We slept in and wanted to start our day with a breakfast in a cafe, which served pancakes, but it was closed, so we headed to the other side of the road to a restaurant called Aux Petits Oignons. Didn’t really have any idea what to expect, but it was already almost noon and we needed to start driving again, so we decided not to overcomplicate things. The restaurant actually turned out to be quite good and all but one table were reserved by locals for Saturday lunch.
After lunch we started driving towards a place called Faux de Verzy, which is a part of 500 km2 Montagne de Reims Regional Park. There is an extremely curated path to see a few out of the 800 mutant beech trees. There are clear paths and the trees are fenced with warnings not to go over the fences. There is a parking lot not far from the park, but I would suggest you to take a photo of the map near the entrance of the park to help you navigate. I think we spent a couple of hours there walking. It was raining, so we spent some of the time hiding from the rain under the big trees. It was very peaceful this time of year, but I think we were expecting wilderness instead of the manicured forest we encountered.
From here we continued to the town of Épernay, which is the focal point of the Champagne region and a home to most famous champagne houses. We decided the evening before that because we have visited one of the smaller champagne houses, we would like to visit a big one just for comparison. We selected Moët & Chandon, which is located in Èpernay. We parked our car and walked to their reception where we found out that the English language tours are almost sold out for the day, but there is still spots for 16:15 tour, which I think was the last or the second to last for the day. So if you’re traveling during high season, it would be smart to reserve tickets in advance.
We had about an hour before our tour, so we decided to walk along the famous Avenue de Champagne and check out what champagne houses had their base in Épernay. It started raining again, so we stopped to have a glass of champagne. It is said that Épernay is one of the most valuable places on Earth because of 110 kilometers of cellars underneath it all storing millions of champagne bottles.
Moët & Chandon’s building was huge compared not only to the small champagne house of Henri Chauvet we visited the day before, but also compared to the other champagne houses along the same street.
Dom Pérignon was a monk, who according to the legend invented the sparkling wine, but according to Wikipedia it’s a myth, which nevertheless is very popular.
The tour was very well organized and all tour guides are wearing brown and gold with Louis Vuitton bags, which are all a part of the same gigantic LVMH conglomerate.
The cellars all have a steady temperature of about 10°C all year round with 80-90% humidity. Moët & Chandon’s cellars are 28km long and are the largest champagne cellars in the world.
First fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks where the grape juice is turned into wine. After the first fermentation the cellar master and his team of ten people taste and mix the wine to create unique tastes of vintage champagne and established taste of non-vintage champagne. Non-vintage champagne should taste exactly the same year after year using wine from four different years to achieve the uniform taste while vintage champagne is always different and created to reflect the harvest of that particular year.
After that a syrup, which is a mixture of yeast and beetroot sugar, is added to the bottles. The bottles are sealed with a metal cap. The second fermentation occurs inside the bottles and the gas formed inside the bottle is trapped and turns the regular still wine into sparkling wine. The yeast and sugar will gather on the side of the wine bottle.
The bottles are stored in the cellars two years for the traditional champagne and seven years for the vintage champagne. Good champagne needs at least 15 months in the bottle. Every bottle is then placed on the inclined wooden racks and then the process for turning the bottled a quarter of the way at once in order to get all the sediment into the neck of the bottle. 45 000 bottles a day are turned like this mostly with the help of machines, but the most prestigious vintage bottles are still turned manually, but these bottles are only 3% of all Moët & Chandon’s production.
To extract the sediment from the bottle, the neck of the bottle is placed into a cold solution at -27°C where the sediment turns into ice. Then the cap is opened and the pressure inside the bottle expels the ice and the sediment with it. This process is called disgorgement by freezing. Directly after that additional sugar is added to the bottle. For vintage champagne it is 4g of sugar per liter and for traditional champagne 9g per liter. The bottle is shut with a cork and placed on its side to keep the cork moist for three months for traditional champagne and at least six months for vintage. After these months the bottle is cleaned, labelled and it is ready to be sold. This means that it takes at least three years from the moment the grape is picked until it reaches the market.
95% of all champagne produced by Moët & Chandon is exported, biggest countries being the USA, the UK, Japan, and Russia.
Dom Perignon champagne is another house with another cellar master, but is stored in the same cellar. Dom Perignon champagne is only vintage champagne and is produced only during the best years. It is a mix of two grapes pino noir and chardonnay and is fermented in cellars for at least nine years.
At the end of the tour there is a champagne tasting and you get one, two or three glasses depending on what you paid for. We went for one glass because I was driving and also Moët & Chandon isn’t my favorite champagne. 😉
We thought that it was a great idea to visit a small champagne house and a big one just to experience the difference.
After the tour we decided to drive around one champagne route, which was in our Lonely Planet guidebook. It is a circular route, which starts in Èpernay and also ends there. It was a very nice drive with beautiful scenery.
We also stopped at a small village of Œuilly, which was a super quite albeit extremely quiet village, but worth a 10-minute stop.
After that we drove to Troyes where we stayed at Hotel du Cirque. We had to book it because for some reason everything seemed to be full. When we got into the city it took us half an hour to drive a couple of kilometers because there was some sort of event. The hotel was okay, but the woman at the reception didn’t speak any English and the bathroom was the tiniest ever! We basically needed a place to sleep, so we weren’t too bothered, but it wasn’t great for two people. At this point we needed to hurry to make our reservation at La Moine Gourmand. At the restaurant I noticed that I left my cell phone in the car, so I don’t have any pictures of the food nor of the Troyes itself, which was actually really nice in the night. It seemed to be very lively with quite a lot of people in bars and restaurants.
The restaurant first said that they didn’t have any reservation for us, but after my friend insisted that she had called them the same day, we were given a table. It seemed that it was run by just one person, who did everything from cooking to serving. The restaurant was extremely good value for money in terms that the food was pretty good and it was just around 35€ per person for a three-course meal including wine.
After dinner we walked for a bit around Troyes centre and then went back to our hotel as we had plenty of driving to do the next day.