Wednesday, July 11, 2007


We took a day trip to the Champagne region during our 4 days in Paris. Figured, 3 days was good for me to explore Paris and Matt and Alex came up with the idea to tour some caves and do some wine tasting, or Champagne tasting I guess. Why not!
Alex and I met Matt in Savigny so that he wouldn't have to drive into Paris with the rental car. Paris drivers come up a close second in the craziness scale, next to those from Istanbul. I guess in a city of that many people and that many complicated roads, you have to be aggressive lets say. It wasn't too difficult managing our way onto Paris highways and heading east towards Eparny where we planned to visit Moet and Chandon. This happens to be the biggest producer of champagne in the world and makes a fancy bottle known as Dom Perignon (might have heard of him...). Unfortunately there was some construction on the highway so we were stop and go for a good hour and it took us a bit longer than we thought to get there. Alex and I were so sleepy cuz we went to bed so late and got up at 7 to switch hotels and get to Matt's. We kept dosing off in the car and weren't very good company for our driver!

So many grapes!

The drive through the country side is just gorgeous. Fields and fields of wine growing everywhere you look. It reminded me of the abundance of wheat fields in Alberta (wine fields...a little more cool though). Once we arrived in Eparny, it took a couple turns around the traffic circle to figure out where the tourist information center is. Naturally they were closed for lunch so we went straight across the street to Moet and scheduled ourselves in for a tour. We opted for the best one because really when you're in Dom's house, why would you drink anything less (OK that's not totally true cuz no one gets to drink Dom Perignon on a tour, rather we had a vintage bottle from 2000).

In front of the Moet and Chandon building.
The tour started out a bit cheesy with a video of what makes them the best. "Turning Nature into Art" is the slogan they used! It had some good info about the 3 grapes that are used to make Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) and what makes this region different from others thus allowing them the coveted title of Champagne rather than sparkling wine. Everything is done by hand, no machines to harvest the grapes.

So here is what I learned:

The champagne region is located pretty close to the northern limits of wine producing grapes so its difficult for the grapes to fully ripen. The coolest thing about the area is that underneath the top soil, the ground is composed of chalk. And its the chalk that helps to absorb the heat from the sun and also retains the moisture in the soil. Its also used for the caves to keep them at a certain temperature ( I think he said 12*) and very damp. While we were walking through there was several occasions where water dripped on my head. The caves at Moet, were 28 km long, can you imagine getting lost in there. Our tour guide joked that for his training, they put him in the caves and wouldn't let him out until he knew everything about champagne.

They can fit 20,000 bottles in a cave.

Champagne is made by mixing the juice from 3 grapes in different proportions (50/30/20 for instance) and from a blend of years. There's an expert that mixes the combination to get it to taste like previous versions (lots on reserve for them to choose from). What makes it different from wine, is that after the initial fermentation in the big barrels, the wine is bottled and then they add some more yeast and sugar to the bottles to continue the second fermentation (this creates the bubbles). Depending on the amount of sugar they add is what distinguishes a brute, from a sect. The bottles are then stored in caves for a minimum of 3 years. A vintage is made whenever they have a great season and only use grapes from one year. Also the vintages are stored for 7 years. This doesn't happen every year and the last vintage is from 2000.

To get the residue out of the bottle, they take them from the caves and place them upside down and slanted in these wooden storage units. Then comes the Riddler, who turns the bottles a quarter turn each day for about two months I think. Imagine having that job, turning 100,000 bottles of champagne a day. He must have some strong wrists!

After all the residue has settled in the neck of the bottle, they take the bottles and freeze that top portion so that an ice cube forms with the residue, genius if you ask me. When they open the bottle, the ice cube shoots out, and they quickly cork the bottle so as not to lose any of the pressure (a machine does this nowadays). And bam, you've got yourself champagne ready for sale.

So after all this, we got to go to a nice room to finally taste some Champagne. We each got a glass of the 2000 vintage brute and the rose and it was very tasty. Of course they lead you into the store right after so the temptation to buy something is right there in front of you. We gave in of course! Oh and here's a tip; never wash your champagne glasses with soap because soap kills something on the glass that helps keep the champagne bubbling.

Sipping on some bubbly!

We wanted to do another tour but there just wasn't enough time because most places close by 5 or 6pm so we drove through the beautiful country side and made our way to a smaller producer for a tasting. This other place operated straight from their home and we did the tasting in the guys garage. He didn't speak a word of English which was OK for the guys but I got a bit bored while they chatted away...leading me to drink a couple more glasses of champagne.

Clearly a couple glasses too many!
Overall it was a really fun trip and so nice to get away from the fast pace of Paris and head to the country side. We had to say goodbye to Matt at the end of the day and headed back to Paris for one more night.

Matt, Alex and I among the grapes.


At 9:42 AM, Blogger Layial said...

Sounds like a good trip to France all in all...:)

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Carmi said...

Hi Blanka. I found your site via the International Blog of Food. I was fascinated by this trip through the history of champagne, and look forward to reading more of your work: you have a fascinating blog.

I think if I were the Riddler, I would likely have gone insane by now. Imagine working in a cave, turning bottles. All day, every day. Alone.

My mind shudders at the very thought.

Looking forward to my next visit.


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