Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Travel Tuesday // Champagne Region // June 2012

The Champagne region is one of my favourite places in France... in fact, it's safe to say it's a contender for one of my top 5 places in the world. The people are friendly, the scenery is beautiful, the food is incredible, and then there is the Champagne. Gaaaah, heavenly! The only thing I don't like about this region is the weather - it's variable, often cool, cloudy, and rainy... but the vast vineyards and charming little towns make up for it.

We visited the Champagne region (near Reims) for the first time in June 2012. We took a tour with Trong (Paris Champagne Tour), who came highly recommended by our good friends. Trong took our small group of 8 travellers from all over the world to visit the vineyards of some big name Champagne houses and to a couple of Champagne producers. Standing in front of the vineyards, Trong explained to us the different types of grapes used to make Champagne, the high chalk content in the soil and the climate (characteristics that make up the terroir), and the harvesting process.

Many of the vineyards in the Champagne region are "independent" and are classified according to its village. The well-known, global Champagne houses do not own enough of their own vineyards and must buy grapes from various villages. We happened to stop at the vineyards of Veuve Clicquot. Veuve means widow, and apparently you should never call this brand, "Veuve" when you're in France as some may consider this to be rude (plus there are other Champagne houses with "Veuve" in the name). Instead, the French call it, "Clicquot." There are tons of markers in the vineyards to show which vineyards belong to which Champagne houses. Trong assured us that it was ok to take a photo with the Veuve Clicquot marker... in other words, it is not a headstone!

Since we visited in June, the grapes were just little nubbies on the vines. I can't remember what grapes these are... Champagne is made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The latter two are purple grapes, but they don't turn purple until just before the harvest.

There are little brown capsules are hung among the vines. Apparently, they contain some kind of pheromone that repels insects? I can't remember the details very well... I guess I will have to go back and find out. :)

My favourite part of the tour was visiting a small Champagne producer. Jean-Claude Mouzon is a family run producer of Grand Cru (Champagne made using only the grapes from the best villages). It is located in a Grand Cru village called Verzenay. There are 17 Grand Crus villages, 43 Premier Crus villages, and 300+ Crus villages. I can't taste the difference... maybe one day if I drink enough!

Here is one of the proprietors, Frédérique. She spoke to us (in French) about her process (and Trong translated). Hubs and I were so impressed, we ended up buying a couple bottles of Champagne to take home. It was very inexpensive compared to the prices in Canada... less than 20 euros per bottle.

Lunch time! Trong took us to a lovely restaurant and the food was incredible! I had the asparagus, red mullet, and ice souffle. Hubs had the goat cheese, red mullet, and ice souffle.

Once we were sufficiently stuffed, Trong took us on a guided tour of the Reims Cathedral.

Then, it was time to visit a large Champagne house! We visited Pommery, which is really neat because of its focus on modern art. There is art displayed in the reception area and in the cellars. If you love modern art, I would highly recommend a visit. It's neat to see the vast chalk cellar dotted with various quirky art displays. Otherwise, the tour was a little generic (and it seemed like a huge group as our group of 8 joined a whole bunch of other people). While the grounds, building, and cellar were very impressive, I much preferred our time at Jean-Claude Mouzon.

Back in the reception area, there were a couple of interesting art exhibits. The elephant in particular really caught my attention! See Daniel Firman's elephant displayed in other settings here.

It was beautifully sunny as it was time to leave... of course!

I loved the Champagne region so much that I vowed to visit again (who knew it would be so soon). There was something about this day trip that really resonated with me and the Champagne making process is so fascinating. I didn't even want to wash the chalk off our shoes so we compromised by snapping a photo.

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