple grapes and flourishing their thyrsi about in a very tipsy fashion. All the talk—and there was an abundance of it—had reference to the yield of this particular vintage and the high rate the Ay wine had realised. Eight hundred francs the pice of two hundred litres, equal to forty-four gallons, appeared to be the price fixed by the agents of the great champagne houses, and at this figure the bulk of the vintage was disposed of before a single grape passed through the wine-press.
At Mareuil, which is scarcely more than a mile from Ay, owing to the steepness of the slopes and to the roads through the vineyards being impracticable for carts, the grapes were being conveyed to the press-houses in baskets slung across the backs of mules and donkeys, who, on account of their known partiality for the ripe fruit, were most of them muzzled while thus employed. The vin brut here, inferior of course to that of Ay, found a ready market at from five to six hundred francs the pice.
From Mareuil we proceeded to Avenay, a tumbledown little village in the direction of Reims, and the vineyards of which were of greater repute in the 13th century than they are to-day. Its best wine, extolled by Saint Evremond, the epicurean Frenchman, who emigrated to the gay court of Charles II. at Whitehall to escape a gloomy cell in the Bastille, is vintaged up the slopes of Mont Hurl. At Avenay we found the yield had been little more than the third of an average one, and that the wine from the first pressure of the grapes had been sold for five hundred francs the pice. Here we tasted some very fair still red wine, made from the same grapes as champagne, remarkably deep in colour, full of body, and with that slight sweet bitterish flavour characteristic of certain of the better-class growths of the south of France. On leaving Avenay we ascended the hills to Mutigny, and wound round thence to Cumires, on the banks of the Marne, finding the vintage in full operation all throughout the route. The vineyards of Cumires—classed as a second cr—join those of Hautvillers on the one side and Damery on the other—the latter a cosy little river-side village, where the "bon Roi Henri" sought relaxation from the turmoils of war in the society of the fair Anne du Puy—"sa belle htesse," as the gallant Barnais was wont to style her. Damery too claims to be the birthplace of Adrienne Lecouvreur, the celebrated actress of the Regency, and mistress of the Marchal de Saxe who coaxed her out of her 30,000 of savings to enable him to prosecute his suit with the obese Anna Iwanowna, niece of Peter the Great, which, had he only been successful in, would have secured the future hero of Fontenoy the coveted dukedom of Courland.
The vineyards of the Cte d'Epernay, south of the Marne, extend eastward from beyond Boursault, on whose wooded height Madame Clicquot built her fine chteau, in which her granddaughter, the Comtesse de Mortemart, to-day resides. They then follow the course of the river, and after winding round behind Epernay diverge towards the south-west. The vines produce only black grapes, and many of the vineyards are of great antiquity, one at Epernay, known as the Closet, having been bequeathed under that name six and a half centuries ago to a neighbouring Abbey of St. Martin. A short drive along the high road leading from Epernay to Troyes brings us to the village of Pierry cosily nestling amongst groves of poplars in the valley of the Cubry, with some half-score of chteaux of the last century belonging to well-to-do wine-growers of the neighbourhood, screened from the road by umbrageous gardens. Vines mount the slopes that rise around, the higher summits being crowned with forest, while here and there some pleasant village shelters itself under the brow of a lofty hill. Near Pierry many cellars have been excavated in the chalky soil, to the flints prevalent in which the village is said to owe its name.
The entrances to these cellars are closed by iron gateways, and on the skirts of the vineyards we come upon whole rows of them picturesquely overgrown with ivy. Early in the last century the wine vintaged in the Clos St. Pierre, belonging to an abbey of this name at Chlons, acquired a high reputation through the care bestowed upon it by Brother Jean Oudart, whose renown almost rivalled that of Dom Perignon himself, and to-day the Pierry vineyards, producing exclusively black grapes, hold a high rank among the second-class crs of the Marne.
Crossing the Sourdon, a little stream which, bubbling up in the midst of huge rocks in the forest of Epernay, rushes down the hills and mingles its waters with that of the Cubry, we soon reach Moussy, where the vineyards, spite of their long pedigree and southern aspect, also rank as a second cr. Still skirting the vine-clad slopes we come to Vinay, noted for an ancient grotto—the comfortless abode of some rheumatic anchorite—and a pretended miraculous spring to which fever-stricken pilgrims to-day credulously resort. The water may possibly merit its renown, but the wine here produced is very inferior, due no doubt to the class of vines, the meunier being the leading variety cultivated. At Ablois St. Martin, picturesquely perched partway up a slope in the midst of hills covered with vines and crowned with forest trees, the Cte d'Epernay ends, and the produce becomes of a choicer character.
