Luxist Visits Cattier Champagne's Cellars in Chigny-les-Roses
The ancient house that rests above Cattier champagne's cellars in Chigny-Les-Roses, France, is set back about forty feet from Rue Dom Perignon. Finding a street number is difficult – the only obvious identifying mark is the sign on the front fence that says "Chien Méchant." Not to worry: On a recent visit, a guide gave assurances in a heavy French accent that "the dog is dead."
The Cattier family, which now produces over one million bottles of champagne per year, purchased the house in the 1960s. Today, its windows are shuttered and it is only used to receive guests on rare occasions. The real prize is buried far below the chalky soil – a vast network of naturally air-conditioned cellars where Cattier's finest vintages gain their character. In a garage next to the house, a narrow spiral staircase wends its way some 30 meters into the ground. There, the temperature quickly drops from the balmy 25C temperature outside down to a chilly 8C, the still air packed with 90% humidity.
The cellars are about 150 years old, relics of the early days of champagne making. During World War II, they served as part of a vast underground network of shelters throughout the greater Reims area; every few feet, a patch of bricks still bears the burns of candles used to illuminate the long corridors when electricity went out during air raids. These days, the cellars shimmer with the golden bottles of Cattier's flagship champagne, Armand de Brignac.
The bubbly, which rocketed into the international spotlight after being featured in a music video by rapper Jay-Z in 2006, is treated a bit differently than Cattier's cheaper offerings. Most bottles are turned by machine once every few days in order to evenly distribute sediment during the remuage process, but the gold bottles are still turned by hand, a technique that's been practiced in France for centuries. A talented "riddler" can turn 7,000 bottles in an hour.
Cattier offers Armand de Brignac in three varieties: the gold-bottled Brut ($300), the silver-bottled Blanc de Blancs ($400) and the pink-bottled rosé ($500); only about 50,000 bottles are produced in total every year. Most champagne houses don't release production figures, but industry insiders say that Dom Perignon produces 7 million bottles per year, while Louis Roederer Cristal is in the neighborhood of 300,000 bottles.
Cattier generally doesn't offer Armand de Brignac tastings to the general public, citing the limited production numbers. The considerable stable of Cattier wines, however, can be tasted at the visitors' center in Chigny-les-Roses, just a quick jaunt from the cool cellars where the wines are born. On a warm summer's day in France, there are few better ways to spend an afternoon.