29 April 2020
The region of Eastern France stretches from the outer reaches of Paris to the borders with southern Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany and encompasses five distinct destinations: Alsace, Ardenne, Champagne, Lorraine and the Vosges Massif.
Photo credit: PH. Lemoine/coll.MDT52
The Champagne vineyards cover an area of around 34,000 hectares (4% of France’s total vineyard area) and are concentrated between the towns of Reims and Epernay with a second concentration to the south-east of Troyes. There are four main growing areas: the Montagne de Reims, the Côte des Blancs, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Bar, along with the smaller area of Montgueux just to the west of Troyes.
Photo credit: Fossier
To accompany the delicious champagne and other local wines, is a regional cuisine that will delight the palate. Specialities include asparagus, lentils, truffles, spiced bread and cheeses such as Langres and Chaource. Reims mustard and vinegar, the Pink Biscuits and gorgeous Bouchons de Champagne (chocolates filled with marc de Champagne) are fitting products of the area.
There are some exciting places not to be missed that showcase the wonderful wines and gastronomy of Champagne., when next we can visit the area.
Photo credit: PH. Lemoine/coll.MDT52
Top quality produce of a luxury nature is grown in Champagne – such as asparagus, found between April and June, that has been produced here since the eighteenth century. The ‘grosse blanche’ has a unique hazelnut taste and is only grown by a few dozen producers. Likewise, even the local cabbage is renowned, as the area is the second producer of cabbage for sauerkraut in France and the local lentils too have a unique taste and are exclusively produced by only twenty or so growers. Truffles also fit the bill as a local luxury speciality in season October – December and can be found to grow to the size of a fist.
Photo credit: Musée du chocolat et de la confiserie
The Chocolate and Sweet Museum – St Brice Courcelles
Opened in October 2019 on the outskirts of Reims, the Chocolate and Sweet Museum offers the visitor a relaxed journey through the history of chocolate and sweetie making. It is the brainchild of Frédèric Lefèvre, Maître Artisan Chocolatier et Champion de France de Dessert. He has collected various materials and objects over 20 years, that illustrate the story of chocolate and sweets, from the discovery of cacao in 1519 to the appearance in France the following century of chocolate slabs. Discover some of the secrets of sweet making disclosed on the thirty-minute tour, which naturally, terminates with a tasting!
‘Croque ton parc’– brand name of produce from the Regional Natural Park
The produce of the Orient Forest is sold under this name ‘Croque ton parc’and can be found in shops, restaurants, markets and grocery stores. The idea of the brand is to make locally produced goods highly visible and easily identifiable.
Le Comptoir des Confitures – Coursan-en-Othe
Found 35 km southwest of Troyes, the artisan producer Catherine Manoël has perfected the art of confectionery jam making, working with more than 57 varieties of fruit – such as lychees, raspberries, pineapple and apricots, to produce more than 600 different flavours of jam. So good is the quality of her confection, she was awarded the Gault et Millau trophy in 2019.
Photo credit: Michel Boudot
The grape growers own between them around 90% of the champagne vineyards, typically owning small plots of around two hectares of land. We all know the famous names of the largest champagne houses like Perrier Jouët and Moët & Chandon, but, in complete contrast, some of the lesser known Champagne Houses and smaller producers have some lovely vintages and offer personalised individual tours and tastings, so when visiting the area do try them, as well as the Taittingers of this world. We have selected just a few to highlight here.
Champagne Alfred Gratien
The house of Gratien on the rue Maurice Cerveaux, Épernay, has a reputation for meticulousness which they cite as a particular reason for the success of the brand. Alfred Gratien founded the company in 1864. They use particularly chosen Chardonnay grapes to produce just 300,000 bottles of champagne annually that is matured in oak barrels containing 228 litres each. The taste is described as ‘unique’.
Photo credit: Champagne Faucheron Gavroy – Cathy et Benoit
Champagne Faucheron Gavroy – Tours-sur-Marne
Just 22 kilometres from the town centre of Chalons-en-Champagne, this wonderful small producer offers tours and tastings in the nineteenth century caves, every day of the week, all year round.
