Champagne Applies For World Heritage listing

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(Inside one of Charles Heidsieck’s 47 crayères beneath Reims)

Driving around the villages of Champagne you can see banners declaring this or that village says ‘yes’ to UNESCO world heritage listing.

The Champagne region is hoping its application for UNESCO classification as a protected world heritage area will be approved in a year’s time. If it succeeds, it will be following hot on the heels of other European wine regions, such as the Barolo and Barbaresco regions of Italy, which were admitted as a world heritage area just weeks ago in June.

The Champenois have narrowed their application down to three aspects of the vast Champagne viticole: the hillsides, houses and wine-cellars of Champagne. The hillsides, or coteaux, are of course the vineyards; the cellars are the ‘caves’, which include the thousand year-old Gallo-Roman chalk-pits or crayeres, where some of the wines are matured, and the houses or ‘maisons’ are the wine producing companies. The entire Avenue de Champagne in Epernay is also included.

The idea for the push began 10 years ago. According to the Comité Champagne, a UNESCO listing usually boosts visitor numbers by 30 to 40 per cent, but I find it hard to believe this will happen in Champagne which is already a high-profile tourist destination. However, the Comité says protection is the main motivation, but this seems like a grey area, as the protection must come from France itself: UNESCO cannot override local laws, such as planning and development rules. The great Reims cathedral, incidentally, is already UNESCO classified. Burgundy has also been selected by France as a current UNESCO applicant.

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