Comtes de Dampierre is in Chenay, near Reims. It is owned by a French aristocrat, Comte Audoin de Dampierre. His family has been in the Champagne industry for many generations, but in 1986 the count re-fashioned the Champagne house by emphasizing that the estate produces mostly Grand Cru and Premier Cru Champagnes. At that time he also revived the pre-20th century tradition of affixing the cork to the Champagne bottle with twine rather than wire. Today the prestige cuvees from Dampierre are corked with twine, a process called “ficelage” in France. Dampierre Champagnes are one of the official wines served in the French presidential palace and the estate makes a full line of vintage a non-vintage Champagnes from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Champagne is a small, beautiful wine growing region northeast of Paris whose famous name is misused a million times a day. As wine enthusiasts and all French people are well aware, only sparkling wines produced in Champagne from grapes grown in Champagne can be called Champagne. Sparkling wines produced anywhere else, including in other parts of France, must be called something besides Champagne. Champagne producers are justifiably protective of their wines and the prestige associated with true Champagne. Though the region was growing grapes and making wines in ancient times, it began specializing in sparkling wine in the 17th century, when a Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Pérignon formulated a set guidelines to improve the quality of the local sparkling wines. Despite legends to the contrary, Dom Pérignon did not “invent” sparkling wine, but his rules about aggressive pruning, small yields and multiple pressings of the grapes were widely adopted, and by the 18th and 19th centuries Champagne had become the wine of choice in fashionable courts and palaces throughout Europe. Today there are 75,000 acres of vineyards in Champagne growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Champagne’s official appellation system classifies villages as Grand Cru or Premier Cru, though there are also many excellent Champagnes that simply carry the regional appellation. Along with well-known international Champagne houses there are numerous so-called “producer Champagnes,” meaning wines made by families who, usually for several or more generations, have worked their own vineyards and produced Champagne only from their own grapes.