Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CHAMPAGNE – July 20 – 24, 2008

The delightfully giddy week in Italy turned into a week of serious academic research in Champagne. Time to get back to work – even though we did get to taste many wonderful Champagnes every day. We were here to do research and write a book, so each day was jam-packed with interviews at wineries and institutions.

When we arrived in Reims that first evening – after many delays on the day long trip from Siena – we checked into the Holiday Inn. It was a nice clean hotel with a magnificent buffet breakfast every morning with a great view from their top floor dining room. That first evening, all 8 of us had dinner in one of the many restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. Naturally we celebrated our arrival with 2 bottles of Champagne.

The next day was packed with lectures and information, beginning at the university in the morning. This was followed by a fancy lunch with red Bordeaux, before we drove to Epernay to spend the afternoon and early evening at the famous CIVC. They provided a fascinating overview of the Champagne region and a private tasting.

That evening I was feeling a little tired with an upset stomach, so I met the research team in the lobby bar for a glass of bubbly, but then decided not to join them for dinner. Instead, I actually went back to the lobby bar and ordered a second glass of the very tasty NV Legram from small local producer. After all -- doctors from the 1800’s recommended two glasses of Champagne for an upset stomach…and I had an upset stomach. I felt much better after the second glass and enjoyed catching up on the BBC world news in bed and finally having a full 8 hours sleep instead of the 4 or 5 I was getting in Italy. The NV Legram, by the way, was an incredible crisp, citrus, high acid wine with the most refreshing finish I’ve ever tasted ($8 Euros per glass). Turns out it was more than 80% chardonnay. I learned by the end of the trip that my taste is more for the light crisp Champagnes, rather than the big yeasty ones….and that those which include a lot of pinot meunier are not to my liking.

The next morning we did a short vineyard visit near Steve’s village and I was able to see the ravages of downy mildew for the first time. We only have powdery mildew in California. Next stop was a great tour and tasting of Nicholas Feuillatte, one of the most successful cooperatives in Champagne, producing 30 million bottles per year. Lunch was a picnic in a beautiful sunny park in Epernay, and then we had a wonderful visit with the SVG – Syndicate General des Vignerons de La Champagne. This was followed by the most magnificent tasting of more than 30 wines from 6 different grower-producers. It is now understandable as to why we opened my Barbaresco for dinner that evening – after being spoiled with so many fabulous Champagnes that day, we were craving red wine! We also had a nice Australian shiraz that someone else brought to the very nice BYOB restaurant in Epernay.

Next morning started with a private tour, tasting, and meeting with the CEO of Laurent-Perrier – fascinating caves, and an even more fascinating business strategy! Also – incredible Champagnes! This was followed by a wonderful picnic in the vineyards with a sweeping view of the landscape. The weather was perfect – sunny and warm with clear blue skies. It was hard to believe that the land of Champagne was the scene of so many wars and bombings in the last two world wars. This was my second visit to the region, but I didn’t get to see all the charming little villages and lovely vineyards on my first visit to Reims with appointments at Piper Heidsick and Veuve-Cliquot (both excellent tours).

The afternoon started with a tour and tasting at Tattinger, as well as a private meeting with the CEO – a very colorful fellow. Next stop was with private grower – Gatinois – who has been successful selling his beautiful wines in both Asia and the US. I was able to buy a small bottle here to take home for my husband. The final meeting was at the original monastery of Dom Perignon where we met with one of the 2 winemakers of this most famous wine. This was the highlight of the trip for me, because we got to taste 5 fascinating Doms from different vintages and learn how each was made. I must admit that I probably asked too many questions, but it was so fascinating learning how such a legendary wine was crafted. The setting was also very peaceful and serene. We actually tasted in a long hall in the monks’ quarters.

That evening we had dinner at another café in Reims and debriefed the trip to that point. I had to leave the next morning, and so I missed the visit to the banks and Pommery, but received the information via email later. I feel very honored to have been invited on such a special research trip, and actually started writing my chapter on the plane trip home.

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