When in the country where Champagne is exclusively produced or the only legal place to call Champagne, Champagne ie France, you should do your best to squeeze in a trip to the Champagne area (just 45 minutes from Paris) and experience le gout du bien-etre!
A few weeks ago I had the BEST time with a couple from LA who found me and my blog and company through a post I wrote for Chowhound (a foodie based US website for people who want inside travel tips)! Darren, ie the best chauffeur around and I lead them on a luxurious, exclusive and very relaxing champagne tasting trip. We had a phenomenal day filled with a Les Crayeres hotel pickup, Reims Cathedral viewing, Champagne tastings at various top small producers (one with a breathtaking Chateau), a 3 hr Michelin star lunch in the middle of the vineyards and a personal chef chat and one special dish prepared by the chef for them. This all ended with a stop and tasting at a foie gras farm along with a long nice chat with the farm hand!
My clients day started at 9am at the beautiful Les Crayeres hotel (rated the best hotel in the world in 2005). The chauffeur and I met them for the start of our trip. To get going we made a quick pass at the Cathedral. Ahh, nothing like starting in the back gardens, admiring the perfectly manicured gardens and seeing the innate work. It really is an incredible structure and I think Dieu and Greg (now her fiance.. story to come) were very impressed by it.
Chagall stained glass
After a quick tour of the Cathedral we were off to one of my favorite towns in Champagne (Rilly La Montagne) which is known for growing the best Pinot noir grapes. The first stop was at 10:30 and at a small producers Champagne house which was founded in 1872 with 11 hectares and vineyards that are filled with 60% Chardonnay grapes, 37% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier.
Pointing out all the intricate sculptures on the facade
I like this house because they actually one of the only in the region to harvest their champagne in oak barrels giving it especially interesting notes. The flavor is really like no other. Hints of cinnamon and spices that you usually don't sense. We tasted a few nice and different cuvees and had a little quick tour of the cellar and saw the barrels the Champagne was aging in. few weeks ago I had the BEST time with a couple from LA who found me and my blog and company through a post I wrote for Chowhound (a foodie based US website for people who want inside travel tips)! Darren, ie the best chauffeur around and I lead them on a luxurious, exclusive and very relaxing champagne tasting trip. We had a phenomenal day filled with a Les Crayeres hotel pickup, Reims Cathedral viewing, Champagne tastings at various top small producers (one with a breathtaking Chateau that used to owned by Madame Clicquot), a 3 hr Michelin star lunch in the middle of the vineyards and a personal chef chat and one special dish prepared by the chef for them. This all ended with a stop and tasting at a foie gras farm along with a long nice chat with the farm hand!
Pinot Noir influenced Champagne
The Tasting begins!
After the first jolt of Champagne before noon I think everyone was feeling a little giddy. We were on to producer number 2! This second house my clients chose to add in a large producer and do one big corporate tour. I thought it was not a bad idea because I do think it's quite nice to see the huge, ancient tunnels of caves the big producers have. The small producers caves just don't compare to that special underground world :)
So, off to Moet and Chandon we were and a 1 hr tour followed. Dieu and Greg said they liked it, but definitely could have just skipped it and just stuck to small producers. They were already missing the personal touch and limitless champagne. I hear this time and time again yet when people ask for a large producer I accept.
Moet and Chandon private garden
Next we were off to lunch in the beautiful tiny village town of Vinay which is just 15 minutes from Epernay. Ahh a gorgeous hotel (Hostellerie La Briqueterie) with a beautiful terrace, a nice garden, a spa and a great 4 course tasting menu for 68 euro or 49 euro for lunch. The head chef, Michael Nizzero, cooked my clients a delicious lunch, came out and met them and even made them a special dish!! Too sweet of him. The food was impressive, the grounds are incredible and the staff are all welcoming. To say the least it was a good mid day break.
After lunch we drove another 20 minutes to another beautiful small town called Boursault. By small I mean a population of less than 100. This house, I knew was going to be a great surprise treat for my clients.
The small producer here just has the most incredible personality. His champagne is called Le Gallais http://www.champagnelegallais.com/ and he's so much fun and so real, honest and personable. He has 4 hectares of vines on the left bank of the Marne. His vineyards sit next to a castle originally built as a hunting lodge by Madame Clicquot. He produces 18,000 bottles a year on his land. At this house we got a bit dirty and went out in the fields to better understand the unbelievable manual process that goes into Champagne making. We also walked all around the Chateau, looked at the vista, and had the entire Champagne making process explained to us as well looked at the barrels and production room. Next..the tasting!! Ahh notes of green apples and a bright and crisp flavor with no added sugar. My clients loved the 2004 and the Brut. It was truly great to have my clients see how passionate small producers are about their work. I think it makes buying that bottle and drinking it at home such a more personal experience!
The vineyard and current work explained to my clients
The fake food which is grafted with the Champagne plant to protect it from animals
Beautiful ancient green house
Perfect place for a picnic, no?
Dieu's favorite danger cave originally constructed by La Grand Dame
The Yeast and Riddling process explained to Dieu
He's won an award or two
Ahh the tasting begins-notes of green apple and perfect balance of flavors with no sugar added to this brut
The day ended on a great note. Just a quick stop in Trelou at a foie gras farm with over 900 ducks where we sampled a few different types of foie gras, saw the huge open fields where the ducks where raised and talked about the farm and had lots of questions answered for us. We also got to play with an incredibly cute golden that I wanted to take home with us :) Ahh that was it. Time to drive the clients back to their 17th century Chateau which was once a dance hall for troops during WWI and wake up the next day and head back to Paris.
Graisse de Canard for cooking potatoes..
All the cute ducks
Best part of the visit playing with this guy
All in all I think my clients, Dieu and Greg, enjoyed a great day of luxury. A perfect little 45 minute side trip from Paris complete with secret small producer Champagne purchases, local foie gras, incredible views of small towns and rolling hills of the region and a nights stay in a beautiful Chateau.
This was all followed by a walk on the "lovers" bridge in Paris. You know, the bridge where there are 1000's of lockets where people literally lock up their love! They went there b/c Dieu LOVED the idea of the bridge. Little did she know her boyfriend Greg was about to profess his love for something else... her.. and he wanted to seal the deal :) All of a sudden he bent down on one knee as she was attaching the lock to the bridge and proposed just a day or two after the Champagne trip!!! I'm sooo happy for them and absolutely can not wait to help them celebrate back in France one day!!!