Posted by: David Stewart | July 6, 2013

Where the Dom Perignon is nicely chilled

This is taken from some notes I made on our Spring 2013 trip

Moet & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars under the capital of Champagne (Moet & Chandon)

Saturday, May 18

Champagne countryside, France

Our plan for the day was to drive along one of the champagne routes from Reims to Epernay. These are marked routes through the vineyards knitting together the little villages along the way. Although the signage was good, it was very helpful having a route map to help us find the villages.

The drive was really spectacular – vines as far as the eye can see, cute French villages nestled in the hills, sometimes sharing the road with farm equipment and bikers, cautious looks from villagers. Where there were no grapes, there were fields of yellow canola plants. It was an amazing and beautiful drive.

Hautvilliers, France

Springtime in Champagne, Hautvilliers

There are plenty of small places to taste champagne along the way. Unfortunately we didn’t stop at any. This was due to several factors: first, when we started out our drive, it was too early in the morning to be tasting, and too early for most of these places to open. Secondly we could have tried a number of places without finding something we liked, so I was a little nervous. Finally there were several places I wanted to visit in Epernay, and I wasn’t sure how long the total drive would take. I should have been more attentive to some mail I got from Guy Lunardi, who did mention a number of champagne places we could have visited. I suppose this leaves some places to try for another visit.

Hautvilliers, France

Carvings in the church where Dom Perignon is buried, Hautvilliers

Some of the town names were somewhat amusing to an English speaker, especially Bouzy and Dizy. One of the towns not on the Route de Champagne is Hautvillers, but it is quite famous. This is the place where Dom Perignon is buried, the monk who is said to have perfected the process of making champagne. You can visit the little church where the Dom’s remains are interred in the lovely little village. We ate our self-catered lunch at a picnic table in a car park.

Finally we entered Epernay, which refers to itself as “the capital of Champagne.” This is probably due to the number champagne houses with headquarters there, all on the “Avenue de Champagne.” We walked along much of the length, seeing a number of the banner nameplates such as Moet & Chandon, Pol Roger and Perrier-Jouet.

Epernay, France

A rather spooky house at Number 13, Avenue de Champagne

By the time we entered town, it was about noon and the champagne houses of Epernay follow the usual practice of closing down for two hours at lunch time, which was common in Reims and Burgundy. This prompted us to speculate what kind of business could be open for such a small part of the day and succeed.

Fortunately, one of the small producers has a tasting room on the Avenue de Champagne which is open during lunch time. Paul-Etienne Saint Germain is run by a husband and wife team who were welcoming guests and pouring champagne. This family has been producing grapes for many years but finally they decided to become a producer. Their location on this famous street was thanks to one of the former owners of the building putting it on the market. Agnes and Jean-Michel were friendly and gracious hosts. They mentioned that we can drink their champagne at the Painted Lady in Oregon, which we will try to do soon.

Epernay, France

Jean-Michel and Deb

After Paul-Etienne, we decided we probably had the inclination for visiting one of the major houses on the Avenue, so we picked Moet & Chandon. Like the tours in Reims, they started with a video introduction of their house and then took us down into their cellars. They emphasized that Moet is the largest champagne producer in the world, and their Epernay cellars hosts their production efforts. The Moet tour showed off a selection of Dom Perignon being aged, and showed a large cask which was a gift from Napoleon for port wine which had been captured by him in a battle. In honor of Napoleon’s gift, their mainstream bottling of champagne is labeled “Imperial.” I asked about the “White Star” label I used to see in the US, but this US-only bottling was discontinued a few years ago. Evidently it was named after the Titanic’s White Star steamship line, and was made sweeter for the American preference. However it has been discontinued.

Our tour group did have a funny moment – an older woman with an Australian accent complained to the Moet staff that the room for our tasting was too small and didn’t have places for people to sit down. “Scandalous,” complained this matron, that there was no gift for us! We chuckled about that one quite a bit.

Moet & Chandon, Epernay, France

More endless cellars, at Moet & Chandon

After the tour at Moet, we tried to retrace our steps to our car, but had a number of problems finding the right neighborhood where we were parked. (I don’t think this had a thing to do with imbibing champagne, we were just not careful in retracing our steps).  Fortunately we were able to get my Android maps application to locate us, and we made our way back to the area of the train station and the cathedral.

Instead of taking the circuitous route of this morning back to Reims, we took the road straight over the hill which separates Epernay from Reims and were home fairly quickly to the Porte Mars. We were a bit tired of seeking out a nice French place for dinner, so we found a pizza place off of the main pedestrian streets and brought it back to our hotel room.  This was partly due to our buying a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine which we assumed we could take to a restaurant for our dinner. But evidently the practice of bringing your own wine to dinner is not accepted in Reims or in France. So we had our own private pizza-and-wine party in our hotel room.

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