Epernay is the true ‘wine capital’ of Champagne. Strategically placed in a basin of prime vineyards between the top of the Côte des Blancs and the central part of the Marne Valley, Epernay's ‘raison d'etre’ is making champagne. Approximately 90% of this town's population have wine-related jobs, mainly in one of the 37 Champagne houses. A major attraction is that the grand houses on the town's Avenue de Champagne can be visited on foot.
Epernay is located 150km northeast of Paris - just under two hours using the A4 motorway. There is a TGV train service running 8 times per day from Paris to Reims in just 45min. There are connecting trains to Epernay. The closest international airport is Charles de Gaulle in Paris and there is a direct TGV rail link from the airport to Reims-Ardennes station (the Epernay side of the city), taking 30 minutes.
Venturing out of the town, some of the finest vineyards can be visited within half an hour by car. The historic town of Aÿ, the cradle of Pinot Noir is just across the Marne; its steep south-facing slopes produce the base for the most sumptuous Champagne cuvees. Westwards along the Marne as far as Dormans lie prime sites for the Pinot Meunier grape, a key ingredient of such classics as Pol Roger. Just south of Epernay, the 20km long elliptical-shaped hillside of the Côte de Blancs is home to superbly crystalline, mineral-charged Chardonnay. The subsoil over the whole region is chalk which drains well, though retaining enough water for the vines to survive in a drought. There is a thin layer of topsoil which can consist of sand, marl, loam, clay, lignite and chalk itself.
Champagne is the most northerly AC wine region in France and the climate is greatly influenced by the Atlantic, which has a cooling effect in the summer and makes the seasons very variable. Frost is a serious problem in spring and autumn, and the growing season is dependent on the unpredictability of the weather. The 3 key areas are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs.