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Champagne appellation and classification: Premiers and Grands Crus de Champagne

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What's the difference between 1er cru and grand cru champagne?

It's not uncommon for a bottle of champagne to be labelled "Champagne Premier Cru" or " Champagne Grand Cru ". This means that the wine comes from the best terroirs in the appellation. It's a guarantee of quality and provenance. In Champagne, unlike in Bordeaux, the notion of "cru" applies to entire communes classified according to a scale of crus ranging from 100% to 80% (depending on the quality of the grapes produced, the soil and the exposure).

A Classification des Crus for the purchase of grapes.

The crus scale was created in 1919, on the initiative of the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de Champagne. The aim was to set the price of grapes in each commune at harvest time. It was determined on the basis of the prices of the Grands Crus agreed between winegrowers and merchants.

The hierarchy subsequently established retained three levels of crus, ranging from 100% to 80% according to the quality of the grapes produced.

As this system did not comply with EU competition law, it had to be abandoned in 2004.

It nevertheless constitutes a benchmark. Each year, the price per kilo of grapes is set by commune. This price is used to calculate the rent for the grape harvest. It is published by prefectoral decree. For the 2021 harvest, prices have been set at:

- €6.96 / kilo for grapes from communes classified as Grand Cru de la Côte des Blancs, an increase of less than 2% on the previous year,
- €6.93 for grapes from other Grand Cru communes,
- €6.42 to €6.89 for most Premiers
Crus,
- €5.76 is the minimum price for grapes from other communes.

In Champagne, most of the grapes are purchased by the major Champagne houses, which produce their own cuvées. The Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Champagne sets the base price for grapes. This base price corresponds to one kilo of "grand cru" grapes. The price at which the grapes are sold to the négociant depends on the commune's classification on the "crus" scale. Grapes from communes classified as "grand cru" will be paid at 100% of the base price, those from "premier cru" communes will be paid between 90% and 99% of the base price, depending on the commune, and Champagne appellation grapes will be paid between 89% and 80% of the base price, depending on the commune.

Champagne crus are represented by the villages or communes that make up the Champagne appellation. These villages are classified according to a scale of crus in percentage of quality. There are 17 grands crus at 100%, 44 premiers crus between 99 and 90% and the rest of the crus without distinction, only in AOC Champagne. A cru represents the typicality of a terroir, as a village has its own unique soil and climate. These elements, in addition to the grape variety, are essential to making Champagne.

Grand Cru

Only 5% of Champagne's wine-growing communes have the Grand Cru appellation.

This distinction is reserved for champagnes produced from vines grown in 17 communes selected for the qualities of their soil, exposure to the wind and sunshine that enable them to produce the best grapes.

A Grand Cru Champagne is synonymous with excellence. Produced from the finest plots, it is made from the best grape varieties: Pinot Noir, with its extremely fine red fruit aromas, and Chardonnay, with its elegant notes of citrus and white flowers. Although there's nothing to prevent the use of other grape varieties, winemakers generally prefer the noblest for their ageing potential.

The 17 Grand Cru communes are located in the Marne department, in the following areas:

- Montagne de Reims: Ambonnay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Louvois, Mailly, Puisieulx, Sillery, Verzenay, Verzy,

- Côte des Blancs: Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oiry, Oger,

- Vallée de la Marne: Aÿ, Tours-sur-Marne.

Crus et Vignobles

While the "Grand Cru " designation in Champagne corresponds to communes identified for their characteristics, it differs from vineyard to vineyard.


In Bordeaux, the classification dates back to 1855. Originally, it only concerned wines from the Gironde region. It was the result of a selection made for the Universal Exhibition, for which Emperor Napoleon III had asked that the best Bordeaux wines be presented. In response to a request from the Chamber of Commerce, the most expensive wines proposed by brokers were selected.

Although criticized, this classification still serves as a benchmark.


In Burgundy, the Grand Cru appellation is reserved for wines made from plots of land that are privileged for their micro-climate, exposure and soil. It represents lieux-dits.


In Alsace, the 51 Grands Crus are subject to more stringent constraints than the Alsace appellation, notably in terms of yields and grape varieties.

PREMIER CRU

The 44 communes benefiting from the Premier Cru appellation represent some 5,000 hectares, or 15% of Champagne's vineyards.

These are communes with a 90-99% grape production quality rating.

They are located in the Marne department, as are the Grand Cru communes.

The appellation covers vines grown in communes generally located on chalky, sufficiently sloping soils with a southern or south-eastern exposure.

Originally, the short distance between the vines and the press was also taken into account in the designation, the aim being to ensure that the quality of the grapes was maintained during transport.

Communes classified 1er Cru

Avenay, Bergères-les-Vertus, Bezannes, Billy le Grand, Bisseuil, Chamery, Champillon, Chigny les Roses, Cormontreuil, Coulommes la Montagne, Cuis, Cumières, Dizy, Écueil, Grauves, Hautvillers, Jouy les Reims, Les Mesneus, Ludes, Mareuil sur Aÿ, Montbré, Mutigny, Pargny les Reims, Pierry, Rilly la Montagne, Sacy, Sermiers, Taissy, Tauxières, Trépail, Trois Puits, Vaudemanges, Vertus, Ville-dommange, Villeneuve Renneville, Villers Allerand, Villers aux Noeuds, Villers-Marmery, Voipreux, Vrigny.

For Pinot Noir only: Chouilly For Chardonnay only: Etrechy, Coligny, Tours-sur-Marne.

Distributed by the Comité interprofessionnel des vins de Champagne (CIVC), the various acronyms are: C.M.: Coopérative de Manipulation, R.C: Récoltant coopérateur, R.M.: Récoltant Manipulant vendant lui-même son vin (who can only use the fruit of his own harvest), N.M.: Négociant, Manipulant

Obviously, the Champagne Grand Cru appellation is reserved for champagnes blended exclusively from grapes grown in the best Champagne vineyards. The Grand Cru classification is the highest appellation on the AOC classification scale.

Pinot Noir is used in blended champagne for its power and body, as well as for its red fruit aromas such as blackcurrant and cherry. It can also release spicier notes such as cinnamon

Tours- sur-Marne , Verzenay , Verzy , Ambonnay , Ay , Bouzy , Louvois , Beaumont -sur-Vesle , Mailly-Champagne , Piusieulx , Sillery.

Obviously, the Champagne Grand Cru appellation is reserved for champagnes blended exclusively from grapes grown in the best Champagne vineyards. The Grand Cru classification is the highest appellation on the AOC classification scale.

Premier Cru" wines therefore only concern Champagne and Burgundy. Discover Premier Cru wines on our online site. Grands Crus are distinguished by the most exceptional combinations of the best soils, the best exposures and the most favorable microclimates.