Around 5,000 producers call the province of Champagne home. Set east of Paris, but easily accessible by train, the region, which spans 75,000+ acres (see a few hundred above), is most known for its effervescent export, but its natural splendor, and bevy of excellent eateries, fall close behind. From Épernay and Aÿ to Reims and Dizy, smaller towns blend together in a uniform sea of manicured rows of grape-growing vines and delightful plots of old architecture. At night, the chalk-soiled hills above the cobblestone streets are quiet—almost eerily so—and in the daytime the area remains similarly hushed, aside from the clattering of tractors and the calls of people hard at work—each picking around 80 kilos of grapes an hour.
Each year, traditionally sometime in early October (though climate change has pulled this window into early September), harvest arrives. 100,000+ workers flood to towns with populations under 2,000. They’re accommodated by the larger maisons and growers, and asked to work long hours for 10-14 days to gather grapes—from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Arbane and Petit Meslier—to make Champagne and all other succeeding variations.
90% of the vineyards as far as the eye can see are grower-owned. The other 10% lie in the hands of houses like Bollinger, whom we followed during this special window. This year’s grapes, which were plump, compact, expectedly delicious, and photographed above, proved ready for picking and bound to make excellent wine. The experience, while labor-intensive and a tad bit dirtying, feels surreal—to be a part of a centuries-old tradition feels magical, especially when your hard work results in Champagne and the setting is the serene hills of the eponymous region.
Images by Evan Malachosky