When we step outside of our town houses’s front door and turn left along our road we can see a nice green hill in the distance. Sometimes we can just distinguish a tractor working there. On a recent Sunday afternoon I said, ‘Lets climb to the top where there is that small wood.’
To get there we crossed a deserted trading estate and then over the Reims by-pass, followed by a walk along an almost non-existent verge beside a busy main road. We jumped across a ditch onto a farm track and started a gentle climb. We were surprised when the purple alfalfa crops gave way to rows of vines. We have lived in sight of champagne vineyards for 15 years without realising it.
Champagne vineyards are divided in to ‘parcels’. French inheritance laws have meant that property gets divided up between the number of children that survive their parents. The houses, land and of course vineyards get smaller and smaller. When one vineyard owner marries another, they might have a sizeable inheritance but of ‘parcels’ dotted all around the region. The average size of a plot is only 1,800 square metres of several long thin rectangles.
Walking past the short ends, it is obvious that ownership changes every few rows. Some had a few leftover green grapes, some had a few unpicked red grapes. Some had weeds growing in the space between the rows, others were weeded , while others had neat alleys of mown grass. A grower who is trying to be organic would probably want to encourage insect life and so allow weeds, while another viticulteur doesn’t like weeds as they encourage pests, while another thinks that grass between the vines is a bad thing as the taste of it goes into the grapes via the roots.
Reaching the brow of a hill is always difficult as the closer you get the more hill there seems to be. I wanted to know what was on the other side – I was determined! Eventually we could see and were amazed to find that the vineyards continued for several more kilometres and that our recently discovered part was just a lip, an overhang of the total surface area.
We turned to go home via a track though the vines and realised that we hadn’t got as far as the small wood that topped the hill. Oh well, another adventure for another day. But, looking at Google Earth on our return to see which commune the vines extended into, we could see the outline of one of the forts that was built by General Raymond Séré de Rivières to protect Reims in 1870. Yet another discovery!