Champagne Chronicles Redux; A Week In Champagne, A Lifetime Of Memories #Winophiles

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… 

The Day 1 itinerary included:

  • Guided tour of the Reims Cathedral
  • Dinner
Cathedral ReimsCathedral Reims
A view of the center of Reims with the Sube Fountain in the foreground - This monumental fountain was erected in the middle of the Place d'Erlon by André Najoux in 1906 thanks to August Subé's generosity.A view of the center of Reims with the Sube Fountain in the foreground - This monumental fountain was erected in the middle of the Place d'Erlon by André Najoux in 1906 thanks to August Subé's generosity.
Discovered this fabulous Roman architecture in while walking about before dinner. It is the Porte de Mars, an ancient Roman triumphal arch, dating from 3rd century ADDiscovered this fabulous Roman architecture in while walking about before dinner. It is the Porte de Mars, an ancient Roman triumphal arch, dating from 3rd century AD
Notice how the facade of the light rail trains in Reims is shaped like a flute?Notice how the facade of the light rail trains in Reims is shaped like a flute?

My first Champagne dinner!

Champagne Chronicles - Day 1
Champagne Day 1 - Cheese salad
Champagne Day 1 - Dessert
Champagne Day 1 - appetizer
Champagne Day 1- Main
Champagne Day 1 - Dessert Plus

“More than any other wine, Champagne unlocks wine’s archetypal promise:joy” – Karen MacNeil

Day 2 itinerary included:

Inside the Roger Coulon cellarInside the Roger Coulon cellar
Nothing like a Champagne lunch!!Nothing like a Champagne lunch!!
In the vinyeard with Veuve Clicquot Cellar Master  Dominique DemarvilleIn the vinyeard with Veuve Clicquot Cellar Master Dominique Demarville
Notice the absence of traditional Champagne flutes? The glasses on the right will replace flutes, as flutes replaced coupes! Notice the absence of traditional Champagne flutes? The glasses on the right will replace flutes, as flutes replaced coupes!
An educational tasting lead by C.I.V.C. enologist Marie-Pascale Do Dihn TyAn educational tasting lead by C.I.V.C. enologist Marie-Pascale Do Dihn Ty
A terinne of Lobster and Fish with Sweet and Sour sauceA terinne of Lobster and Fish with Sweet and Sour sauce
Le Clos des Terres Soudees - If you're looking for a B&B in Champagne, check it out!Le Clos des Terres Soudees - If you're looking for a B&B in Champagne, check it out!
Inside the tasting parlor at Champagne Veuve ClicquotInside the tasting parlor at Champagne Veuve Clicquot

Day 3 intinerary:

  • 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
Frédéric Rouzaud - The 7th Generation of the Roederer lineageFrédéric Rouzaud - The 7th Generation of the Roederer lineage
The Geoffroy family have been winemakers since the seventeenth century and the property has stayed in the family for almost 400 yearsThe Geoffroy family have been winemakers since the seventeenth century and the property has stayed in the family for almost 400 years
A blow-out tasting a Jacquesson - 9 wines tastedA blow-out tasting a Jacquesson - 9 wines tasted
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Chef de Caves lead us through our tasting at Champagne Louis Roederer Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Chef de Caves lead us through our tasting at Champagne Louis Roederer
Jean-Baptiste GeoffroyJean-Baptiste Geoffroy
Jacquesson has an absolutely amazing lineup of "lieu-dit" (single-vineyard) wines! My favorite was the 2004 Ay Vauzelle Terme!Jacquesson has an absolutely amazing lineup of "lieu-dit" (single-vineyard) wines! My favorite was the 2004 Ay Vauzelle Terme!
May be hard to see in the thumbnail, but is a photo f the wines were enjoyed at lunch L-R; 2006 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut (magnum), 1993 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut, 1995 Ramos Pinto Porto VintageMay be hard to see in the thumbnail, but is a photo f the wines were enjoyed at lunch L-R; 2006 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, 2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut (magnum), 1993 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut, 1995 Ramos Pinto Porto Vintage
My favorite of the Champagne Geoffroy tasting was the 2007 Empreinte Brut Premier CruMy favorite of the Champagne Geoffroy tasting was the 2007 Empreinte Brut Premier Cru
Jean-Hervé Chiquet, CEO and owner of Champagne Jacquesson talking about grape growing...Jean-Hervé Chiquet, CEO and owner of Champagne Jacquesson talking about grape growing...

