The exceptional value of the Champagne Slopes, Houses and Cellars differs from the ethos underpinning the other vineyard heritage sites on the World Heritage List. While the other sites tend to stand out due to their spectacular (Lavaux and Douro) and even extraordinary beauty (Pico) or the historic nature of the site they make up or in which they are located (Tokaj and Saint Emilion), the unique nature of the Champagne regionâ€™s application is based on the agro-industrial landscaping of the area, a reflection of the work of nature and humankind, enabling a universal product to emerge.
The Champagne Slopes, Houses and Cellars are a serial property. The main sites, in their diversity, are representative of the unique nature of the Champagne production area, marked by its chalk substrate, and shaped by its turbulent history and its geographical location, which have made it an outward-looking region but also a place of conflict. In this region, humankind has shaped in the chalk a unique rural, urban and underground heritage, and from a thankless soil has managed to produce a delicious drink that enjoys worldwide popularity.
A still wine has been produced in the region since Roman times, just like in many French vineyards, although this wine often became naturally sparkling. Once champagne had been invented in the 17th century, on the eve of the industrial revolution and thanks to the discovery of heavy bottles, the region moved from what was an original, unpredictable and small-scale form of wine production, which is continued to this day by numerous small-scale producers, to mass production, primarily for major markets, going beyond regional and national borders. Although the product itself continues to be produced using the traditional method, its quantitative development has required technological advances, organisation and marketing similar to capital-intensive and industrial processes. It is not by chance that many of the major Champagne houses are of Germanic heritage; these captains of industry were, along with the Argentinean Ayala, the pioneers of this transformation, alongside enlightened local traders, at the time of the rise of capitalism. They helped form a set of employers who were steeped in the ideas of the period, which was reflected in paternalism towards their employees and can be seen in the good works and workersâ€™ housing estates, but also in their patronage of culture and sport, and it should be stressed that women, some of whom were business leaders, played a significant role in this development.
These various aspects, which are linked to the socioeconomic history of the past two centuries, form the basis of the application, enabling a long-forgotten and even hidden heritage to be showcased. The original nature of the application makes it highly noteworthy.
A large and stable source of supply is needed for any form of mass production. In this specific case, the â€˜supplyâ€™ is produced by the vineyard, marked by its chalk soil with gentle undulations, which fans out and gives the wine its unique brand of freshness. The historic slopes are the perfect illustration of it; and the industrialisation of production also meant that the trade needed to be properly structured, which led to the people of the Champagne Region innovating legally and being the first to benefit from an Appellation dâ€™origine spÃ©cifique or special designation of origin).
The second unique facet of the regionâ€™s landscape is its inherently urban nature. Transport links (canals, the railway and road network) needed to be used in order to get supplies of grapes and bottles and to export on a large scale. The industry had to cluster around these links, going out of the urban areas to be close to the vineyards, yet without going too far, and design facilities at the gateways to towns. The comparison with modern-day town planning ends there, however, as unlike the design of the large supermarkets that we know only too well, the champagne houses were image-conscious and built functional yet ostentatiously opulent production and selling facilities and private residences, rivalling each other due to their originality and technical and design innovations.
Additionally, champagne is unique in that production is a two-stage process, with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle, so sufficiently large production facilities were needed, which met the constraints of production, namely storing the immense casks and first and foremost enabling the product to be made. The local method has since been adopted worldwide and requires a cool temperature, a constant level of humidity and a lot of space. And this is where nature once again came to help humankind, as the regionâ€™s chalky substrate has always been easy to dig and work. The usage of existing cellars, former Roman or Medieval quarries, the digging-out of new cellars, galleries and smaller-size cellars, sometimes across several levels, led to the creation of a totally unique and exceptionally large underground network. Indeed, this is the hidden face of the local landscape, which conceals vast networks under the towns and villages and veritable towns under the towns.
– However, this wine is first and foremost a unique, prestigious product, which is known and sold worldwide, and is synonymous with parties, celebrations and reconciliation, and bears witness to an art of living that has become more accessible and has been depicted countless times in art and literature. Although selling this wine did require major infrastructure, it also involved building imposing and ostentatious architecture, equating to the image that each House wanted to give to its wine, and which is now a true reflection of its origins.
To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must meet at least one of the ten selection criteria. The Slopes, Houses and Cellars application meets three of these criteria and falls under the continuing living cultural landscape category.
iii, As the result of know-how developed over the generations, of an exemplary cross-industry organisation and of protecting the appellation, and the development of cross-cultural relationships and social innovations.
iv An agro-industrial system characterized by the omnipresence of chalk, a supply area – the vineyard, special industrial facilities, prestigious architecture and promotional tools that have helped to break into markets, outstanding underground heritage, and a unique brand of planning based around transport links.
vi,A symbolic image â€“unique in the world â€“ conveyed by the arts.
Three sites that are representative of the production, making and selling of Champagne wine have been selected to represent the 319 AOC Champagne districts:
The Champagne terroir (growing region), marked by extreme natural conditions, was enhanced by humankind in an artisan wine, which the agricultural and industrial revolutions turned into a top-end mass-produced product. The region is home to the highest concentration of wine-making industrial facilities found anywhere in the world.
The Champagne regionâ€™s location at a European crossroads has made the region prosperous when times were good but has also led to it being devastated, as Champagne has been a battleground soaked in the blood of soldiers from all over the world. As the fruit of these wounds and ashes, champagne has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation between peoples.
In the villages on the slopes just as in Reims and Epernay, architecture is most definitely functional and meets the specific needs of the wine industry. However, it is often coupled with prestigious buildings that embody the image of excellence that the Champagne Houses wish to convey.
The collective know-how inherited from Dom PÃ©rignon â€“ from the art of blending to mastering effervescence â€“ has taken root to such an extent that it is used as a model for other sparkling wine producing regions.
This know-how has been handed down from generation to generation and has been developed thanks to a quest to constantly innovate.
An exemplary cross-industry partnership which manages the business in a balanced fashion has been developed between the wine growers who are in close contact with the vines and the traders who have made champagne a global product.
The presence of strong women and openness to foreign entrepreneurs make the story even more original.
The vines fanning out on the slopes, the production villages and the prestigious architecture make up the spectacle that is the Champagne Region. The equally alive and spectacular cellars and chalk quarries in the depths of the chalk substrate where the champagne is stored are its hidden face. Together, they make up a precious and unique heritage.
Champagne is no longer the royal court wine that it was in the early days. Champagne still epitomizes the French art of living and excellence, but it has now become an accessible, democratic and universal luxury, without having lost its soul. Champagne is undoubtedly the most widely shared symbol of parties and celebrations worldwide.
In January 2014, the French government selected Champagneâ€™s application under the cultural landscapes category alongside the Climates of Burgundy for submission to the World Heritage Committee. The experts on the French Properties Committee and the Minister of Culture were receptive to the originality and academic quality of the Exceptional Universal Value of the property. They deemed that the application made by the Champagne Slopes, Houses and Cellars met all the necessary conditions and that it was worthy of representing France at the next World Heritage Committee session to be held in Germany in June 2015.
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