Our visitors were keen to look round a champagne vineyard and so I rang the two small producers I know only to find that the last two weeks in August were holiday time!

Nevertheless, I did find out that the big ‘houses’ were still open for tours.

We set off for Epernay as Reims is notoriously bad for traffic at present, due to roadworks in the centre.

The sat-nav worked pretty well until we arrived and then there were arguments. E had set it to find the church, thinking this would be pretty central but we were put off by detours – again due to roadworks – and everyone chipping in with directions.

We stopped by a church which happened to be in the grounds of a hospital so were able to ask directions from the man in reception.

“It’s just a kilometre that way”, he indicated, “Place de la Republique”.

Off we went, and sure enough, Moet et Chandon was open to visitors.

It was a very posh building and all the staff were dressed in uniform – reminiscent of waiters in a high class restaurant.

The ‘English Tour’ set off but included a group of Spanish tourists who were rather noisy and ill disciplined. The guide spoke English but very quietly and with a strong French accent so Bear and I gave up trying to hear what he said and just followed slowly behind.

Fortunately there was a break to sit down and watch a video but  it was not terribly informative being more like an advertisement for their chanpagne.

The descent to the cellars, 15 metres below ground, was mercifully gentle and there we were in the warren of 28 kilometres of champagne bottles.

Our guide was obviously explaining the process of making champagne but it was difficult to follow. In a nutshell it involves the following processes:

1: Fermentation alcoolique the sugar in the grapes becomes alcohol resulting in still wine. 
2: Assemblage du champagne: Various wines from different grapes and often different years are blended by the tasters.

3 : Mise en bouteille : The champagne is bottled with yeast and sugar

4: Fermentation malolactique : the yeast transforms the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The gas can’t escape and so it dissolves into the wine, producing bubbles.

5: Maturation : The bottles are stored horizontally in a cool, dark, chalk cellar for between 1 and 3 years. Strangely, the chalk keeps the cellar damp and this is important.

6: Dégorgement : During this time the bottles are transferred to sloping racks and turned daily for a period of 5 weeks so that the lees collect in the neck. At Moet at Chandon they turn 80,000 bottles a day.

The bottles are dipped into a liquid which freezes them to -28 degrees. Then they are opened and the pressure blows out the lollipop containing the lees. The bottles are topped up with more wine and sugar. The amount of sugar added at this point makes the champagne brut, sec, or demi-sec.

Finally the proper corks are put in and held down with wire and the bottles are labelled.

The tour finished with a tasting (13 euros entitled you to one glass, 20euros would give you two and for 25 euros you would be allowed to try a vintage chanpagne.)

We were then directed to the exit which led to the boutique. The cheapest champagne on offer was a 37.5litre gift box for 29 euros so we decided not to indulge. There were even Dom Perignon vintage champagnes on display for several hundred euros a bottle!

For anyone interested in working out the bottle sizes above, here’s a clue:

  • Quart – 20 cl
  • Demie – 37.5 cl
  • Magnum – 1.5 l
  • Jéroboam – 3 l
  • Réhoboam – 4.5 l
  • Mathusalem – 6 l
  • Salmanazar – 9 l
  • Balthazar – 12 l
  • Nabuchodonosor – 15 l

But don’t expect me to know the answers as there are ten sizes here (if you include the bottle at 75cl) and only eight in the photo!

7 Responses to “Champagne”

  1. Keith Says:

    Didn’t they give you any free sample bottles then? I visited a vineyard in Bordeaux 4 years ago and they gave everybody on the bus three free 75cl bottles of their vin rouge. There were at least 45 people on la bus!

    I must say that your presentation and layout on your page is improving. Are you taking private lessons in CSS and HTML? Or learning from a book?

    Free samples?!! I think Moet et Chandon are too mean. My friend (foolishly?) paid 80 euros for a bag and towel emblazoned with their name. The smaller producers are much more generous. They ply you with several glasses of different types of champagne at no charge, show you round their- albeit small – business for free and don’t grunble if you only buy a small amount.
    Thanks for the compliment but any improvement is purely accidental (and may not last).
    Photographs are a real pain though. This printer refuses to acknowledge the presence of a smart card so i had to use Bear’s new one and send myself an email. . . . .

  2. Brenda Bryant Says:

    I was reminded of a terrible experience of mine a few years ago. We had a Swedish couple staying with us as part of Friendship Force, and we took them on a tour of our Hunter Valley vineyards. They said it was ‘like pigs at a trough’!! It was only afterwards that I discovered that the wife was in charge of all the Government wine stores in Sweden!! We hardly knew a red from a white!! How mortifying!

    hello Brenda, thanks for commenting. I suppose you mean everyone was sampling the wine with gusto instead of tasting and spitting. I’m not sure i’d like to spit it out but if you’re tasting lots of wine you could get a bit tipsy. (love your poems by the way)

  3. Patricia Mackay Says:

    At lest in the Hunter Valley on can understand what they are saying – and we had a super lunch after with three puds.

    Three puds? heaven . . . .

  4. Little old me Says:

    Spit, spit, what a waste.

    I’m not saying I’ve ever spat out a mouthful of wine (unless it was off) and I’m not lkely to start now.

  5. guyana gyal Says:

    This reminds me of a tour I went on with some friends, of an old fashioned rum factory. Oh man, that think stank to hell and back, my head was swinging like a ferris wheel by the time we were done. The factory was on a huge estate, where the people’s home was…a real Caribbean plantation home. I want that home!

    Oh memories! My grandfather used to like rum and it smelled dreadful to me as a child. Would you really like to live next door to a rum factory?

  6. BearNaked Says:

    28 kilometres and 80,000 bottles!!!!
    I wonder how many people they employ to do that job of turning them once per day?
    Can you imagine how bored you would be doing that day after day after day?

    Bear((( )))

  7. Keith Says:

    Patrica Mackay – Is this the new image then? Not PI anymore?

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