Until recently, the word “Champagne” for me was synonymous with “special occasions”, “bubbles”, “celebrations” etc. Earlier this month, I discovered that there is so much more to Champagne than sparkling wine. I discovered another dimension that wine lovers and non-wine lovers could enjoy, an incredibly rich history, a “real life museum” that most generations could find interesting, intriguing and entertaining…. Let have a look deeper into the cellars and history of some of the best known Champagne houses..
Eugene Mercier always dreamt about opening a House of Champagne which he did in in 1858 when he was then only 20 years old! For him, things had to be “big” and “impressive”.
When he decided to dig some cellars in 1871 his order to the architect was “Count in kilometres, not in metres”! 18 kilometres of cellars were born and today you can visit them by train after going through a unique and entertaining elevator’s journey that will take you 30 metres under the ground….
The grandeur of Eugene Mercier doesn’t stop here. Still in 1871, he decided to build the largest wooden barrel ever produced. That will contain the equivalent of 200 000 bottles of Champagne! The barrel was presented in 1889 at the Paris Universal exhibition and won the second prize just after….. the Eiffel Tower !
The cellars can be visited any day of the week, including weekend and bank holidays. You can find more details with this link: http://www.champagnemercier.fr/en/visit-cellars/booking
Champagne Dom Perignon
Not everybody is fortunate enough to have tasted Champagne Dom Perignon, but many of you will have heard about this legendary monk that helped revolutionize the Champagne making process.
If you love architecture and visiting old monuments then you should definitely stop in Hautvillers to have a look at the abbey were Dom Perignon is buried… just a metre away from Dom Ruinart. It is free to access or for €5/person you can have a guided tour (€7/person if you would like to taste some Champagne from the area). More details and options by following this link: http://www.tourisme-hautvillers.com/office_de_tourisme_details_activite_touristique-9-Visite_guidee_dHautvillers
If you are looking for very special experience with no budget restriction, then you could also be one of the first to attend the “Dom Perignon atelier”. A full day including visit of the Domaine, of the recently renovated cellars and of course tasting of some very special vintages! http://www.domperignon.com/image/atelier-dom-perignon/
Is it possible to talk about Reims without starting by discussing the Notre-Dame cathedral? This is one of the most famous and impressive religious building in France (longer than Notre Dame de Paris) and is classified as part of the UNESCO Wold Heritage since 1991. If you are interested in visiting the cathedral, access is free, daily from 7.30am to 7pm.
A visit to Champagne Veuve Clicquot is a real jump back in time, to the mid-19th century, to the period when Madame Clicquot was in charge of the running of the property and Champagne production. From the start to the end of the visit, this is purely magical.
The exact replica of the very first bookkeeping book from the champagne house will set the tone at the entrance of the cellars.
Then step by step you will be taken to the underground world again….
But do not worry, there is a map if you get lost in the dozens of kilometres of galleries….:-)
Would you have thought that about 30 metres under your feet something that mysterious and beautiful was existing? There, in the peace, quiet and constant temperature, the wines of Veuve Cliquot are maturing slowly.
And if you don’t get caught…. You can even write your name on the dusty bottles! 🙂
In May 2012, some divers discovered a wreck containing some bottles of Champagne at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. It turned out that some of these bottles were Veuve Clicquot bottles dating from 1839-1841. It means that those wines were made by Madame Clicquot herself and if you pay close attention on the way out of this underground maze, you will be able to see one of those magical bottles, preciously kept full, in a protected room.
But the most beautiful is still to come. This stunning stair case will take you back to the surface. Each step is marked with a single vintage. This is a record of all of the vintages that have been declared by Veuve Cliquot Champagne House.
It stops with the vintage 2004. Which will be the one following?
You can visit Veuve Clicquot’s cellars, from the 25th of March to the 15th of November from 9.30am to 12.30pm and from 1.30pm to 5.30pm. Different tours are available and include at least 1 glass of Champagne. Bookings are necessary. For more information, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone 0033 (0)3 26 89 53 90.
Ruinart House of Champagne
Ruinart has some of the most beautiful “Crayères” in Champagne. Crayères is the name given to the cellars built directly into the chalk. They were dug centuries ago by the Romans in an effort to excavate the blocks of chalk to build houses. During the Second World War, they were also used by people to hide from the bombings. Some houses of Champagne such as Krug have some really touching pictures from this time hanging on the walls in these vast underground cellars. These photo memories include beautiful pictures of the local children attending underground classrooms in the cellars.
The cellars in Ruinart are even deeper than in Mercier and Veuve Clicquot and are as deep as 38 metres.
Apparently, exploding bottles is very common and occasionally can cause serious injuries in the cellars… but don’t worry, this is only happening during the fermentation and the cellars are closed to visitors then!
Exploded bottle of Dom Ruinart Champagne. What a pity!
Inside the Crayère
For more details about how to visit the Crayeres at Ruinart’s, you can follow the following link http://www.ruinart.com/fr-e/la-maison-ruinart/#visites-et-receptions/visites
This is just a small insight into what can be seen in Champagne as a visitor. There are hundreds of Champagne producers out there that are living above this magical world of Crayeres and cellars and I am sure that many of them would be happy to welcome you for a tour and a tasting. As always, make sure to plan your visit a little bit in advance as many houses are very busy and might not be able to accommodate you without notice.
Finally, if you have already been to Champagne and have some of your own recommendations, please feel free to leave a comment just below.
Thank you for reading and lets keep on tasting, discovering and sharing!