Some 30 metres beneath the streets of Reims lies a labyrinth of chalk cellars housing millions of bottles of champagne. These ‘crayeres’ – limestone mines originally dug in the 4th century purely for materials – form a natural habitat for storing the French fizz. The caves’ temperature, humidity and tranquility are perfect for holding the bottles while the wine undergoes the secondary fermentation that will turn it into champagne.
Piper-Heidsieck, the champagne house that landed on the map when founder Florens-Louis Heidsieck presented his wine to Queen Marie-Antoinette, owns 47 of these chalk pits. Unlike some of the neighbouring champagne houses that own chalk cellars, Heidsieck is not open to the public, so the crayeres have a gentle, ethereal quality, enhanced by the ‘cathedral’ style in which the caves have been dug out.