Monday, May 6, 2013

The Moët & Chandon Champagne Cellars

In the northeast corner of France, sits a magical little region were the world's very best sparkling white wine is produced.  The bubbly stuff is called Champagne and only the wine produced in this area can be called by that name.  Since the Middle Ages, the area's climate and geography has made possible the production of "the drink of kings."  

The first champagne house that we visited, Moët & Chandon is the largest and most prestigious and is in the town of Epernay.  It was established in 1743 and once provided champagne to King Louis XV and Napoleon.  It is also the home of the premiere vintage Dom Pérignon. Take a quick look at this video from Moët & Chandon.  It gives you a real feel for the house and the champagne. 


  


We made reservations before our trip for Sunday morning and arrived right on time for our English speaking tour.  As one of the largest, this was a fabulous introduction to the champagne houses and cellars of Epernay.  Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and how can you resist a beautiful French accent telling you about the history and art of champagne.  

Our guide described the intricate and detailed process from selection of the grapes, to blending and fermentation, to packaging and distribution.  There is so much care and attention to detail.  It's an art form that has been perfected over hundreds of years.  I'll tell you more about the process of making champagne in my next post.

Today I want to tell you about the cellars of the region. We visited off-season so we didn't see any of the harvest or production, but we did experience the amazing cellars.  No trip to this area is complete without a visit to the underground crayéres of the champagne houses.  And the cellars at Moët & Chandon are the most extensive with a maze of 17 miles of caves.
 

After an explanation of the region and the history of the house, our guide wrapped herself in a blanket and led us down into the cool, quiet chalk caves where the wine is stored until it's aged to perfection.  

The chalk limestone was used by the ancient Romans to build their cities and many of the cellars were once quarries.  The area is vast and the perfect place for millions of bottles of champagne to bubble away quietly for years.  The temperature and humidity is constant.  One of our guides told us in that delicious accent "We can only monitor the ambiance.  We cannot control it."  Which I thought was a great quote for life sometimes.  


  
It's like a beehive.  The nectar of the grapes is gathered, blended and packed away in the honeycomb caves to be turned into liquid gold.  The bottles are carefully packed by hand in the arched coves.  The rooms are very deep and can hold 100,000 bottles.  The walkways are marked and numbered so the workers can find their way around.  Each batch is given a special number that can only be decoded by the cellar master.  

The miles and miles of caves in the area are all likely interconnected with each house carving out their own section.  During World War I the cellars were used as a place of refuge as the area was under siege by the Germans.   During World War II, Winston Churchill once famously said  "Remember, gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!"  I've added the book Wine and War to my reading list to learn more about the how the French worked to protect one of their most precious commodities.
 








And then is was time for a tasting.  (I might have done the happy dance as we entered the tasting room).  I selected the "Grand Vintage" visit (€29.50) and tasted a white and a rose.  I like champagne, but it's not something that I have often.  There is just something about sipping champagne that has been poured and presented so proudly in a cave in France that definitely adds to the experience.



It was wonderful!
I wanted to respond like Dom Pérignon,
"come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"
 

I have three more champagne houses to share with you.

I think I'll have a glass of the bubbly stuff this evening.  
How about you?  Do you like champagne? 

 The rest of the Champagne District posts:
Champagne Wishes
Castellane
Taittinger
G.H. Mumm

16 comments:

  1. Now, that looks like a wonderful time! I had a marvelous time touring and sampling wines at several vineyards in St Emilion the last time I visited France, but never made it to Champagne. Next trip for sure! I've added WINE AND WAR to my reading list (I can read it, then save it for my brother for a Christmas present! Love killing two birds with one stone! :-) Another book you might like is THE WIDOW CLIQUOT -- It's a quick read and interesting story. (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3177784-the-widow-clicquot). The first time I tasted Veuve Cliquot champagne was in London. A parent gifted me with a bottle while I had her son in my class -- perhaps the most effective bribe ever! It sort of spoiled me for the cheap stuff I was used to drinking at family celebrations forevermore. Love the quotes you sprinkled through this post! Can't wait to read more about your trip!

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  2. I am very jealous as I love champagne and cellars actually so this is like a dream trip!

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  4. I'm so glad we went. And going with friends made it that much more fun! BTW, I'm now dealing with a serious pizza craving!!! Yum! xoxo
    Selena

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  5. Hi Kate, That book looks great. I love reading a good biography of a strong woman. And champagne from a parent, that's the perfect gift! Somehow the champagne tasted much better than usual when we were actually at the houses. And it was always the perfect temperature. Nothing worse than warm champagne.  xoxo
    Selena

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