Well. Here I am! I’ve been pinching myself daily, but I am in the little village of Rilly-la-Montagne, in the Montagne de Reims, sipping Tsarine Rose champagne in a claw foot bath. We have been clocking up the champagne experiences since I arrived in Europe last Monday and every day has had at least one fabulous moment!
Our official Champagne adventure started on Saturday with a visit to the cellars at Ruinart – one of Frances oldest and most prestigious houses. The cellars of Ruinart are now listed as a National Heritage site and need to be seen to be believed.
The cellars were chalk mines until 1846 when the number of accidents involving the access holes to the mines forced their closure. Claude Ruinart, on investigating the unused pits, realised that with their humidity and temperature, the would be a perfect place to store champagne.
Painstakingly restored two years ago, the ‘crayeres’of Ruinart are the most impressive to visit in Champagne.
After the magnificence of the Ruinart visit, we wondered what we would see that would live up to it. We didn’t have to wait for long! That evening, we visited possibly the most unusual bar in Champagne. The Perching Bar, located in the Faux de Verzy, between Verzy and Verzenay, is a tree house bar which is reached by a suspended swinging bridge! It has a beautiful view over the valley and a selection of big brand and local small grower champagnes to taste. It was really off the beaten track, but well worth the effort!
Sunday was a rest day for us, but we still managed a walk around Reims and decided to have a visit to the impressive gothic catherdral. The Reims cathedral was used as the place of coronation of the kings of France and holds an historically very important place in the history of the country. Imagine our delight to find a champagne shop open with a huge selection of champagne and the chance to buy a flute of champagne to enjoy while looking at the extraordinary architecture of the catherdral! Fabulous!
Today we started the week with three exceptional visits to three exceptional houses. First up was Champagne Paul Dethune. Paul Dethune is a 5th generation grower champagne of exceptional quality. Situated in Ambonnay, they are remarkable in that all the champagnes they make are from grapes grown only in the village of Ambonnay. It’s extremely rare for a producer to have grapes from only one village and it means that their wines are very distinctive. Ambonnay, being in the Montagne de Reims, is well know nfor it’s Pinot Noir grapes so it is no surprise that the Dethune range is Pinot dominant. In fact their Blanc de Noir (100% Pinot Noir) is often sold out as soon as it is bottled – such is the demand. Sophie and Pierre Dethune who now run the winery are extremely passionate about what they do and about keeping the traditions of champagne production. In fact Pierre himself hand riddles the special cuvees, morning and night, a tradition which Sophie hopes they can pass on to their three daughters. With the increasing use of automated riddling machines, it is very important that this age old tradition is upheld.
Following Dethune, we visited Champagne Vilmart, another smaller grower making headway with his biodynamic techniques and excellant cuvees. We were a little bit spoilt when Laurent Champs, the wine maker, opened up his oenotheque (champagne collection) and chose a bottle of his best Coeur de Cuvee 2002 for us to taste – along with his entire range! Sadly being the designated driver I had to learn to spit, but I maybe drank all of the 2002! It was too good to waste!
We ended the day with a much anticipated visit to Canard-Duchene, and they certainly delivered! Canard-Duchene started as a love story between M. Canard et Mlle Duchene in the 1800s. M. Canard was a cooper by trade, and Mlle Duchene was the daughter of winemakers. Together they decided to create a champagne house, and in the tradition of the time, joined their names to create the Maison du Canard-Duchene. It’s a fascinating place to visit and highly recommended to anyone travelling to the area. Purchased in 2003 Thienot group, it has undergone massive renovations and a complete change in the style of champagnes it produces. It is currently the second largest producer of champagne in France, and one of the only large houses to have it’s main ‘maison’ in the middle of the vineyards. They also have a wonderful tradition of sabrage, and visitors are usually treated to sabrage in the vineyards before their tour of the house continues.
It’s only Monday, and we have four more days of fabulous experiences to clock up! I am in complete champagne heaven!
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