Filed under: Wine
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.