Hautvillers, Epernay, and Paris

I’m late posting this. But jet lag hit us really hard during this trip. Not to mention we were on the GO the entire time. You’ll see what I mean.

Thursday afternoon’s extended nap lead to a 4am bedtime, since we were so rested and trying to adjust to the local time. We had a 9am meetup time for our day long champagne tour. I booked this tour as a gift to Eliza. This is our last girls trip together before she gets married next month in Italy 🇮🇹.

We met our tour guide Melanie at the tourism information center right outside of the train station. About a 5 minute walk from our hotel.

By the time we got there, our 4 other travel companions were already loaded up in the van. I can’t remember their names but it was a couple from North Carolina and an older couple from Australia.

Our first stop was to a vineyard in Hautvillers. As we were driving there, we observed miles and miles and miles of vineyards. All of these grapes were used to make champagne. Melanie explained how this region has the perfect conditions for champagne grapes. The terrain is full of hills to capture the sunlight and it rains 200 days per year there. Also the earth is full of minerals because chalk naturally grows there. Apparently this these are prime conditions for champagne grapes.

The first thing I noticed was how close the vines are to the ground. They can’t be more than 1ft off the ground.

Melanie explained this is because they don’t want them to grow high and therefore create more shade for the grapes growing closer to the ground. She said they need about 100,000 workers during the harvest season. And this is a very popular summer job for students. She had first hand experience. She said the pickers earn about €1000 per week for about 50 hours of labor. I’d take that.

We took some pictures and headed toward the town where we stopped at Dom Perignon’s church.

For those who don’t know, Dom Perignon is the “father of champagne”. He was a monk and he held the keys to the church’s wine cellar. He developed the unique double fermentation process and the process by which you can press red grapes and only collect white juice. We visited the church where he was buried.

Dom Perignon’s buried in the left

Next we went to Champagne Avenue in Epernay. This is where many of the most successful champagne houses are located. Including Möet & Chandon where we had a tour. We were brought through the cellar tunnels where thousands upon thousands of bottles of champagne are in various stages of maturation. A typical bottle needs to mature for 2-3 years.

They have over 50 miles of underground caves for storage

Over 20,000 bottles stacked in this crevice
Where the store the vintage bottles. Including the very first bottle ever produced in the 1800’s
The process by which they get the sediment to the top of the bottle

I really learned some amazing facts about the champagne making process.

  1. Champagne is a kind of wine.
  2. The cellars in Möet naturally stay at 10 degrees Celsius year round.
  3. Möet uses 3 different grapes in equal quantities to make their champagne.
  4. All of their champagne is a blend of different grapes from different years. This is so the taste remains consistent no matter when or where you drink it.
  5. They make a vintage champagne only when the quality of the grapes from a particular year is highly exceptional. In that case they only use the grapes from that year to make the champagne. And they age it 3-4 times longer than their regular champagne.
  6. There’s a Cellar Master who dictates when to make a vintage. And how much of which grapes to use in the blend.

Very educational tour. They also happen to be the brand that makes Dom Perignon. We learned why it’s so expensive. It’s due the the grapes used and how long it ages.

Dom Perignon storage

Next we went to lunch at a local bed and breakfast. We had a traditional French lunch. Eliza told me when our chef stepped out of the kitchen to greet us, her immediate reaction was “we’re in good hands”. And we were. The food was VISIONARY. Clean, simple, decadent and rich but not heavy.

Pork pate on bread
Main course: Turkey in a mushroom cream sauce, potato and cheese quiche, bacon wrapped green beans
Assorted French pastries

Our last stop was a family winery. They’ve had 6 generations of wine making. We toured the pressing area, the massive fermentation vats, and of course the maturation cellar.

The owner explained that they’re a midsize winery. They produce about 60,000 bottles per year. It was here where we learned about how highly regulated this industry is.

For each hectare you own, you can only harvest a certain number of grapes. So that means once you reach your capacity, the rest have to be wasted. Literally picked and thrown on the grounds of the Vineyards. This is to ensure the quality of the wine and champagne produce from the region. And they have regulators who come and monitor your production to make sure you are not over producing. They keep a record and compare it to your previous years of production. They also test the sugar and acidity of your grapes.

Clearly the French take their wine very seriously.

Chandelier at Möet

We got back to Reims in time to catch our 6:45pm train to Paris. That night we checked into Palma Hôtel. Eliza chose that hotel because it was conveniently located directly across the street from where the wedding ceremony would be taking place the next day. It was a rainy day and we were quite tired. But we learned from our previous mistake and did not take a nap. We researched some restaurants for dinner in the area and we decided to go to Ober Mamma. They had great reviews and good prices. We arrived and there was a line outside the door, but luckily only a 20 minute wait. It was an Italian restaurant. We had the most beautiful meal. A bit of a preview for our trip next month I guess. Because who goes to Paris and eats Italian food?

Meat, cheese, and olive platter

Burrata pesto pizza
Tiramisu and cheesecake

The food was as good as it looks. And again, very well priced. We split the meal and paid around €20 each. We took an Uber pool back to the hotel since it was kind of late and raining. Normally we take the metro everywhere, but this was a cheaper and safer option.

So that was our eventful Friday. We pretty much passed out when we got back to the hotel because the next day was the wedding.

I’ll tell you all about the wedding adventure next.


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