The Cte d'Avize lies to the south-east, so that we have to retrace our steps to Pierry and follow the road which there branches off, leaving the vineyards of Chavot, Monthelon, and Grauves, of no particular note, on our right hand. We pass through Cuis, where the slopes, planted with both black and white varieties of vines, are extremely abrupt, and eventually reach Cramant, one of the grand premiers crs of the Champagne. From the vineyards around this picturesque little village, and extending along the somewhat precipitous Cte de Saran—a prominent object on which is M. Mot's handsome chteau—there is vintaged a wine from white grapes especially remarkable for lightness and delicacy and the richness of its bouquet, and an admixture of which is essential to every first-class champagne cuve.
From Cramant the road runs direct to Avize, a large thriving village, lying at the foot of vineyard slopes, where numerous champagne firms have established themselves. Its prosperity dates from the commencement of the last century, when the Count de Lhery cleared away the remains of its ancient ramparts, filled up the moat, and planted the ground with vines, the produce of which was found admirably suited for the sparkling wines then coming into vogue. To-day the light delicate wine of Avize is classed, like that of Cramant, as a premier cr. It is the same with the wine of Oger, lying a little to the south, while the neighbouring growths of Le Mesnil hold a slightly inferior rank. The latter village and its grey Gothic church lie under the hill in the midst of vines that almost climb the forest-crowned summit. The stony soil hereabouts is said to be better adapted to the cultivation of white than of black grapes, besides which the wines of Le Mesnil are remarkable for their effervescent properties.
Vertus forms the southern limit of the Cte d'Avize, and the vineyard slopes subsiding at their base into a broad expanse of fertile fields, and crested as usual with dense forest, rise up behind the picturesque old town which the English assailed and partly burnt five centuries ago, spite of its fortifications, of which to-day a dilapidated gateway alone remains. The church is ancient and curious, and a few quaint old houses are here and there met with, notably one with a florid Gothic window enriched with a moulding of grapes and vine-leaves. The vineyards of Vertus were originally planted with vines from Burgundy, and in the 14th century yielded a red wine held in high repute, while later on the Vertus growths formed the favourite beverage of William III. of England. To-day the growers find it more profitable to make white instead of red wine from their crops of black grapes, the former commanding a good price for conversion into vin mousseux, it being in the opinion of some manufacturers especially valuable for binding a cuve together. The wine of Vertus ranks among the second-class champagne crs.
III.—THE VINEYARDS OF THE MOUNTAIN.
The Wine of Sillery— Origin of its Renown— The Marechale d'Estres a successful Marchande de Vin— From Reims to Sillery— Failure of the Jacquesson Vineyards— Chteau of Sillery— Wine Making at M. Fortel's— Sillery sec— The Vintage and Vendangeoirs at Verzenay— The Verzy Vineyards— Edward III. at the Abbey of St. Basle— From Reims to Bouzy— The Herring Procession at St. Remi— Rilly, Chigny, and Ludes— The Knights Templars' "Pot" of Wine— Mailly and the View over the Plains of the Champagne— Wine Making at Mailly— The Village in the Wood— Village and Chteau of Louvois— Louis le Grand's War Minister— Bouzy, its Vineyards and Church Steeple, and the Lottery of the Great Gold Ingot— MM. Werl's and Mot and Chandon's Vendangeoirs— Pressing the Grapes— Still Red Bouzy— Ambonnay— A Peasant Proprietor— The Vineyards of Ville-Dommange and Sacy, Hermonville, and St. Thierry— The Still Red Wine of the latter.
