I Love Champagne in the Springtime
story and photos by Jiles Halling
|Ella Fitzgerald sang “I love Paris in the springtime,” but for anyone in the wine trade Champagne is the place to head to in April for a busy but fascinating week of tastings that has come to be an annual event that should figure in everyone’s diary.
It all started about eight years ago with just one small group of Champagne makers, almost all of them Récoltants Manipulants (or Grower Champagne makers) who formed a group called Terres et Vins de Champagne.
There were initially about 15 members of the group, all of whom had a shared philosophy about Champagne making. Their idea, as the name implies, was not only to showcase their Champagnes but perhaps more importantly, to present the still wines from the previous year’s harvest so as to give people a greater insight into the huge diversity of the terroirs and wines that are produced in the 300 plus villages of the Champagne region and thereby to reveal the complexity involved in blending those still wines to make Champagne.
It’s not hard to imagine that it made financial and commercial sense too: It was much less costly for the Champagne makers to put on a tasting event in Champagne than for each of them to travel to wine fairs overseas. On top of that the tasting events in Champagne were a way to gain valuable attention for small brands whose voices would otherwise get drowned out by their bigger and more famous neighbors.
The list of the initial member of Terres et Vins de Champagne includes names that were not that well-known nine years ago but which today are instantly recognized and whose wines are much sought after by buyers in the wine trade: Pascal Agrapart, Bérèche, Benoît Lahaye, Benoît Tarlant, David Laclapart and Françoise Bedel, to name just a few.
The concept was a huge successs, and other groups were immediately created. Prominent among these were Les Artisans de Champagne (including Marc Hébrart, Pierre Peters, Vilmart) and Les Mains du Terroir de Champagne ( including De Sousa, Coessens, Eric Rodez), and many more names that have gained a following in the past eight years.
Since the beginning, the tasting events have always taken place in April, and in the early days the tasting events took place on just two or three days. When there were only a handful of different groups this was sensible and practical, but in the past couple of years a whole host of new associations have been created, and there are now nearly 20 different groups each with its own individual style and each one featuring well-known and lesser-known producers. There are events featuring specific grape varieties (Passion Chardonnay and Meunier Institut ), others that present wines and Champagnes from a single village (Verzenay Grand Cru de Champagne and L’Académie du Vin de Bouzy) and even one group, Les Contrées Ricetonnes, from Les Riceys in La Côte de Bars.
The tastings are now spread out over a full week in April (April 22-27 this year) and the event as a whole has come to be known in French as Le Printemps des Champagnes (Springtime in Champagne).
The success of Le Printemps des Champagnes is both a blessing and an inconvenience. On the one hand there’s such a diversity of Champagnes and wines to discover now that the most exacting sommelier, journalist, importer, etc. can find and taste just about whatever he or she could possibly desire in the space of just one week, and it’s far more cost effective to travel to Champagne for a whole series of tasting than for just one or two.
On the other hand, the very popularity of Le Printemps des Champagnes and the numbers of people who attend make a little more difficult to get in—indeed some events are now restricting the number of visitors they admit—and less easy to grab a few minutes quiet one-on-one conversation with the Champagne makers.
In more practical terms, the demand for accommodation too has increased enormously so anyone thinking of coming to Le Printemps des Champagnes is well advised to book accommodation well in advance. The question then arises of where to stay.
Most groups, including the better-known ones, have moved their events into Reims, so for ease of transport staying in Reims makes sense. However if time allows and for anyone with a slightly more adventurous spirit there is something to be said for visiting Verzenay Grand Cru de Champagne (in the village of Verzenay, which is a 15 minute drive, or taxi ride, from Reims), Origines Champagne (in Pierry just outside Epernay) or Meunier Institut (a fair distance from Epernay in La Vallée de La Marne). These events are less busy and offer the chance to discover people and wines that are not yet “on the radar.”
The events are for the wine trade only and prior registration is essential. A full list of the events including dates and locations and links to the registration pages can be found at
For anyone seriously interested in Grower Champagnes and in learning more about Champagne, Le Printemps des Champagnes should really feature in their diary—and in the words of that other wonderful singer, Anita Baker, “I don’t care how you get here, but get here if you can.”