Sunday, 1 July 2007

Champagne

This post covers our day in and around Epernay in the Champagne region.

On Thursday 28 June we left Disneyland and headed east towards the region of Champagne. By lunchtime we had reached Epernay where we found a Carrefour supermarket to stock up on supplies. We then found a car park in town and walked around the corner to Moet et Chandon’s headquarters where we booked on a tour. The tour lasted for an hour and told you about the process of making champagne.

In a nutshell, champagne is made from 3 varieties of grapes, 2 of them red which surprised us. There are 2 fermentation processes and the bottles are turned upside down for weeks so that any sediment goes into the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen and the sediment forms an ice cube and is popped out with the pressure of the bubbles in the bottle.
Left: Tasting at Moet et Chandon
Below: Caves at Moet et Chandon

Probably the most interesting aspect of the tour was going underground into the cellars where the champagne is stored and ferments, the cellars are 10-12 degrees all year regardless of the weather outside. Moet et Chandon have 28km of tunnels where they store champagne. There are over 100km of tunnels underneath the streets of Epernay housing over 200 million bottles of champers! The tour then ended in a tasting, because I was driving Ace I had to give Sarah half of my glass so she was very jolly when we left!

In our France Passion book there was a champagne producer 12km away who let motorhomes stay the night so we headed to the village of Oger. (By the way, the other village we stayed at in the Loire Valley was called Drain, not the most attractive of names for villages!) The vineyard had a beautiful house right in the middle of the village with 9 hectares nearby for the grapes. In a basement under the house was the cave where degustation (tastings) took place, along with the storage of the champagne.
Left: Vineyard at Oger with Ace far left

As I went down the stairs to the cave, a large party of seniors were just leaving with bottles of champagne in tow. There was a guy about my age and his mother running the show. Pascal was very friendly and told us where to park in the courtyard. After moving Ace we went back down to the cave and tasted his black label champagne. He told us that they only use chardonnay grapes for their champagne and for their rosé champagne they buy 5% of Bouzy red grapes from another vineyard. We then tried the rosé which was very different. Sarah wanted to buy me a bottle for my birthday in August so I chose the black label champagne. Pascal spoke English very well and switched over when we were both down there. His family have been making champagne there since the early 19th century.

Above: Gardens at vineyard
He told us we would be very safe in the courtyard and we arranged that his mother who lived on site would lock the main gates at 8pm as we wanted to look around the village. He also told us we could explore the garden and even have dinner in there if we wanted. The garden was very beautiful with lots of topiary in the shape of bears and birds, beautiful flowers and plants, small fountains and gravel paths. We walked around the village a bit tipsy after our tastings. The next morning we had a chat to Pascal and thanked him very much, he told us if we ever passed through again, we were most welcome to come back. What a great guy!

Left: Sarah and her new friend!
Below: Photo shoot in Oger







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