Dreams do come true. When I first got into the “wine thing”, as I call it, I dived head first into the pool of knowledge. One of my resources was Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible, and one of my favorite chapters in that vinous tome is “Champagne“. Inspired by what I read about Champagne in the Wine Bible, that region was at the top of my wine regions to visit bucket list.
Few wines captivate us to the extent Champagne does. But then Champagne is not simply a wine; it is also a state of mind – Karen MacNeil
Imagine my surprise (at first shock then disbelief – I thought it might be a hoax or scam of some sort) and euphoria when I received an invitation from the U.S. Champagne Bureau for the 2014 Champagne Harvest Media Trip that read…
The trip to Champagne will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the production of Champagne and its unique qualities, as well as what the region is doing to protect its name in the United States. The week-long trip is exclusively reserved for a small group of leading food and wine journalists from across the U.S., and will be scheduled for the first week of September, departing the US on August 31, and returning September 6. This trip will give you the opportunity to visit select Champagne producers – from large houses to cooperatives and small growers – and learn about the appellation as a whole. As a guest you will also experience firsthand the winemaking process, from picking and crushing grapes to exquisite Champagne pairing dinners.
Yes, please! Pretty please!
It was my first, and so far only, media trip.
I recounted the trip in a series of 5 posts entitled “Champagne Chronicles” You’ll find links to those posts detailing the wines tasted, my favorites, the amazing meals and other “take-aways” in hyperlinked itinerary recaps by day that precede the daily photo essay below.
As you can imagine, I took hundreds of photos. The photo essay (hover over images for more information) memorializes some of my favorite memories…
- Guided tour of the Reims Cathedral
My first Champagne dinner!
“More than any other wine, Champagne unlocks wine’s archetypal promise:joy” – Karen MacNeil
- Visit to Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (C.I.V.C)
- Lunch at the restaurant Les Grains d’Argent
- Tour and tasting at Champagne Roger Coulon
- Tour, tasting and Dinner at Champagne Veuve Clicquot
- Champagne Louis Roederer – Visit, tour and tasting followed by lunch
- Champagne René Geoffroy – Visit, tour and tasting
- Champagne Jacquesson – Visit, tour and tasting followed by dinner
- Bérêche & Fils – Visit, tour and tasting
- Billecart Salmon – Visit, tour and tasting
- Bruno Paillard – Visit, tour and tasting
- Champagne Drappier – Tour and tasting
- Veuve Devaux – Tour, tasting and lunch
- Visit to Espace Renoir including permanent exhibit “Du Cote des Renoir”
- Champagne Defrance – Educational tasting of Rosé des Riceys
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Mark Twain
I learned so much during the trip and thinking about my experience still put a smile on my face. Just as I share a fraction of the photos taken, here are a fraction of the takeaways from my week in Champagne!
- There are 34,000 hectares of vines in Champagne. 38% of those are Pinot Noir, 32% are Pinot Meunier, and 30% are Chardonnay. There is a miniscule amount of 4 other permitted grapes – Pinot Gris (sometimes known as Fromenteau), Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Arbane.
- If you get a chance, you simply must visit the Côte des Bar growing region and the City of Aube. It has an idyllic beauty that is different from the main Champagne region to its north.
- When we visited Veuve Clicquot, we had the rare opportunity we tasted through eight still wines (vin clair in French) from various vintages that were both base and reserve wines used to make V.C Champagne. The wines were tart and very acidic, and I could barely discern the subtle differences the wines. Though, the final vin clair we tasted was a multi-vintage blend with a 2013 base wine that showed the grapefruit profile I associate with the V.C. Yellow Label. I came away from the experience with a whole new respect for the art of blending.
- Inspired by the Champagne lunches and dinners we enjoyed, I created my own Champagne pairing dinner!
- The Champagneois have embraced sustainability in a major way. For example I learned sexual confusion (er…this relates to moths, not humans) – A treatment against the grape moth, in which small packets of synthetic pheromones of female moths are distributed among the vines to confuse male moths and prevent them from mating. It’s considered a much more eco-friendly solution, albeit more expensive alternative to spraying vines with various chemical products.
- I drink Champagne pretty regularly (typically at least a few times a month) and have purchased many of the wines I “discovered” in Champagne. The Louis Roederer “Brut Premier”is our de-facto “house” Champagne. And likewise the Drappier “Carte d’Or” Brut Champagne is a regular guest at our table. Both are under $40. Other wines I’ve purchased once I returned include the Bruno Paillard, Jacquesson, and of course, Veuve Clicquot.
- Very good to outstanding Champagne doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg! I’ve found quite a few choices in the $30-$40 range including favorites like Fallet-Dart,Ariston Aspasie, Franck Bonville, Louise Brison and Le Brun de Neuville.
It was truly the trip of a lifetime that I’ll always remember. My only regret was that I didn’t get to share the experience with my wife. We’re hoping to rectify that situation when we visit France for our 10th wedding anniversary in 2018!
Be sure to check out my fellow French #Winophiles stories about France:
- Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm promises One of These Days . . . .
- Jeff from Food Wine Click will talk about one of his favorite French Wine Visits – Our Friend, Raymond Boillot.
- Jill from L’occasion tells the tale of A Château in Provence.
- And our host, Lauren of The Swirling Dervish, asks Do You Know the Way to Vézelay?
If you’re up early enough, please join our twitter chat at 8a Pacific on Saturday, September 16th as we chat about “Dreams of France” Follow the #WinePW hashtag on Twitter and join the conversation!
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