One of our most popular tours is a day tour from Paris that we call our Classic Paris Luxury Tour of Champagne. It is described at https://parisluxurytours.com/champagne-tours-france/ and typically starts early in the morning with pick-up at an address in Paris and a drive to the Champagne region, either to Reims, the current capital of Champagne wine, or Epernay, the second capital. During the drive, our guide provides explanations on why sparkling wine that is produced in Champagne is unlike sparkling wine made anywhere else, and what there is about it that makes the wine unique.
That explanation delves into a subject known to the French as terroir, which derives from the word terra, Latin for land. It refers to the idea that a grape varietal (as well as other agricultural crops) has a relationship to the land in each region that is more or less propitious. Combine that with human cultivational skill and local climatic conditions to complete the evocation of the full potential to produce a particular crop in a specific geographic location. It is a subject very dear to the hearts of many who work in agriculture in France. Remarkably, there is no equivalent to it in English.
Upon arrival in Champagne, the main feature of the morning is a visit in a small group of other visitors at one of the wine estates that makes remarkably nice wine. Given that there are 15,000 different growers of grapes in Champagne and 460 major producers, you have no shortage of wine estates to visit from which to choose. They range from large corporations to small family-run estates. Counting the different styles of wine in Champagne is no easy task, as there are scores of them. Having consulted with you in advance, we take you to the estate that you have chosen that we have booked.
The visit is led by a guide provided by the estate and is performed in English, lasting about an hour. Their guide leads you through their infrastructure, and explains the philosophy of wine-making that is practiced by the estate and also will relate to you some of the techniques that have been created and are employed by the estate to evince their philosophy. Depending on the extent of interest manifested by the group, this visit phase may expand to well over an hour.
There is then an opportunity to taste some of the wines of the estate, which might be as few as one or two wines, or as many as 3 to 5. Our clients pay a fee for the tasting directly to the estate, although some clients ask us to take care of those payments and add that cost to their payment of our tour fee. Tastings in France tend to be full glasses of wine, not thimble-sized, and you will usually want to take 30-60 minutes to savor the wine-tasting in a relaxed way.
We also usually provide a brief tour of some of the remarkable sights in the region. In Reims that includes half an hour inside and outside Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral, which displays an unusually pure early Gothic design and includes some remarkable stained-glass windows, such as that of the wine-grower’s guild, which dates from the 15th century and is near the south transept. There is also an ensemble of three windows created by Marc Chagall. There is another ensemble of two sets of three windows by German expressionist artist Imi Knoebel, which leave me stone cold.
We may also include some of the Roman-era vestiges, such as the Gate of Mars, which was one of main entries to the walled city that the Romans built, or the Roman-era commodity market at the Forum.
For lunch, there is a wide variety of choices such as the upscale brasserie Le Jardin at Château Les Crayeres in Reims or La Bellevue Brasserie at the Hotel Royal Champagne in Champillon, which overlooks the Marne River Valley, with Epernay on the opposite side. There are also a large number of Michelin single, double and triple starred restaurants, if you don’t mind taking the time to dine at one of them.
Speaking of taking time to enjoy a meal, recently Perrier-Jouët has emerged from its habitual isolation to provide a delightful lunch service (so far, two days per week) at La Maison Belle Epoque on the avenue de Champagne in Epernay. It is a five-course meal paired with five Belle Epoque vintage wines prepared by a master chef, Sébastien Morellon. It is an expensive meal, but one of great value.
After lunch we take you to a second wine estate, possibly in the grand cru wine village, Aÿ, or its near-by neighbor, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, or in Epernay. In addition, if you would like a tasting-only (without a cellar visit), we can also arrange one with an up-and-coming rising star of Champagne, located in a grand cru wine village, such as Dizy or Hautvillers. In the latter we can also stop to pay homage at the tombs of Dom Perignon and Dom Ruinart, both of whom are buried in the St. Pierre Abbey Church.
We then will start the drive back to Paris, which we can route along the Marne River Valley, running through grand cru vineyards on the north slope of the Marne between Epernay and Dormans. The countryside is among the most beautiful in France, before we rejoin the A4 super highway back to Paris, which altogether normally takes two and a half hours.
Sometimes traffic returning to Paris can become congested, and the drive back can stretch to over three hours, especially if the return is on a week-end. If you wish, we can procure rail tickets for you in advance and drop you at the Champagne-Ardenne TGV station in Bezannes, which is halfway between Reims and Epernay. You will then be whisked to the Gare de l’Est in Paris in only 40 minutes, avoiding the drive back to Paris altogether.
In our next post we will describe our two-day tour of Champagne with one overnight, and point out why it is a better idea than the day tour from Paris in Champagne just described above. After that we also will soon provide a post on what we call our Super Luxury Tour of Champagne.