We just returned from a fascinating and wonderful three-week trip to France. Our last week was spent in the Champagne Region. If you like visiting Napa, you will love visiting the Champagne region. In spending just one week in Champagne we barely scratched the surface exploring this historic wine region. There are some 300 villages in the Champagne wine region and more than 3000 Champagne producers.
Only three varieties of grapes are grown here, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. These are the grapes used in blending Champagne. The majority of the soil is limestone The vines are grown in rows about one meter apart and are allowed to grow just over a meter in height. The vines are kept short and are constantly pruned. The idea is to keep the density high so the grape production is lower and the vines must compete for the needed ingredients. The vines grow deep into the chalky limestone soil. No irrigation is needed because there is enough rain and the chalky soil acts like a sponge to absorb the water. The limestone soil gives the Champagne that unique character that is found in no other bubbly around the world.
Most tourists, when they travel to the Champagne region, stay at a hotel in either Reims or Epernay . This is where the big Champagne houses are located, such as Moet & Chandon, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot and others. But to get the real feel of this great region it is best to travel the small backroads and highways that are designated the “Route Touristique Du Champagne.” It is here where you see the beauty of the vineyards and in the villages meet the small friendly and welcoming Champagne producers.
For the big houses such as Moet & Chandon visitors need to schedule an appointment, choosing a tour in the correct language. We took the basic tour and tasting for 14 Euros each at Moet & Chandon. This included a flute of the basic Brut Champagne. Everything at the big houses is done in a very formal and splendid manner. It is a first-class show. As for the small village producers, we met several of them just by driving up to their Caves and asking if we could taste. One of our traveling companions spoke fluent French, so that made a world of difference. We had rented a house in the countryside 35 minutes from Epernay. This enabled us to easily explore the backroads and discover many a small producer. We also purchased Champagne from each house we visited. We always ate lunch at a restaurant and at home prepared our dinner. There was always a Champagne toast to the great and wonderful people we’d met that day. None of the small producers charged for a tasting. They were eager to please and to show us around. These are truly passionate people; they eat, sleep, and, of course, drink Champagne.
One of the most interesting things we did was take a walk in the vineyards in the village of Mutigny. Here the growers have set up a 2.2 kilometer walk through the hillside vineyards. The walk consists of 12 information stations about the vineyards and grape growing. The posted information is in French and English. The views here are dazzling. It would be nice if the Napa Valley growers would set up something similar, a mile or two walk with posted information and areas for picnicking.
We would love to return to Champagne again and continue to explore this amazing and beautiful area. In the meantime, we will seek out and taste Champagnes from the small producers that export to the U.S. We have already spotted a few at our local wine shop that we are eager to taste. À votre santé!