Back to the Champagne Region

Jan 13, 2022 • 5 mins
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"The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?" And Doc was right! So, like Doc, we're taking you on a trip back in time in our virtual Grappers car to show you the great innovations that have marked the Champagne region. We promise that, once you have read this article, you will be able to impress family and friends with your extensive knowledge on the subject (and not just with famous lines from Back to the Future!)

1816 : Veuve Clicquot stirs up the Champagne region

First stop, 1816, to pay a visit to Barbe Nicole Clicquot, an imposing figure certainly worthy of our attention! Back then, few women were running Champagne Houses. A gifted businesswoman, our Veuve Clicquot was also a fearless and ingenious lady! She invented the riddling table, an indispensable tool for moving the wine's sediment down into the neck of the bottle ready for disgorgement. It was soon adopted by everyone in the region before eventually being replaced by the gyro-palette*. However, the riddling table is still sometimes used for great vintages. 200 years later, we take our hat off to this “Grande Dame”!

*For further info on gyro-palettes, fast-forward to "1973"

1864: A bit of elbow grease 

50 years later, we meet Mr Michelot, the inventor of the riddling rack. Inspired by the Veuve Clicquot’s riddling table, he patented a revolutionary invention that gave rise to the profession of "remueur" (riddler). Nothing was automated at that time, so the task of the remueurs was to unstick the sediment from the inside of the bottle and bring it down into the neck by hand with a quick double rotation of the bottle whilst gradually tilting the bottle on the rack. The best "remueur" could riddle between 75,000 and 80,000 bottles a day. In other words, they had to be capable of giving it a bit of elbow grease!

1889: Mercier’s giant wine cask and its epic journey

We will have to wait almost 20 years for the next stop. The construction of Eugène Mercier's foudre - the largest wine cask ever seen at the time - began in 1870 and was completed in... 1885! It was filled with 1,600 hectolitres of wine during the 1887 harvest, creating the largest blend of all time. It took Eugène Mercier 16 years to have his “invention” ready for the Universal Exhibition in 1889. But the hardest part was yet to come: transporting this 20,000 kg wine cask to Paris. The giant was pulled along by 12 pairs of oxen and 18 horses and Eugène Mercier had to buy up buildings at the entrance to Paris and knock them down to allow the convoy to pass through! Sadly, Eugène Mercier's foudre only won second place at the Universal Exhibition as the first prize went to... the Eiffel Tower!

1920 : Hand-cranked riddling!  

We now fast-forward to the next century to witness the introduction of automation with the invention of the hand-cranked riddling rack! Bottles stored on racks were lifted and inverted with the help of a crank, greatly facilitating the work of our winemaking friends who were now able to riddle 108 bottles at a time. It was a colossal time-saver! However, it would eventually be replaced by the more sophisticated and efficient automated gyro-palette, commonly found in all the Champagne Houses today.

1973 : The “gyro” revolution

The gyro-palette was a mini-revolution in the Champagne region, especially in the 1970s! This invention, an automatic system of wine riddling crates, was the brainchild of Jacques Ducoin and Claude Cazals. The “gyro” was an instant hit and became widespread in the early 1980s, marking a turning point in the Champagne-making process. Its last patent dates from 1983 and the 20-year protection period is now well over, so it is likely that competition will hot up in the years to come...

2018 : BAKUS, the straddle robot with a difference!

Last stop before heading home... to the year 2018 and the birth of the BAKUS robot. After long months of research, Cédric Bache and his team presented a new type of single-row straddle (high clearance) robot at the Terre Innovation show in Reims: it was 100% electric and autonomous! The demonstrations of Bakus caught the eye of the wine world and Bakus was soon adopted by winegrowers in many regions. Today it is used by Vranken in Champagne, Château Garraud in Bordeaux and Domaine Louis Moreau in Chablis.

2021 : TRAXX, a technological marvel.

That's it, Doc, we're going home! After an epic adventure full of landmark inventions, we are heading back to 2021 to witness the birth of TRAXX, the latest revolutionary straddle robot, premiered at SITEVI 2021 by Exxact Robotics. Even more technologically advanced, TRAXX facilitates the work of ploughing the soil and treating the vines, an absolute blessing for the winegrowers! The added bonus? This technological marvel costs only €126,000, making it one of the cheapest robots on the market!

Our journey through time in the Champagne region is coming to an end... And if, after all this, you are not up to speed on some of the innovations that have left their mark on the Champagne region, then we'll throw in the towel!