This family business has been here for four generations – since the sixteenth century, with roots in the heart of the Montagne de Reims. It was Adonis Faucheron in 1889 who first introduced champagne into the business. His grandson Jean-Marie is the current incumbent, who married Bernadette Gavroy, a winemaker from Verzy … and thus began Champagnes Faucheron Gavroy.
The vineyards now represent four hectares of land of which 27 parcels are particularly exceptional, producing two Grand Crus and a Premier Cru. So renowned is the production of this house, several awards have been attained in the past few years including in 2019, the Gold Medal in the international competition for the ‘Féminalise la cuvée Brut Réserve’ and for the ‘Féminalise la cuvée Chardonnay Blanc’.
Champagne Jacquinot & Fils
The cellars of Jacquinot in Épernay, were dug out by hand at the end if the nineteenth century, nineteen metres below ground level. The actual champagne house was founded after the Second World War in 1947 by Pierre Jacquinot. The champagne is composed of only chardonnay and pinot noir grapes grown on seventeen hectares of land close to the town. Visits and tastings can be organised on a personal basis.
Photo credit: Champagne Joseph Perrier
Champagne Joseph Perrier
The famous chalk cellars of this small, but distinguished, Champagne House have been closed for extensive refurbishment since February last year but are due to reopen sometime in or after summer 2020. Unique in Châlons-en-Champagne, the Champagne Joseph Perrier cellars are unusual as the three kilometres of tunnels are carved into the hillside – thus there is no descent as one would expect. The hill supports a garden area with many trees that give the cellars a natural climatic protection. Visits can be reserved directly with the Champagne House or through the tourist office.
Photo credit: Olivier Lassaigne
The village of Montgueux lies 270m above the old capital of Champagne – Troyes – just ten kilometres to the west. The chalk hills of this area produce a stunning chardonnay with a great reputation. They had been growing vines in this area since the Middle Ages but the wines produced were rather average and so the population actually made their living producing cereal crops. It wasn’t until the ‘50’s that the emphasis was changed to champagne production and a much better quality of viticulture. Olivier Lassaigne has six amazing cuvées that one may taste in the cellars.
Grape picker for a day
The grape harvest in Champagne is carried out by roughly 100,000 pickers working only manually. It may be something one would like to try at least once in a lifetime, just for the experience of being at the start of the champagne making process, and in a convivial atmosphere. A grape picking experience can easily be arranged, whether as a couple, a family or a group of friends and usually includes a visit of the cellars with tasting at the day’s end.
Producers’ Market – Reims
The Producers’ Market is an annual event normally held in September in the Crayères Park where 40 or so champagne producers gather to show and sell their wares. It’s free … and fun!
One of the most stunning buildings along the mansion-studded Avenue de Champagne in Epernay is the magnificent Château Perrier. Founded in 1852 as a sumptuous residence, reception venue and headquarters for the Perrier-Jouët Champagne House, the château is a remarkable architectural feat and is classed as a ‘Historical Momument’. Each side has a different architectural style, inspired from some of the most famous buildings and palaces in Paris, with exceptional interior floors and sculptures.
Closed in 1998 for security reasons, the building has undergone extensive restoration and refurbishment, and is due to reopen later in 2020 as the new Champagne Wine and Regional Archaeology Museum. It will house one of France’s largest collections of archaeology and a remarkable exhibition on the history of champagne, with over 100,000 objects on display.
Au coeur des sens – Eric’s tasting workshop
Rosé de Riceys
With 866 hectares of vines, Les Riceys is the commune with the largest area of vineyards in Champagne. It is also the only wine producing commune in the whole of France to produce three ‘Appellation Contrôlée’ wines: AOC Champagne, AOC Coteaux Champenois (still wine from Champagne) and AOC Rosé des Riceys. The latter is a wine of great quality made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes harvested from carefully selected sites and only in exceptional years. It was a favourite of King Louis XIV, introduced to this frequent and often deeply coloured wine by workers from Les Riceys on the Château de Versailles building site, and is today considered one of the best rosés in France.