The Champagne Experience
Champagne is the main industry of this historic UNESCO protected region of France. The city of Reims was one of the hardest hit of WWI symbolized by the destruction and rebuilding of the Cathedral of Reims. Every stop along the way will remind you that of the historic battlefields in the campaigns of WWI. The champagne cellars even protected the citizens from the bombings of World War II. Some champagne houses were required to continue production during both wars to keep the beverage and the economy flowing. The French do not dwell on the past but always honor it and look towards a future of champagne creation. The indomitable French spirit of patriotism and renewal is ever present in this region.
The Best Way to Tour Champagne: From the Grand to the Boutique
Family stories of heroism and sacrifice are part of the local culture that echoes with every glass of champagne that is raised in celebration. There are many champagne houses that you can visit from a small boutique or family house to the more well known champagne names that are distributed around the world. When visiting the region, I suggest that you dedicate a tour for several days that involves a private car or Mercedes Mini-Bus tour with a group. RUINART, is the oldest continuing champagne house in the world. Once you have seen and tasted champagne created for the Kings of France, your champagne journey begins. The property of RUINART is elegant and well designed with the largest cellars in France. You will step into the anterooms of the main building to view a unique art collection. Then you descend into the depths of the caverns where the secrets of making champagne are revealed. A grand old house, the making of champagne is a hallowed tradition.
Roadtripping in Champagne
My next favorite trip is to tour the little towns by car with a local guide, who will take you to smaller family champagne properties. This personalized journey should present the countryside and vistas of the area. Next, you will want to see the church and former monastery where champagne was created by the famous monk, himself. Then, you will go on a door-to-door visit where you will meet the families who are devoted to the creation of champagne. This is the heart and soul of the region. I do not wish to discourage your trip to some of the bigger houses of champagne but the true character of the region rests in the heart of the family business. You might be surprised to learn that champagne has a variety of flavors that range from an 18th-century style that is closer to wine to the more modern or crisp interpretations that can be lighter in flavor. This is the “brut” style and the “75-25” style refers to a balance of flavors between the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. If you are familiar with the Rose champagne, the delicate balance of flavor combined with the skin of the Pinot Noir grapes gives it the unique blush color. Everyone has their favorite style and once your tour is over you can look forward to a formal or informal tasting experience.
Tips on How to Organize your Visit
There are many experiences you can have in the Champagne region, from the lovely hotels that serve the local beverage to the city of REIMS, a very walkable city. If you wish to book accommodations, don’t forget to book your tours in advance and include a special meal that will require you to book ahead. Private guides and small tours are the best way to see the region. The French department of Champagne Tourism provides guides, maps and tours. Located in downtown REIMS, the center is listed on your google map and directs you to the friendly folks who can assist you on the ground. Prior to your visit, you can also go online to make sure your accommodations and tours or reservations are ready. The TGV train from Paris is 55 minutes and drops you in the center of the city. You can also step into the train station bar and drink a glass to start your visit.
Champagne Houses for a One Day Tour: Ruinart, Tattinger and Pol Couronne Champagne
POl COURONNE CHAMPAGNE – Located in Downtown Reims
One discovery of a family creator is the boutique champagne maker POL COURONNE who has a history of creation that goes back to a family of growers. Recent family members decided to expand their business to include a boutique label that you can taste right on the main street of Reims, in the shadow of the Cathedral of Reims. Their tasting room was originally a jewelry store and each bottle of champagne is displayed like a family jewel; the intimate comfort is welcoming for those who are first time tasters. There is an outside cafe with tables you can enjoy as well. What you will learn from many of the champagne lectures and tours is how champagne is made but in an intimate setting like this shop, a very personal experience. You might even be talking to the CEO of the company, Jean Pierre Baptiste who stops into the tasting room to greet guests. The team of interns all speak a variety of languages and make you feel welcome as they serve you. You will feel very close to the creation of this label and enjoy the modern fresh style and approach.
RUINART and Tattinger: Grand Champagnes with family traditions
I picked this combination for the reason that if I only had one day, where would I go? Tattinger is located within a short ride from the center of the city and RUINART is a bit longer trip but puts you in the countryside surrounded by vineyards. I mentioned the unique architectural experience of RUINART that is different from the more industrial location for Tattinger. However, the Tattinger family also owns a historic chateau in the region designed for events and special visits as well as family events but generally not open to the public. You can pick and choose where you wish to go tasting but be sure to choose a hotel that is a good starting point, whether it’s the old world style of LES CREYERES, a spa-style hotel or an Air Bnb in the center of the city. All travel budgets are possible and after your short ride on the TGV train from the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, you will step off the train to begin your adventure. The best season to visit champagne is in the summer or early fall season right before they harvest the grapes.
All champagnes are available at your local liquor or wine shop and champagnes by POL COURONNE available at WINEVIP.com.
Courtesy of Pol Couronne Champagne. The downtown REIMS tasting room is located within viewing distance of the REIMS cathedral.
Hotel les Creyeres with this writer’s champagne set up in the Bar. I was drinking the champagne that was favored by Winston Churchill. Photo courtesy of Artifice Atelier. The gardens around this hotel are the scene of a food festival that is famous and a 2 star Michelin Restaurant.
Stopping in at Tattinger Tasting Room. Here the varietals are shared by friendly bartenders after your tour. Photo courtesy of ARTIFICE ATELIER
Photo of the unique art collection created by RUINART and Baccarat Crystal. Photo Credit: Artifice Atelier