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These days Champagne seems like a tranquil enough region, but it hasn't always been that way and that was never more true than in the famous Aÿ Riots of 1911 which started here in Boulevard du Nord.

In fact there were disturbances in many towns and villages but Aÿ seemed to be the epicentre

That year grape growers, or vignerons, in Champagne were just about on their uppers following a series of very bad harvests. No harvest meant no income and many vignerons were practically starving.

What’s more, several of the bigger champagne houses were suspected of buying their grapes from outside the Champagne region. From the champagne houses’ point of view this may have made commercial sense: they needed grapes to produce their champagne, but what the vignerons objected to was the champagne houses using grapes from outside the region and still passing off the resulting produce as champagne.

You can imagine that this was like a red rag to a bull to the struggling vignerons and when they got wind of the fact that the government was about to pass a law abolishing the delimited area of Champagne altogether – which would have officially condoned bringing in grapes from outside the region - that was the last straw. The powder keg of their anger burst into flame and it was Aÿ that got in the way.

barricade_150pixelsSome 6,000 people rampaged through the streets setting fire to the buildings of every champagne house suspected of using grapes from anywhere other than Champagne and breaking into their cellars to smash the bottles stored there.

La rue du Nord looks peaceful enough now, but this is where some of the worst rioting took place and below there’s a fascinating picture of the cellars at Ayala. It’s small but interesting.

The big dark blocks are stacks of bottles which you’ll recoayala_180pixelsgnise if you’ve ever been in a champagne cellar. What’s not usual is the rubble all around. That’s made up of hundreds, maybe thousands, of smashed bottles!

 

 

Watch this video for some tips from Jiles on how to taste champagne:

 

Check back to see more champagne videos brought to you from the heart of Champagne!

In the first video we mentioned that Villers-Marmery is a village well worth getting to know.
Here are a couple of reasons that make it rather unusual:

First, although Villers-Marmery is officially in the Montagne de Reims part of the Champagne region where by far the most widely planted grape varietal is Pinot Noir,
Villers-Marmery is one of just four villages in this area - the other three villages are Trépail, Billy-Le-Grand and Vaudemange - that have a majority of Chardonnay vines planted (90% or more)

The soil in Villers-Marmery is more predominently chalky than in the rest of La Montagne de Reims, so much so that in many places the chalk is right at the surface – you can pick chunks up from the ground and use it immediately to write with.

This means that this little area   is well-suited making Blanc de Blancs champagnes, unlike the full, fruity Pinot Noir driven champagnes you find in the of La Montagne de Reims.

The second thing about these four villages is that they are located right at the end of La Montagne de Reims at the point where the hillside curves round in a big arc towards the south and west and so these villages have exactly the same south-east exposure to the sun as La Côte des Blancs, further south, which is considered to be the home of  Chardonnay and Blanc de Blancs champagne

Take a look at the map below and you’ll see what we mean.

Villers-Marmery-Exposure

The four villages of Villers-Marmery, Billy-Le-Grand, Trépail) and Vaudemange thatmake up this little enclave are circled in red.

The dotted red line shows the exposure of the vineyards and you can see that it’s exactly the same as La Côte des Blancs further down.

So what can you expect from the champagnes from Villers-Marmery and the other three villages?

Well, champagnes from here have the light, bright, delicate style of Blanc de Blancs champagnes plus a touch of the fruitiness of the Pinot Noir. You could say they combine the best of both worlds and people who normally find some Blancs de Blancs from La Côte des Blancs to be too sharp, too dry and a little astringent may well find those from Villers-Marmery to be ‘just right’.

In fact the locals have even invented a word to describe their Chardonnay grapes. They say that ils pinotent in other words they behave like Pinot Noir grapes.

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