The smallest of the Champagne vineyards are those of Sillery, and yet no wine of the Marne enjoys a greater renown, due originally to the intelligence and energy of the Marchale d'Estres, the clever daughter of a Jew financier, who brought the wine of Sillery prominently into notice during the latter half of the seventeenth century. She had vineyards at Mailly, Verzy, and Verzenay, as well as at Sillery, and concentrated their produce in the capacious cellars of her chteau, afterwards sending it forth with her own guarantee, under the general name of Sillery, which, like Aaron's serpent, thus swallowed up the others. The Marchale's social position enabled her to secure for her wines the recognition they really merited, added to which she was a keen woman of business. She also possessed much taste, and whenever she gave one of her rare entertainments nothing could be more exquisite or more magnificent. At the same time, she was so sordid that when her daughter, who was covered with jewels, fell down at a ball, her first cry was, not like Shylock's, "my daughter," but "my diamonds," as rushing forward she strove to pick up, not the fallen dancer, but her scattered gems.
The drive from Reims to Sillery has nothing attractive about it. A long, straight, level road bordered by trees intersects a broad tract of open country, skirted on the right by the Petite Montagne of Reims, with antiquated villages nestled among the dense woodland. After crossing the Chlons line of railway—near where one of the new forts constructed for the defence of Reims rises up behind the villages and vineyards of Cernay and Nogent l'Abbesse—the country becomes more undulating. Poplars border the broad Marne canal, and a low fringe of foliage marks the course of the languid river Vesle, on the banks of which is Taissy, famous in the old days for its wines, great favourites with Sully, and which almost lured Henri Quatre from his allegiance to the vintages of Ay and Arbois that he loved so well.
To the left rises Mont de la Pompelle, where the first Christians of Reims suffered martyrdom, and where in 1658 the Spaniards under Montal, when attempting to ravage the vineyards of the district, were repulsed with terrible slaughter by the Remois militia, led on by Grandpr. A quarter of a century ago the low ground on our right near Sillery was planted with vines by M. Jacquesson, the owner of the Sillery estate, and a large champagne manufacturer at Chlons, who was anxious to resuscitate the ancient reputation of the domain. Under the advice of Dr. Guyot, the well-known writer on viticulture, he planted the vines in deep trenches, which led to the vineyards being punningly termed Jacquesson's celery beds. To shield the vines from hailstorms prevalent in the district, and the more dangerous spring frosts, so fatal to vines planted in low-lying situations, long rolls of straw-matting were stored close at hand with which to roof them over when needful. These precautions were scarcely needed, however; the vines languished through moisture at the roots, and eventually were mostly rooted up.
After again crossing the railway, we pass the trim, restored turrets of the famous chteau of Sillery, with its gateways, moats, and drawbridges, flanked by trees and floral parterres. It was here that the Marchale d'Estres carried on her successful business as a marchande de vins, and the pragmatic and pedantic Comtesse de Genlis, governess of the Orleans princes, spent, as she tells us, the happiest days of her life. The few thriving vineyards of Sillery cover a gentle eminence which rises out of the plain, and present on the one side an eastern and on the other a western aspect. To-day the Vicomte de Brimont and M. Fortel of Reims, the latter of whom cultivates about forty acres of vines, yielding ordinarily about 300 hogsheads, are the only wine-growers at Sillery. Before pressing his grapes—of course for sparkling wine—M. Fortel has them thrown into a trough, at the bottom of which are a couple of grooved cylinders, each about eight inches in diameter, and revolving in contrary directions, the effect of which, when set in motion, is to disengage the grapes partially from their stalks. Grapes and stalks are then placed under the press, which is on the old cyder-press principle, and the must runs into a reservoir beneath, whence it is pumped into large vats, each holding from 250 to 500 gallons. Here it remains from six to eight hours, and is then run off into casks, the spigots of which are merely laid lightly over the holes, and in the course of twelve days the wine begins to ferment. It now rests until the end of the year, when it is drawn off into new casks and delivered to the buyer, invariably one or other of the great champagne houses, who willingly pay an exceptionally high price for it. The second and third pressures of the grapes yield an inferior wine, and from the husks and stalks eau-de-vie, worth about five shillings a gallon, is distilled.
The wine known as Sillery sec is a full, dry, pleasant-flavoured, and somewhat spirituous amber-coloured wine. Very little of it is made now-a-days, and most that is comes from the adjacent vineyards of Verzenay and Mailly, and is principally reserved by the growers for their own consumption. One of these candidly admitted to me that the old reputation of the wine had exploded, and that better white Bordeaux and Burgundy wines were to be obtained for less money. In making dry Sillery, which locally is esteemed as a valuable tonic, it is essential that the grapes should be subjected to only slight pressure, while to have it in perfection it is equally essential that the wine should be kept for ten years in the wood according to some, and eight years in bottle according to others, to which circumstance its high price is in all probability to be attributed. In course of time it forms a deposit, and has the disadvantage common to all the finer still wines of the Champagne district of not travelling well.
