After our stint in Alsace we headed across to the Champagne region which lies north-east of Paris. Private and public visits (which included tours and tastings) to Moet & Chandon, Boizel and Pol Roger in Epernay and Lanson in Reims were the highlights of our visit. The weather was beautiful for April as it was on my last visit five years ago around the same time: lots of sunshine but brisk.
The Avenue de Champagne in Epernay is a cobbled street lit up at night with each Champagne house (maison — there are 360 of them), all those famous names shining brightly. Each maison has its own baroque style setting, some with gardens and flowers in bloom to match. In some houses the underground cellars go on for miles. During World War 2, many of the more famed houses were taken over by German forces but the cellars also acted as schools, hospitals and places to hide. Today, thousands of tourists flock to this part of the world.
Right in the middle of the Avenue de Champagne sits the equivalent of a TAFE college and it too is lit up and is just as majestic as many of the Champagne houses themselves.
There are 15,000 or more growers in the Champagne region and between them they own 90 per cent of the vineyards. At each harvest, they produce 349 million bottles.
The three main grape varieties permitted in the Champagne-making process are pinot noir, which accounts for 38 per cent of plantings, followed by pinot meuniere at 32 per cent and chardonnay at 30 per cent. Each variety adds something to the blend: pinot noir adds body and backbone, pinot meuniere adds roundness to the wine while chardonnay is more delicate.
We saw prices in the bottle shops and restaurants for Champagne for as little as €11 ($16) to more than €1000 ($1460). Needless to say, we dined and drank well as you do in this part of the world. We stayed in the Comfort hotel close by which is styled on a magnificent chateau and all for €89 ($130) per night including breakfast. It was a perfect retreat.
Australia, by the way, is now the sixth biggest importer of Champagne: last year we imported 6,023,165 bottles of the stuff; the number one importer was the UK at 30,786,727 bottles. Interestingly, in comparison the most expensive bottle of Australian sparkling wine, Arras Late Disgorged 2001 Vintage, made by legendary winemaker Ed Carr, costs us around $130 per bottle — sacre bleu! Source: Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne — 2014.