Monday, February 13, 2012

Reims - the beautiful Champagne region

A few days ago we took our conference group to Reims for a tour of the champagne region. As it is winter (and exceptionally cold) most champagne houses are closed to the public, but Marie-Pierre, our personal guide who is well known in the area, was able to open doors for us. The TGV train trip, reaching speeds of close to 300+km/hr is a quick 40minutes from Paris, so one can easily visit this area for a day trip. 

We began with a walk around the beautiful Gothic Cathedral in Reims, which last year celebrated its 800year anniversary. It has suffered significant problems in the corse of its life - major fires, the French Revolution and World war 1 all inflicted serious damage but each time has been repaired to its original form. Clovis, the first Christain king of France was baptised in this Cathedral by Saint Remi in 498-499 and since then, 25 coronations of kings of France, from Louis V111 in 1223 to Charles X in 1825, including the crowning of Charles V11 in 1429, in the presence of Joan of Arc, were also coronated here. The main construction was overseen by 4 different architects and lasted 80years. The Gothic arches and original stained glass windows over the entry portal are truly magnificent.

Following this we went to the Veuve Clicquot caves for a private tour. I have been to the caves on a previous visit, and am still surprised by the way times appears to have stood still in this underground labyrinth. Obviously there are signs that we live in 2012, (a small fork lift was operational  during our visit) but these 2012 signs are reasonably limited, and the dust of the caves and the original racks where the champagnes sit waiting to age, look like they have been there forever! Indeed their Cuvee de prestige champagne, La Grande Dame, is still even degorged (the process where the sediment is removed) by hand. The reason for this is that this bottle is a different shape and as such the bottles do not fit into the machine, plus being their premier product they prefer only the expert people to be involved in the process. The time involved in producing such a premier champagne makes one truly realise the price, although not small, is justified. 

Degorging (removing of the sediment in the neck of the bottle during the 2nd fermentation process) is a process discovered by Madame Clicquot and these original racks were designed by her for this process.   

This shows the sediment in the neck of the bottle prior to degorging  

Vintage Champagnes are only made in the years when the grapes are exceptional. Each time a vintage year is produced, this champagne house places a plaque to commemorate it.

After the tour of the caves we were all very much looking forward to tasting the product, and  our next stop was for a magnificent lunch with the venue being one of the chateaus owned by Veuve Clicquot. In the early 1800's, this chateau was given as a wedding gift to one of the men who controlled the business and was used as his family's summer house. Lunch was catered by a local restauranteur and consisted of 5 courses all matched with gorgeous vintage champagnes, beginning with Veuve Clicquot's premier champagne, La Grande Dame. A truly memorable day!
The Chateau in the midst of the vineyards where we had a beautiful lunch matched to vintage
Verve Clicquot champagnes
One of the sitting rooms within the chateau