TRAVEL DIARY: DRINKING IN CHAMPAGNE

Let’s raise a glass to being classy


I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman the first time I was told that all champagnes are sparkling wines but that not all sparkling wines are champagne. Huh?

Granted I was much younger than I am today but the problem stems from the fact that as Australians for many years we were used to calling anything white with bubbles in it, champagne, but really it’s only actually champagne if it comes from the area of the same name.

Cue this scene from Wayne’s World (thanks David)

Let’s be honest, before social media made it a necessity to keep up with the Joneses (Kardashians?) most of us were satisfied with a bottle of Yellow or Pink, or god-forbid, wine from a box.

But even though I’m really not a wine drinker, I don’t mind a glass of good champagne or sparkling now and then. So, a few years ago, I made it my mission to check out the hometown region of many memorable nights and expensive regrets: Champagne, Paris.

The Champagne wine region encompasses a bunch of cities is about two hours from Paris and although as tempting as it might be driving on European roads, the activities I intended on participating in while there (read: drinking) would prevent me from being the best version of myself (read: drunk) so instead I booked a day trip on Viator, which would ensure I would make my way back home to my hotel even if I had no recollection of it.

I knew I was in for a treat – and similarly – not alone –  when we drove past a sign saying we were near a town called Bouzy. (It’s a real place, look it up). My trip today would take me to two major producers of the bubbly stuff – Mumm International in Reims and Moet & Chandon in Epernay.

First stop was the caves (or cellars) of G.H Mumm (34 Rue du Champ de Mars, Reims) famous for their bottle of Cordon Rouge which for those without access to Google Translate means Red Cord. I was told on the tour that the man behind the champers, Georges Mumm, decided to decorate the bottles with a red ribbon which was to symbolise the excellence of the product before people consumed it, almost like an 1800’s version of a popular Yelp review.

The tour was interesting, although a bit rushed, and featured a corny video, but an excellent tour of the cellars including displays on how to make champagne complete with interactive displays. Then the best bit, a nice big glass of product taken fresh from the cellars and of course, an exit through the gift shop.

The next stop was about a 30 minute drive (or approximately 105 giggles) to get to the cavernous cellars of Moet & Chandon (20 Avenue de Champagne, Épernay) brought me to the home of the world’s largest champagne producers in the world.

The beginning of the tour was the dodgiest part, where we had to watch a longish fashion TV inspired ad for Moet featuring Scarlett Johanssaon enveloped in various amounts of fabric and frolicking around beaches/green hills/european locations with a glass of champagne in her hand. After that, the real fun began with an expansive tour through the kilometres of tunnels that make up the M&C cellars.

As we walked past literally thousands of champagne bottles including a special cellar housing very very expensive champagne (Dom Perig-Non as Kathy Bates in Misery would say) that I have to say I was definitely tempted to sample. And by sample I mean take. As I came to expect, the end of the tour was the best part, with another nice full glass of whatever M&C product we wanted, except for the really expensive ones and another exit through the gift shop which I actually purchased from, because they offered bottles of Moet not available for retail anywhere else.

I booked both with transfers via Viator, but you can also get there via train from most major areas of France, or hire a private driver (ooh la la) and book directly through the champagne houses themselves. There’s also Tattinger and Veuve Clicquot to visit if your liver and credit card can handle it. A pretty great day, I think, at least from what I can remember, two or three glasses of champagne in and a few extra bottles in tow, I got back in the car – thankfully in the passenger seat and on the road back to Bouzy.

Stuff you probably should know:

G.H Mumm Tour

TIMES: Open most days of the year.  From March the 1st to October the 31st :
Everyday from 9.30 AM to 1.00 PM and from 2.00 PM to 6.00 PM (last tours at 11.30 AM & 4.30 PM)
From November the 1st to February the 28th: From Monday to Saturday from 9.30 AM to 12.00 and from 2.00 PM to 6.00 PM (last tours at 10.50 AM & 4.15 PM)
LENGTH: Approximately one hour.

Moet & Chandon Cellar Tour
They’re currently updating the M&C Cellar locations I’m told – and re-opening later in 2015. 

TIMES: 
Every day from 1st October to 13th November 2015. Monday to Friday from 14th November to 31st December 2015 (closed on weekends and Christmas Day and from 1st January to 31st January 2016). Guided visits on request only from 9:30 am to 11:30 am and from 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm
LENGTH: At least one hour

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