Beyond Sillery the vineyards of Verzenay unfold themselves, spreading over the extensive slopes and stretching to the summit of the steep height to the right, where a windmill or two is perched. Everywhere the vintagers are busy detaching the grapes with their little hook-shaped serpettes, the women all wearing projecting, close-fitting bonnets, as though needlessly careful of their anything but blonde complexions. Long carts laden with baskets of grapes block the narrow roads, and donkeys, duly muzzled, with baskets slung across their backs, toil up and down the steeper slopes. Half way up the principal hill, backed by a dense wood and furrowed with deep trenches, whence soil has been removed for manuring the vineyards, is the village of Verzenay, overlooking a veritable sea of vines. Rising up in front of the old grey cottages, encompassed by orchards or gardens, are the white walls and long red roofs of the vendangeoirs belonging to the great champagne houses—Mot and Chandon, Clicquot, G. H. Mumm, Roederer, Deutz and Geldermann, and others—all teeming with bustle and excitement, and with the vines almost reaching to their very doors. Mot and Chandon have as many as eight presses in full work, and own no less than 120 acres of vines on the neighbouring slopes, besides the Clos de Romont—in the direction of Sillery, and yielding a wine of the Sillery type—belonging to M. Mot Romont. At Messrs. G. H. Mumm's the newly-delivered grapes are either being weighed and emptied into one of the pressoirs, or else receiving their first gentle squeeze. Verzenay ranks as a premier cr, and for three years in succession—1872, 3, and 4—its wines fetched a higher price than either those of Ay or Bouzy. In 1873 the vin brut commanded the exceptionally large sum of 1,030 francs the hogshead of 44 gallons. All the inhabitants of Verzenay are vine proprietors, and several million francs are annually received by them for the produce of their vineyards from the manufacturers of champagne. The wine of Verzenay, remarkable for its body and vinosity, has always been held in high repute, which is more than can be said for the probity of the inhabitants, for according to an old Champagne saying—"Whenever at Verzenay 'Stop thief' is cried every one takes to his heels."
Just over the mountain of Reims is the village of Verzy, the vineyards of which adjoin those of Verzenay, and are almost exclusively planted with white grapes, the only instance of the kind to be met with in the district. In the clos St. Basse, however—taking its name from the abbey of St. Basle, of which the village was a dependency, and where Edward III. of England had his head-quarters during the siege of Reims—black grapes alone are grown, and its produce is almost on a par with the wines of Verzenay. Southwards of Verzy are the third-class crs of Villers-Marmery and Trpail.
On leaving Reims on our excursion to the vineyards of Bouzy we pass the quaint old church of St. Remi, one of the sights of the Champagne capital, and notable among other things for its magnificent ancient stained-glass windows, and the handsome modern tomb of the popular Remois saint. It was here in the middle ages that that piece of priestly mummery, the procession of the herrings, used to take place at dusk on the Wednesday before Easter. Preceded by a cross the canons of the church marched in double file up the aisles, each trailing a cord after him, with a herring attached. Every one's object was to tread on the herring in front of him, and prevent his own herring from being trodden upon by the canon who followed behind—a difficult enough proceeding which, if it did not edify, certainly afforded much amusement to the lookers-on.
Soon after crossing the canal and the river Vesle we leave the grey antiquated-looking village of Cormontreuil on our left, and traverse a wide stretch of cultivated country streaked with patches of woodland. Occasional windmills dot the distant heights, while villages nestle among the trees up the mountain sides and in the quiet hollows. Soon a few vineyards occupying the lower slopes, and thronged by bands of vintagers, come in sight, and the country too gets more picturesque. We pass successively on our right hand Rilly, producing a capital red wine, then Chigny, and afterwards Ludes, all three more or less up the mountain, with vines in all directions, relieved by a dark background of forest trees. In the old days the Knights Templars of the Commanderie of Reims had the right of vinage at Ludes, and exacted their modest "pot" (about half a gallon) per pice on all the wine the village produced. On our left hand is Mailly, the vineyards of which join those of Verzenay, and yield a wine noted for finesse and bouquet. From the wooded knolls hereabouts a view is gained of the broad plains of the Champagne, dotted with white villages and scattered homesteads among the poplars and the limes, the winding Vesle glittering in the sunlight, and the dark towers of Notre Dame de Reims, with all their rich Gothic fretwork, rising majestically above the distant city.
