5 – 6 May: In the epicentre of Champagne…Epernay

Author: Mr A

Location: Priez and Epernay, France

Truffy drive-surfing outside our farmhouse home

Sunday: We had been invited to join friends who had hired a gite near the hamlet of Priez on the western edge of Champagne country.

Bumble bees alive and well in the garden

Would be lovely in summer out here – sadly not the weather for sitting outside for breakfasts or lunches

The rear courtyard
What is written on this roof joist? And by whom? And why?
Made in Paris

Our first evening together was of course a lively affair…we thought we had catered sufficiently for the group of 10 with a dozen bottles of wine, beer, pastis, breads and cheeses. However, the night drew to a close with not much left on the table and a few sore heads in the morning!

Monday: We left early for our first day learning about champagne with two tours that couldn’t have been more dissimilar. The first was to a relatively small, family run producer called Champagne Jacquinot.

Jean-Manuel passionately telling us his family story – he is the third generation
Chris and David listen intently
On our tour – some of this champagne is currently on a boat to Sydney
Rose champagne during its first fermentation
Mrs A, and behind the original concrete vats
The steep stairwell down to the hand-dug chalk caves

What a great way to learn about the complicated business of growing, harvesting, cellaring, fermenting, and finally bottling this product. For many of this the big takeaway was the impact that climate change is having on all the growers in the region. More variation, less predictability in weather patterns and hotter temperatures all serve to narrow the window for growing and harvesting as one example.

The tour was so eloquently given by the grandson of the man who established the business. He took us down into the cellars, dug in 1873 out of the chalk layer that enables the champagne region here to produce the amazing vintages that it does. It was so good to see a small business doing so well. Demand is strong and the production tightly controlled to ensure a sustainable future, even with the climatic impacts they face.

Champagne stored to allow sediment to fall to the head of the bottle
Graffiti in the chalk cellar walls
Beautiful coloured rose bottles
A tasting session before we head to lunch
Team photo

After a typically French lunch, except for how quickly we had to get through the three delicious courses, we were off to the next tasting at the by contrast very expansive and “Corporate” house of Mercier. You are likely to recognise their logo, they distribute all over the world.

It was a total contrast to the last place with an almost Disneyland like approach to showing us through their extensive cellars…on an underground train!

Mr A admiring some of the 18km of underground cellars full of champagne
Recorded stories in English timed with the train ride through the caves
Literally millions of dollars worth of champagne down here
Sculptures and relief artwork carved in to the walls
Machines which take away the need to turn the bottles by hand
One of the many relief carvings

When it came to the tasting I wasn’t sure to what extent my lack of excitement about the flavours was contextual or “real”. What I mean by that is I think tasting wine is so influenced in my case by what I am thinking and feeling at the time, who I am with, my engagement with whoever is presenting the wine and so on. It felt like quite a bland presentation to be honest, by people who seemed to have little passion for their product. And so the champagne tasted the same…how much of that was in my head or in the bottle?

Mr A sharing some thoughts with Steve
Chris holding court over champagne
Team photo of course

It’s a fascinating industry, clearly Epernay is doing very well. The place oozed money and presented a really smart brand for the this oh so French business. Grateful to be able to experience it with old friends and making new ones.

One of many champagne brands along Rue du Champagne
Views across the vineyards as we headed back to our farmhouse
Almost team photo

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