History of Champagne
It’s all too easy to proclaim that a region stands at a crossroads with others, but with the province of Champagne, its setting some 100 miles east of Paris has ensured that travellers from north to south, east to west have passed through en route to pan-European adventures. And, since its legacy for production of the most auspicious of sparkling wines first took hold in the 17th century, the influx of outside visitors has risen exponentially over the years.
Many regions of central France owe their development to the influence of Roman incursions, and Champagne is no different. Here, the Romans, referring to the region as Campania due to its topographical similarity to the region just south of Rome, recognised the fertile land as perfect for cultivation. It was this acknowledgement that led to the very first vines to being planted, a move that would trigger an enduring legacy of wine production that enjoys international acclaim to this day.
Prosperity and the Counts of Champagne
As Champagne took its first steps towards dominance in the production of wine, the region itself was taking on ever greater prominence in French and European trade and politics. With major trade routes passing through, it experienced significant growth in merchant activity, with the Counts of Champagne ruling for nearly four centuries and revelling in the spoils generated by the area’s prime location. The final Count of Champagne was French King Louis X, whose ascension to the throne saw the independent county subsumed into the Crown territories.
While the location of Champagne ensured success and growth in trade and commerce, its setting also brought with it years of hardship and turbulence. The Hundred Years’ War decimated many regions during battles, while the conflict between Catholics and Huguenots during the War of Religions destroyed the Abbey of Hautvillers in the middle of the 16th century.
Peace and productivity
It would take another century for the events of the War of Religions to be replaced by a period of peaceful stability, with the reign of Louis XIV seeing the advancement of the production of sparkling wine. Competition and rivalry with the wine houses of Burgundy for dominance of this growing industry would ensue, driving the quality and standards of produce to a point where few others could compete. Eventually, Epernay established a worldwide reputation as the main commercial hub of the industry, with names such as Krug achieving legendary status.
In more recent years, Champagne has seen interest from outside visitors continue to grow, with the Marne River valley notably contested throughout the First World War, and the Nazis taking steps to commandeer the industry and profits of the industry decades later. Modern Champagne, however, offers a more laid back pace of life, with its thriving wine industry, inspiring architecture and rural scenery.