Any of my friends will tell you that I am a champagne princess – or slut depending on who you’re talking too….. Love the stuff. Love it so much I’ve spent over $250 on a bottle of Roederer Cristal twice in my life – so far. Will and I had a choice of the Normandy War Memorial or the Champagne Region for a day trip. Well – bubbles won out over war. I’m sure that walking Ohamha Beach would have been inspiring and thought provoking but we decided the beach wasn’t going anywhere and selfishly we simply wanted to be happy all day. Somehow being blissfully happy at a site of so much personal sacrifice seemed a bit sacrilegious. Frankly neither one of us wanted to feel bad about feeling so good. So, Off to Epernay – home of Mercier and other famous champagne houses.
Did you know that Moët & Chandon is owned by the giant L.V.M.H. (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) which also owns Pommery and Veuve Clicquot. Combined, these four houses represent almost 50% of the export market – according to http://www.intowine.com. So LV isn’t just about outrageously expensive handbags and luggage that people are willing to line up outside the store for - at least in Paris.
We opted to forgo Moet Chandon as being too big and commercial for its britches. Their cheesy train car that squired the other champagne tourists around didn’t help so we headed down Avenue De Champagne to the Mercier House. A much more intimate setting. The best part of this tour was learning about the colorful life of the visionary founder - Eugene Mercier. Some of his antics included road rallys in the wine tunnels. His mass media tactics in the late 1800s were quite ahead of his time. The story of the giant cask of champagne he hauled to the 1899 Exposition Universelle is worth a trip to the website. Apparently his only rival for top billing was the Eiffel Tower and legend has it he won. Check out his story at http://www.champagnemercier.fr/en/#/the-mercier-storyl’
The tour took us underground 110+ feet into the tunnels which had been dug by hand – all 18 kilometers! The tram ride with an automated “guide” was a little disappointing but since we signed up for the luxury tour – we had three glasses waiting for us at the end. We had a fantastic steward who described the vintage differences in great detail. Will was paying attention – he’s the wine connoisseur – or snob depending on who you’re talking to…. Me? I was just enjoying drinking my favorite beverage at 10 o’clock in the morning!
We headed to the De Castellane House for comparative purposes – read excuse to continue imbibing! This ended up being a walking tour. I don’t think anyone noticed my slight weaving – it was dark… Anyway, we found this experience much more interesting from the champagne production standpoint because we had an actual guide and a very small group. The tunnel ‘streets’ are lined with literally millions of bottles in varying degrees of fermentation. It wasn’t too very long ago that all of them had to be turned by hand – a quarter turn each over months. Can you imagine? This is the history cellar where several bottles from each vintage are stored. I believe they have bottles from as far back as the founding. We enjoyed our tastings and then decided to climb the tower – all 236 steps to the top. A gorgeous view of the town and valley. Each landing had something interesting to see - vintage posters on one – vintage bottles on another. All in all – this was the better tour but Mercier was definately the better champagne. At least I thought so.
It was only mid afternoon at this point. What to do, what to do? Well – more champagne of course! The meander around town first helped clear our heads. Will and I gapped through a shop window at a chocolate horse – only 137 euros. The head was a mere 35E. We walked on…. Epernay is very small and it was apparent that champagne and tourism is the lifeblood – there wasn’t much to do beyond that – and I am not complaining. Quaint but still very french if the quintessential ‘rudish’ waiter is any indication. Do they go to school for that?
We finished off the day sitting outside an adorable cafe enjoying a bottle of Roederer – not Cristal but very lovely none the less. We headed back to the train station not quite as sure footed as when we arrived - but blissfully happy and feeling damn good about it.
I think I love champagne so much because - to me - it represents celebration, joy, bliss…. All those bubbles dancing in the glass – breaking the surface like so many happy little thoughts that can’t quite be contained. That may sound incredibly trite to some but I believe we all need a reminder that ultimately life is simply about being happy. If not then really -what’s the point? Champagne is a gorgeous reminder of my life’s pleasures – sometimes simple, sometimes sinful, sometimes awe inspiring - always wonderful…