Having been fortunate enough to be invited to join Moet Hennessy on a trip to Reims, Champagne in March I thought it was time to reflect and to share my experience of visiting two of the truly great Grand Marques; Ruinart and Veuve Cliquot.
For many, waking up early on a Monday morning to face the daily grind of the commute into work is certainly not greeted with glee. However when that commute is a visit to one of the most important and revered wine regions in the world it does ease the pain somewhat.
Having been informed by my manager Joe many weeks prior that I had been selected to go; for me the day couldn’t come have come quicker – I was as excited as a schoolboy in a candy shop, or should that be a vinophile in Robersons? So when the day finally arrived I was filled with joy and anticipation.
Arriving at St Pancras at dawn I couldn’t help feeling that I had taken the wrong tube and stepped off at the departures terminal at Heathrow. Having never travelled Eurostar I wasn’t expecting all of the formalities usually associated with foreign travel.
During the journey it was a chance to become acquainted with the other lucky soles chosen by Moet Hennessy to share the experience with me. Their selection, like mine at Robersons was based on their company’s successful promotion and sale of the Moet Hennesy product range over the past year. A feat that I cannot help but think is made all the more easy by the strength of the Moet Hennesy brands – a tour de force upon itself when it comes to Champagne.
It wasn’t long before we arrived in Lille and transferring our suitcases to a private mini bus to make the arduous and lengthy journey to Reims a mere 150 miles away – apparently a quicker route than changing trains at Paris. It wasn’t long into the journey when I heard the sigh of a cork being popped and the glug of champagne being poured. Arrr the lavish grandeur of working in the wine trade you are probably thinking to yourself. Alas no. The grandeur was soon spoilt as the Costa Coffee styroform cups stolen earlier at St Pancreas were used as the drinking vessel for the continuous pours of Moet Brut Imperial and Moet Brut Rose.
As the miles dwindled away and the light headiness of early morning alcohol rescinded the Reims skyline grew ever closer. We checked into the Hotel de la Paix at midday and after disposing of our suitcases we were soon seated at the terrace restaurant enjoying a very satisfying lunch of onion soup starter, followed by lobster for main. To clench our thirst we opted for an obvious choice of Ruinart NV from magnum and a Chinon from a lesser known producer.
After lunch and nursing a second headache we finally headed out; destination the Lighthouse of Verzenay (I didn’t realise Champagne was on the coast?) and the Vine Museum. Receiving 170,000 people since opening, the museum was erringly quiet on our arrival. However unlike most visitors we were fortunate enough to be guided around by a very charming and insightful Ruinart representative – whose name unfortunately escapes me. The museum itself is very educational and unlike most museums it manages to successfully incorporate the history of Champagne through an interesting series of film, word and dioramas.
Feeling a little nauseous after all the wine and rich food and not being a great fan of heights I was a little reluctant to climb the 101 steps of the lighthouse. However not wanting to stand out like a bottle of Cava in an all Champagne line up I embarked the ascent. The panoramic view from the top was well worth the climb and to see the vines looking resplendent in the spring sunshine, equally so. Thankfully a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc greeted me at the bottom of the stairwell, and though the dichotomy of drinking champagne to steady my nerves and control my nausea confused me, I was not one to turn down another flute of champers.
Heading to the house of Ruinart it was interesting to see all the other famous Champagne houses pass me by; Charles Heidsick, Taitinger, Pommery etc – if only I had a few more days to visit each one.
First established in 1729, twenty years after the death of Dom Ruinart, Nicholas Ruinart (Dom Ruinart’s nephew) founded the first ever champagne house – Maison Ruinart. Today steeped in history it’s a Champagne recognised and appreciated throughout the world for its elegance and finesse.
From the reception area we were escorted to ‘The Crayeres’ (Ruinarts’ chalk cellars). It is in these ex Gallo-Roman chalk quarries where the wine slowly matures in bottle. At a depth of 38 metres and over 8 kilometres of galleries it is a true sight to behold – no wonder it was classified as a historical monument in 1931. These crayères offer the triple benefit of a constantly stable temperature, the complete absence of vibration and a perfect humidity level, providing ideal conditions for the fermentation and maturation of the Ruinart wines.
Surfacing above ground like a mole from a molehill we were invited to one of the reception suites where we were introduced to Frederic Panaiotis, Ruinart’s Cellar Master. A very stylish and educated man, with a calm yet imposing presence he talked us through the wines like a father would of his children. In order of tasting, ‘R’de ruinart, Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, Dom Ruinart 1998, Ruinart Rose and Dom Ruinart Rose 1996.
Bidding farewell to the Ruinart maison we drove back to the hotel where we had chance to collect our thoughts, get dressed, sober up, before heading back out again, however not before a sneaky glass of Ruinart ‘R’ at the bar which again managed to negate the aforementioned act. Our dinner was at a newly opened restaurant in the centre of Reims. Unfortunately the name of the establishment evades me, a real shame as the food was excellent.
Want to know what happened next? Marc’s adventures continue in Part II: Veuve Clicquot…