At one vendangeoir we visited at Mailly between 350 and 400 pices of wine were being made at the rate of some thirty pices during the long day of twenty hours, five men being engaged in working the old-fashioned press, closely resembling a cyder press, and applying its pressure longitudinally. The must was emptied into large vats, holding about 450 gallons, and remained there for two or three days before being drawn off into casks. Of the above thirty pices, twenty resulting from the first pressure were of the finest quality, four produced by the second pressure were partly reserved to replace what the first might lose during fermentation, the residue serving for second-class champagne. The six pices which came from the final pressure, after being mixed with common wine of the district, were converted into champagne of inferior quality.
We now cross the mountain, sight Ville-en-Selve—the village in the wood—among the distant trees, and eventually reach Louvois, whence the Grand Monarque's domineering war minister derived his marquisate, and where his chteau, a plain but capacious edifice, may still be seen nestled in a picturesque and fertile valley, and surrounded by lordly pleasure grounds. Soon afterwards the vineyards of Bouzy appear in sight, with the prosperous-looking little village rising out of the plain at the foot of the vine-clad slopes stretching to Ambonnay, and the glittering Marne streaking the hazy distance. The commodious new church was indebted for its spire, we were told, to the lucky gainer—who chanced to be a native of Bouzy—of the great gold ingot lottery prize, value 16,000, drawn some years ago. The Bouzy vineyards occupy a series of gentle inclines, and have the advantage of a full southern aspect. The soil, which is of the customary calcareous formation, has a marked ruddy tinge, indicative of the presence of iron, to which the wine is in some degree indebted for its distinguishing characteristics—its delicacy, spirituousness, and pleasant bouquet. Vintagers are passing slowly in between the vines, and carts laden with grapes come rolling over the dusty roads. The mountain which rises behind is scored up its sides and fringed with foliage at its summit, and a small stone bridge crosses the deep ravine formed by the swift descending winter torrents.
The principal vineyard proprietors at Bouzy, which ranks, of course, as a premier cr, are M. Werl, M. Irroy, and Messrs. Mot and Chandon, the first and last of whom have capacious vendangeoirs here, M. Irroy's pressing-house being in the neighbouring village of Ambonnay. M. Werl possesses at Bouzy from forty to fifty acres of the finest vines, forming a considerable proportion of the entire vineyard area. At the Clicquot-Werl vendangeoir, containing as many as eight presses, about 1,000 pices of wine are made annually. At the time of our visit, grapes gathered that morning were in course of delivery, the big basketfuls being measured off in caques—wooden receptacles, holding two-and-twenty gallons—while the florid-faced foreman ticked them off with a piece of chalk on the head of an adjacent cask.
As soon as the contents of some half-hundred or so of these baskets had been emptied on to the floor of the press, the grapes undetached from their stalks were smoothed compactly down, and a moderate pressure was applied to them by turning a huge wheel, which caused the screw of the press to act—a gradual squeeze rather than a powerful one, and given all at once, coaxing out, it was said, the finer qualities of the fruit. The operation was repeated as many as six times; the yield from the three first pressures being reserved for conversion into champagne, while the result of the fourth squeeze would be applied to replenishing the loss, averaging 7 per cent., sustained by the must during fermentation. Whatever comes from the fifth pressure is sold to make an inferior champagne. The grapes are subsequently well raked about, and then subjected to a couple of final squeezes, known as the rbche, and yielding a sort of piquette, given to the workmen employed at the pressoir to drink.
The small quantity of still red Bouzy wine made by M. Werl at the same vendangeoir only claims to be regarded as a wine of especial mark in good years. The grapes before being placed beneath the press are allowed to remain in a vat for as many as eight days. The must undergoes a long fermentation, and after being drawn off into casks is left undisturbed for a couple of years. In bottle, where, by the way, it invariably deposits a sediment, which is indeed the case with all the wines of the Champagne, still or sparkling, it will outlive, we were told, any Burgundy.
Still red Bouzy has a marked and agreeable bouquet and a most delicate flavour, is deliciously smooth to the palate, and to all appearances as light as a wine of Bordeaux, while in reality it is quite as strong as Burgundy, to the finer crs of which it bears a slight resemblance. It was, I learnt, most susceptible to travelling, a mere journey to Paris being, it was said, sufficient to sicken it, and impart such a shock to its delicate constitution that it was unlikely to recover from it. To attain perfection, this wine, which is what the French term a vin vif, penetrating into the remotest corners of the organ of taste, requires to be kept a couple of years in wood and half-a-dozen or more years in bottle.
From Bouzy it was only a short distance along the base of the vine slopes to Ambonnay, where there are merely two or three hundred acres of vines, and where we found the vintage almost over. The village is girt with fir trees, and surrounded by rising ground fringed with solid belts or slender strips of foliage. An occasional windmill cuts against the horizon, which is bounded here and there by scattered trees. Inquiring for the largest vine proprietor we were directed to an open porte-cochre, and on entering the large court encountered half-a-dozen labouring men engaged in various farm occupations. Addressing one whom we took to be the foreman, he referred us to a wiry little old man, in shirt-sleeves and sabots, absorbed in the refreshing pursuit of turning over a big heap of rich manure with a fork. He proved to be M. Oury, the owner of I forget how many acres of vines, and a remarkably intelligent peasant, considering what dunderheads the French peasants as a rule are, who had raised himself to the position of a large vine proprietor. Doffing his sabots and donning a clean blouse, he conducted us into his little salon, a freshly-painted apartment about eight feet square, of which the huge fireplace occupied fully one-third, and submitted patiently to our catechizing.
At Ambonnay, as at Bouzy, they had that year, M. Oury said, only half an average crop; the caque of grapes had, moreover, sold for exactly the same price at both places, and the wine had realised about 800 francs the pice. Each hectare (2 acres) of vines had yielded 45 caques of grapes, weighing some 2 tons, which produced 6 pices, equal to 286 gallons of wine, or at the rate of 110 gallons per acre. Here the grapes were pressed four times, the yield from the second pressure being used principally to make good the loss which the first sustained during its fermentation. As the squeezes given were powerful ones, all the best qualities of the grapes were by this time extracted, and the yield from the third and fourth pressures would not command more than 80 francs the pice. The vintagers who came from a distance received either a franc and a half per day and their food, consisting of three meals, or two francs and a half without food, the children being paid thirty sous. M. Oury further informed us that every year vineyards came into the market, and found ready purchasers at from fifteen to twenty thousand francs the hectare, equal to an average price of 300 the acre. Owing to the properties being divided into such infinitesimal portions, they were rarely bought up by the large champagne houses, who preferred not to be embarrassed with the cultivation of such tiny plots, but to buy the produce from their owners.
There are other vineyards of lesser note in the neighbourhood of Reims producing very fair wines which enter more or less into the composition of champagne. Noticeable among these are Ville-Dommange and Sacy, south-west of Reims, and Hermonville and St. Thierry—where the Black Prince took up his quarters during the siege of Reims—north-west of the city. The still red wine of St. Thierry, which recalls the growths of the Mdoc by its tannin, and those of the Cte d'Or by its vinosity, is to-day almost a thing of the past, it being found here as elsewhere more profitable to press the grapes for sparkling in preference to still wine.
IV.—THE VINES OF THE CHAMPAGNE AND THE SYSTEM OF CULTIVATION.
The Vines chiefly of the Pineau Variety— The Plant dor of Ay, the Plant vert dor, the Plant gris, and the Epinette— The Soil of the Vineyards— Close Mode of Plantation— The Operation of Provinage— The Stems of the Vines never more than Three Years Old— Fixing the Stakes to the Vines— Manuring and General Cultivation— Spring Frosts in the Champagne— Various Modes of Protecting the Vines against them— Dr. Guyot's System— The Parasites that Prey upon the Vines.
