Clos et Crayères

One does not drink champagne indiscriminately. A sip is never hurried. The world’s most famous sparkling wine is a celebration of craftsmanship, perfected over centuries and generations.

Part of this tradition is rooted in Champagne’s ancient stone walls. What at first may appear as a rudimentary border or long-forgotten hedge is actually a very precise demarcation based on terroir, microclimate and varietals. These original closures—or clos—date from the middle ages, built by Cistercian monks. Nearly forty of these “walled vineyards” survive today, synonymous with some of Champagne’s most prized vintages.

Krug’s Clos du Mesnil is single plot of Chardonnay overlooking Mesnil-sur-Oger’s village church; this tiny walled-in vineyard produces a highly prized Champagne created exclusively from grapes harvested in a single year. Clos des Goisses is one—if not the—oldest clos in Champagne, perched on a 45-degree slope on hillsides of chalk in Mareuil-sur-Ay. It is instantly recognizable both for the beauty of the clos itself and for the excellence of the single-plot cuvées it produces.

Underneath these stone walls, another distinctly Champenois tradition beckons. Many of the finest Champagne vintages are aged in crayères, or chalk caves. Dating from the 1st century AD, these subterranean tunnels were originally chalk quarries used for construction, sometimes more than 150 feet below ground.

The first crayères were simple chalk quarries; over the centuries they evolved into underground factories and wartime shelters, wine cellars and even art galleries of astonishing dimension.

Unlike a clos, which is found throughout France, a crayère is entirely Champenois. The strong chalk walls and constant cool temperatures are ideal for storing wine directly below the vineyard. At least 250 crayères are in use today, with Taittinger, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart showcasing the most extensive and exquisite.