Love, wine and bubbles. Three words that evoke the region of France and the wine known as Champagne.
Originally discovered and perfected by Bénedectine monk Dom Perignon (although it has been said that it was discovered sometime earlier by Englishman Christopher Merret) Champagne must be made in the Champagne region (by law) and is traditionally created using three grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. These are blended and the wine is then fermented twice, causing the production of CO2 and the famous fizz.
There are literally hundreds of growers supplying the bigger Champagne houses, well known names like Bollinger, Taintinger, Moet et Chandon et al. Some of these produce their own champagnes in limited numbers too and you will find the prices much lower than the big names. Not only will you find very favourable pricing but some of these smaller producers also offer accommodation and free tours of their cellars.
Take for example the champagne tourism pioneers Ghislain and Marie-Jose Tribaut. They have welcomed visitors since the mid ’70’s. Sample some of their own reserves on a sunny terrace with its panoramic views of vineyards.
Or head to the Parva Domus in Epernay, where Claude and Ginette Rimaire own a beautiful manor house B&B on the Avenue de Champagne. You are offered a free flute of their bubbly wine (they produce around 1200 bottles) upon arrival. Claude is more than eager to show off the maze of cellars under the house (they run for a kilometer!) A bottle of their Extra Brut costs just 20 Euros.
Alternatively try Les Barbotines in the village of Bouzy where an imposing Maison de Maitre (small chateau) has been converted by Marie-Louise Clouet into a rather smart and modern B&B. They also offer tours of their cellars in nearby Cramant. Obviously you can choose to stay in a modern chain hotel and pay a fairly hefty price for a tour of one of the big boys but, in my humble opinion, you will miss the charm and ‘je ne sais pas’ of personal service.
Whichever way you want to explore this stunning region of northern France you will find it incredibly beautiful with its myriad of neat vines interspersed between rolling hills and forests.