The Champagne around the city of Reims is a rather small wine growing area, which once was (in)famous for its sour wines. Until the production of sparkling wine in bottles, called methode champagnoise (champagne method), was discovered. The wine was first produced by yeast in the grape juice, which consumes sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. In the wooden barrel there is a hole, probably closed by a glass syphon which prevents outside air and bacteria from entering the cask, but allows the carbon dioxide to leave. But the champagne wine continued to ferment after it was bottled, the produced carbon dioxide caused the bottles to explode. A monk named Dom Pérignon discovered how he could prevent this, by using thick bottles and fixing the cork with wire. The result was sparkling wine, and as future showed the best sparkling wine of the world, never bettered by any other, even if the same method was used to produce it. Ok, we admit, this is the legend, most likely untrue but pretty good entertainment. Read the Wikipedia article to learn the true story.
showcaves.com is not a site about wine, but about subterranean places. And the Champagne is an area with kilometers of astonishing cellars, cut into the soft chalk layers which form the hills of this area. Started during Roman times as quarries, they were enlarged during the Middle Ages, when the fame of the champagne began. And until today the cellars are used for producing champagne, as they provide the ideal temperature for making wine at a low cost.
The cellars are locally called Crayères (chalk mines), because of the Gallo-Roman origin. However, most of them are much younger. The main construction phase started around the 13th century, and again during the 19th century many more were built. Today the number of cellars does not increase any more, as they are sufficient for the amount of wine produced on the surface. Small parts of the cellar, in general the most impressive or oldest parts, were transformed into subterranean restaurants, wine tasting locations, or museums. And many Champagne Houses offer tours through the cellars and show their production methods.
We do not know the total amount of cellars, but almost every vinery with a cellar offers vine tasting in their cellar, so there are virtually hundrets. We listed only the most important, especially those with a famous name and regular open hours. Most of those cellars are located at two hotspots. One is the city of Reims, which is riddled with cellars about 30 m below surface. Most are located around the former Saint Nicaise Abbey, where today Taittinger is located. The second hotspot is Epernay, with a labyrith of about 100 km of cellars, 20-40m below the Avenue de Champagne, where half a dozen famous names can be found. Some more are at Ay.