Individual Days - Post-Tour

Champagne Tour

October 2, 2023

Today we got up early, grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel, and met Bastien, our Ô Château Champagne Tour guide. We met the other members of our group and started on the 1.5-to-2-hour drive.

Champagne Region

Our first stop was along the side of the road in Châtillon-sur-Marne. Since this year’s grapes had already been harvested, we were able to try some of the remaining grapes on the vines.

Champagne can only be called champagne if it comes from this region. Bastien explained that there are champagne houses and growers. Some of the most prestigious and well-known houses are run by LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy conglomerate). Houses buy grapes from many different vineyards. Their champagne has a consistent taste year after year which is accomplished by using a specific blend of various grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes) from different vineyards and years.

Growers, on the other hand, make champagne from a single estate. These independent producers are typically family-owned operations focused on quality.

While it would appear that houses and growers would compete, there is an interesting relationship between the two. Many of the growers sell grapes to the houses. We were told that the growers keep the best grapes for their champagne production, and the houses get the leftovers.

Mercier

Our next stop was at Épernay and the world-famous Champagne house of Mercier, a member of the LVMH group. We took a tour of their cellar’s long tunnels. After, we sampled two different types of champagne.

Champagne was an accidental discovery. Fermentation occurs when yeast interacts with the sugars in the grapes. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct. As wine is stored in wood barrels or clay vessels, the gases escape. But in the early 1600s, the wine was placed in glass containers which did not allow the gases to dissipate. And poof, champagne was created.

We traveled next to Hautvillers. We discussed different types of grapes. Champagne is traditionally clear, but that doesn’t mean red grapes aren’t used. The juice from a grape, even red grapes, is clear. The color comes from macerating the juice with the skins. Allowing this process adds color and tannins to the champagne. There are rose and even orange champagnes.

Bastien used a saber to open a bottle of rose champagne. We were taught a safer way to open a bottle of champagne by the sommelier at our wine-tasting dinner two nights ago, but this way was considerably more dramatic.

The champagne region is twice the size of Napa Valley. To stress the vines, they are cut shorter than normal. This produces better grapes. Roses are grown near the vineyards. Roses will show mildew problems one to two weeks before the vines are affected.

French Lunch

We stopped in Brugny-Vaudancourt for a tour of Champagne De Sloovere-Pienne, a mother/daughter-run house. Lunch was served while we enjoyed more champagne.

Our last stop was the family run grower Champagne Breton Fils Maison Familiale in Congy. We made our way down through an opening in the floor to the underground cellars. This family even makes zero-sugar champagne. We were amazed at the variety of champagnes.

Historic Marais District

After such a wonderful day in the French countryside, we were dropped off in the Marais District, the 4th arrondissement. We passed the Hôtel de Sens which was built in the late 1400s to house the archbishop of Sens. If you look carefully in the first picture, you will see a tiny cannonball from the 1830s lodged in the wall above the window. Our walk ended at the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris.

Parish Church of Saint Paul Saint Louis
Parish Church of Saint Paul Saint Louis
Place des Vosges

Bistro des Vosges

We had dinner at the Bistro des Vosges. For a starter, Mark chose the French onion soup. He said it was really good. Their menu boasted it was one of the best homemade onion soups in Paris. I selected the traditional boiled eggs with homemade mayonnaise. For the main course, Mark ordered poultry escalope with ham and melted cantal cheese. I chose grilled sausages and aligot, a traditional dish from the region. This little bistro did not disappoint.

We walked 3.4 miles today.

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