In the Champagne the old rule holds good—poor soil, rich product; grand wine in moderate quantity. Four descriptions of vines are chiefly cultivated, three of them yielding black grapes, and all belonging to the Pineau variety, from which the grand Burgundy wines are produced, and so styled from the clusters taking the conical form of the pine. The first is the franc pineau, the plant dor of Ay, producing small round grapes, with thickish skins of a bluish black tint, and sweet and refined in flavour. The next is the plant vert dor, more robust and more productive than the former, but yielding a less generous wine, and the berries of which are dark and oval, very thin skinned and remarkably sweet and juicy. The third variety is the plant gris, or burot, as it is styled in the Cte d'Or, a somewhat delicate vine, whose fruit has a brownish tinge, and yields a light and perfumed wine. The remaining species is a white grape known as the pinette, a variety of the pineau blanc, and supposed by some to be identical with the chardonnet of Burgundy, which yields the famous wine of Montrachet. It is met with all along the Cte d'Avize, notably at Cramant, the delicate and elegant wine of which ranks immediately after that of Ay and Verzenay. The pinette is a prolific bearer, and its round transparent golden berries, which hang in no very compact clusters, are both juicy and sweet. It ripens, however, much later than either of the black varieties.
There are several other species of vines cultivated in the Champagne vineyards, notably the common meunier, or miller, bearing black grapes, and prevalent in the valley of Epernay, and which takes its name from the circumstance of the young leaves appearing to have been sprinkled with flour. There are also the black and white gouais, the meslier, a prolific white variety yielding a wine of fair quality, the black and white gamais, the leading grape in the Mconnais, and chiefly found in the Vertus vineyards, together with the tourlon, the marmot, and half a score of others.
The soil of the Champagne vineyards is chalk, with a mixture of silica and light clay, combined with a varying proportion of oxide of iron. The vines are almost invariably planted on rising ground, the lower slopes which usually escape the spring frosts producing the best wines. The new vines are placed very close together, there often being as many as six within a square yard. When two or three years old they are ready for the operation of provinage universally practised in the Champagne, and which consists in burying in a trench, from 6 to 8 inches deep, dug on one side of the plant, the two lowest buds of the two principal shoots, left when the vine was pruned for this especial purpose. The shoots thus laid underground are dressed with a light manure, and in course of time take root and form new vines, which bear during their second year. This operation is performed in the spring, and is annually repeated until the vine is five years old, the plants thus being in a state of continual progression, a system which accounts for the juvenescent aspect of the Champagne vineyards, where none of the wood of the vines showing aboveground is more than three years old. When the vine has attained its fifth year it is allowed to rest for a couple of years, and then the pruning is resumed, the shoots being dispersed in any direction throughout the vineyard. The plants remain in this condition henceforward, merely requiring to be renewed from time to time by judicious provining.
The vines are supported by stakes, when of oak costing sixty francs the thousand; and as in the Champagne a close system of plantation is followed, no less than 24,000 stakes are required on every acre of land, making the cost per acre of propping up the vines upwards of 57, or double what it is in the Mdoc and quadruple what it is in Burgundy. These stakes are set up in the spring of the year by men or women, the former of whom force them into the ground by pressing against them with their chest, which is protected with a shield of stout leather. The women use a mallet, or have recourse to a special appliance, in working which the foot plays the principal part. The latter method is the least fatiguing, and in some localities is practised by the men. An expert labourer will set up as many as 5,000 of these stakes in the course of the day. After the vines have been hoed around their roots they are secured to the stakes, and the tops are broken off at a shoot to prevent them from growing above the regulation height, which is ordinarily from 30 to 33 inches. They are liberally manured with a kind of compost formed of the loose friable soil dug out from the sides of the mountain, and of supposed volcanic origin, mixed with animal and vegetable refuse. The vines are shortened back while in flower, and in the course of the summer the ground is hoed a second and a third time, the object being, first, to destroy the superficial roots of the vines and force the plants to live solely on their deep roots; and, secondly, to remove all pernicious weeds from round about them. After the third hoeing, which takes place in the middle of August, the vines are left to themselves until the period of the vintage. When this is over the stakes supporting the vines are pulled up and stacked in compact masses, with their ends out of the ground, the vine, which is left curled up in a heap, remaining undisturbed until the winter, when the earth around it is loosened. In the month of February it is pruned and sunk into the earth, as already described, so as to leave only the new wood aboveground. Owing to the vines being planted so closely together they starve one another, and numbers of them perish. When this is the case, or the stems get broken during the vintage, their places are filled up by provining.