I find an excerpt in my travel diary:
'The sky is a lovely deep purple moving onto mauve undertones as I leave the hotel this morning heading towards Reims (pronounced "Ronce"), the champagne region of France about 2 hours drive away from Paris. I am sitting on a double decker coach with mainly American and Australian tourists. The country side is so inviting as the sun begins to rise and the fields are barren, brown and covered in frost.' - 2009
Being March, it was cold and an overcast day. It had been a long winter and it would be another month or so before spring actually showed its face. The vineyards are bare and brown. It's a dramatic landscape as we drove through the hills of the region. It is patchy with different browns, newly ploughed paddocks waiting planting or pruned vines awaiting their new foilage.
We arrived in the quaint town of Reims and head straight to the House of Mumm, where we took a tour around the processing plant and learnt about making the real champagne (none of this sparkling wine stuff), this is A grade top notch grapes from Champagne! The tour is informative and interesting and I actually learnt something new (I tend to tune out on these tours).
The towns of Reims and Epernay are the commerical hub of the area. The boundaries of the Champagne region are legally defined and split into five wine producing districts within the administrative province- the Aube, Cote des Blancs, Cote de Sezanne, Montagne de Reims and Vallee de la Marne. It is within these boundaries that champagne can be called champagne. Beyond these boundaries (globally) it is sparkling wine (or anything else you want to call it but not 'champagne').
There are three types of grapes that can only be used to make Champagne. They are: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pino Meunier and there are three areas of growth rated as The Grand Cru rated vineyards received 100 percent rating which entitled the grower to 100% of the price. Premier Crus were vineyards with 90-99% ratings while Deuxième Crus received 80-89% ratings. There are huge oak barrels that once held thousands of litres of bubbles, but nowadays concrete vats are used.
Mumm champagne is famous for being the champagne of choice for motor sport (it's a bottle of Mumms that gets popped when the winners take the trophy) and many other bottles of Mumm have been there to be popped for other adventurers around the world too.
At the end of the tour, we get to sample the Cordon Rouge bubbles (the most famous of Mumm Champagne), the bubbles tickle my nose as I raise the glass to my lips and take my first sip of the famous champagne. There are a number of sized bottles on display, the 2 larger ones are by order only and needs special training to poor the monster bottles...if only I could get that back into the country, oh well a normal size bottle will do (and a glass that accidently slipped into my bag....how did that get there!)
Mumm straight up!
In Reims, we stopped by the Cathedral, which is like a mini Notre Dame before taking some time out to explore the small town. Lunching at La Gaulois Bistro, was lovely, where the wine/champagne list covers the pillars inside the restaurant (to many to choose from!).
steak and frites
It is a lovely little town, which is full of day trippers from Paris.
Driving through the vineyards to Epernay, about 30 minutes from Reims to visit Moet & Chandon, probably the most famous of champagne names in the world. I am not actually a fan of Moet champagne, but I'd give it a go for te sake of research.
The tour through the chalky tunnels was actually much better than the one at Mumm's. Millions of bottles of champagne were laying in their riddling racks waiting to be turned. Riddling is a term used to turn the bottles a certain way and a certain angle to get the sediment to the neck of the bottle without clouding the liquid. It was once done by professional riddlers, oh to be The Riddler (sorry batman joke there!) but over the years, machinery has taken over and there are only a couple of professionals left (who do the vintage and special bottles). Once the sediment is in the neck it is flash frozen and the top is taken off the bottle the frozen sediment is removed then the bottle is corked.
I also learn that it is in fact pronounced MoEt (hard e) and not pronounced 'moey'. I feel classy pronouncing it properly (and to this day am 'corrected' everytime I say it because many people think I'm pronouncing it wrong!)
However, taste testing the product was more important. The Champagne house is the original house of the founders and the rooms are styled furnished from the era. We are given a glass and, although cool and bubbly, the taste is not really for me....it didn't stop a glass accidently falling into my handbag (honestly I don't know how this happens when I travel - I have quiete the collection!) ! I was eyeing off the bottle of Rose for 2,000 Euro but didn't think that would fit in the handbag safely....
Moet & Chandon by the bucket
if only I could get this in my bag!
I love France and I love Paris. I will be back mon cheri.