Day 4 intinerary:

Inside the cellar at Bereche & Fil Inside the cellar at Bereche & Fil
Clos Saint Hilaire - A small, one hectare plot located on the  Billecart property in Mareuil-sur-AyClos Saint Hilaire - A small, one hectare plot located on the Billecart property in Mareuil-sur-Ay
This 1990 Bruno Paillard N.P.U. Nec Plus Ultra was simply mind blowing - one of the most memorable of the tripThis 1990 Bruno Paillard N.P.U. Nec Plus Ultra was simply mind blowing - one of the most memorable of the trip
Raphael BerecheRaphael Bereche
Billecart-Salmon is much more than their world-class Rose Champagne!Billecart-Salmon is much more than their world-class Rose Champagne!
Alice Paillard lead us on a tour of the facilities, cellar and an amazing tasting!Alice Paillard lead us on a tour of the facilities, cellar and an amazing tasting!
Inside the tasting room at Bereche & FilsInside the tasting room at Bereche & Fils
Inside the tasting room at Billecart-SalmonInside the tasting room at Billecart-Salmon
This photo demonstrates the striking difference between a mature cork and a new cork!This photo demonstrates the striking difference between a mature cork and a new cork!

Day 5 itinerary:

Such an amazing lineup of wines tasted at Drappier. In Aube, Pinot Noir is the dominant grape in ChampagneSuch an amazing lineup of wines tasted at Drappier. In Aube, Pinot Noir is the dominant grape in Champagne
Founded in 1846 by brothers Jules and Auguste Devaux, the house was then managed by three inspiring women who led the family winery with remarkable energy and talent in equal measure.Founded in 1846 by brothers Jules and Auguste Devaux, the house was then managed by three inspiring women who led the family winery with remarkable energy and talent in equal measure.
A museum that has many of Renoir pieces close to his home in the Cotes des BarA museum that has many of Renoir pieces close to his home in the Cotes des Bar
Michel Drappier of Champagne DrappierMichel Drappier of Champagne Drappier
And the best cheese board of the trip goes to Champagne Devaux!And the best cheese board of the trip goes to Champagne Devaux!
Rosé des Riceys wines are rarely seen outside of France. The wines originate from tiny terroir named Les Riceys made up with three close-knit villages named Riceys-Haut, Riceys Haute-Rive et Riceys-Bas that is only a few kilometers from BurgundyRosé des Riceys wines are rarely seen outside of France. The wines originate from tiny terroir named Les Riceys made up with three close-knit villages named Riceys-Haut, Riceys Haute-Rive et Riceys-Bas that is only a few kilometers from Burgundy
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Champagne Devaux!Champagne Devaux!
A Renoir!A Renoir!

 

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Mark Twain

My Takeaways:

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:

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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8 Comments

  1. I remember this trip. So incredible! I’m still waiting to go to Champagne. Wonder Martin

  2. Wendy Klik says:

    What a lucky duck you are to have been treated to such a great learning experience. Ooohh Lala. I feel like I was right there with you. Great photos.

  3. What fun you’ll have to return as an expert with your wife in 2018! I’ll add Aube to our must visit list when we make our way to the region!

  4. Beautiful photos, tons of great information. Thanks, Martin, for a quick trip to Champagne! I’m fascinated by the idea of trying the base wines – I’ve always wondered what they taste like and which qualities the winemaker looks for in blending them. Very cool!

  5. Wonderful photos, what a great trip! Laughed about sexual confusion…of moths.

  6. Jill Barth says:

    I love this post so much, went back for a second read. What a heavenly experience. I would love to learn more about Champagne – such fascinating history. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Lynn says:

    What an amazing experience Martin, and congrats on the trip! I’ve only had a few you mentioned- there are so many from which to choose. Have any favorite visits?

    I’m heading to Champagne late November. We’re centering in/around Epernay, going to the Valle de Marne. Mental note made- Côté des Bar visit too!

  8. frankstero says:

    What a trip! I’ve been to a couple of the places you visited, would love to go to the rest!

Comments are closed.