Translating to ‘the hillside of whites’, the Côte des Blancs is named after its white, chalky soils and its origin as the spiritual homeland for Champagne’s premier white grape varietal, Chardonnay. Spanning 20 km in length, there are 11 villages here: six of which hold Grand Cru status—an impressive proportion considering there are only 17 classified Grand Cru villages in Champagne.
The total vineyard area is 3142ha, of which Chardonnay vines predominate (98%), followed by Pinot noir (2%). Most of the region’s vineyards are located on a long, continuous, east-facing côte (slope) that basks in the gentle morning sun. Topsoil is sparse, exposing a deep bedrock of pure and white Cretaceous chalk containing millions of fossilised sea creatures. The fortuitous amalgamation of unique geology, combined with cool climatic influence and dedicated viticultural experimentation, has resulted in the creation of a signature blanc de blancs (a champagne style made entirely of white grape varietals; here, Chardonnay) with distinct chalky minerality, mouth-watering acidity and a finessed elegance that is deeply rooted into this region’s identity.
Val du Petit Morin (also known as Coteaux du Morin) is a small growing region located 24 km south-west of Épernay and encompasses 18 villages. Scattered over a vineyard area of 903ha, vines sit on varied soils on the slopes of forested hills and on the open plain, with a varietal composition of 47% Meunier, 40% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot noir.
Named after the Petit Morin, a small river that passes through the area from east to west, Val du Petit Morin is the local designation; however, Olivier Collin of Champagne Ulysse Collin prefers the name Coteaux du Morin to signify the hills where vines are cultivated. While most growers traditionally sell grapes to the larger Houses, Olivier has become the region’s most significant grower-producer since 2004 and is one of Champagne’s few specialists in both single-varietal and single-vineyard champagnes, providing enthusiasts a rare glimpse into a unique—and previously unsung—terroir. In comparison to the ubiquitous chalk found in the neighbouring Côte des Blancs, Olivier’s vines sit in diverse soils of chalk, clay and flint across the Coteaux du Morin and Côte de Sézanne. It is this point of difference that drives him to passionately explore and express the unique terroir of these lesser known regions year after year.
The soils of the Coteaux du Morin differ from north to south and account for the varietal variance in the region. The chalkiest areas can be found in the northern sector around the townships of Congy, Vert-Toulon and Soulières, making them ideal for growing Chardonnay that produces intensely expressive Blanc de Blancs. In contrast, soils on the other side of the river, just south of Vert-Toulon, contain more clay, making them suitable for growing Meunier and Pinot noir.
Also known as the Côte de Sézanne and Coteaux du Sézannais, the entire Sézannais part is a viticultural area with a long and prolific history of vine-growing dating back to the 12th century. Almost all of its vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera in the 20th century and, like those of Val du Petit Morin, were only replanted in the 1960s and 1970s, with the majority of growers continuing to sell grapes rather than make their own champagnes.
Immediately south of the Val du Petit Morin, Sézannais is home to 12 villages and has a total vineyard area of 1479ha, with a varietal composition of 77% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot noir and 5% Meunier. Despite sitting on the same Campanian chalk seam as the Côte des Blancs, the terroir of the Côte de Sézanne has large amounts of marl and sand, and the region enjoys a warmer, southerly location. The higher percentage of clay in this subsoil, combined with climatic influence, produces a ripe and fruity style of Blanc de Blancs that is less saline than the traditional styles encountered further north.
Pinot noir is also particularly suited to this region, as shown by Champagne Ulysse Collin’s Blanc de Noirs and champagne rosé offerings. In the village of Barbonne-Fayel, Olivier cultivates almost half of a single 6ha parcel of vines, Les Maillons, where the soil—deep with iron-rich clay—and warmer weather help Pinot noir achieve optimal ripeness and maturity.