Reims, which is the main town of the champagne area in France, is a town full of contrasts, colour, and impressive architectural styles and of course not to forget those wonderful bubbles that are Champagne!
The streets meander around buildings that date through the ages of Gothic architectural style through to art deco which are colourfully decorated with baskets of geraniums and petunias. A large Gothic style cathedral towers and is naturally the centre of town!
Both world wars played a huge part in this town and it is common to see reminders of the American influence during the world wars and the assistance they gave in post war restoration. E.g. Eisenhower Bar and the Roosevelt Building etc! The champagne caves became hideouts for the resistance and shelters from the bombs during the Second World War. Champagne is so important to this area, that limited production continued during the wars.
Now enough about town called Reims! Let’s look at what this beautiful place is famous for!
The champagne caves and houses are on the edge of town and grapes must be grown in the champagne region so as not to be a mere sparkling wine. The three grapes that are utilized are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The first two are black grapes; the latter is white.
We chose two champagne houses to visit which were Pommery and Veuve Clicquot as both played a significant part in the development of champagne!
Louise Pommery, dedicated her life to further development of champagne after the death of her husband in the early 1800s.The 16 kilometres of caves which are 116 steps below the surface are not only for storing of the champagne but also her second love which was works of art! This tradition has continued since the carving of three huge wall monuments into the cave walls with a new art piece being commissioned each year. Widow Pommery was important in development of champagne as we know it today because as she decided that champagne should be able to be drunk with every thing not just dessert as in the 19th century it was extremely sweet. Therefore, she developed the dryer style brut champagnes that we are more familiar with today.
The second champagne house we visited was Veuve Clicquot. (Veuve is the French word for widow). This wonderful champagne commenced in 1772 by her husband. Incredible, to think it is around the same time Cook was traversing around the Pacific looking for Australia on his second voyage! Her husband died early on in the peace and she was left to foster a small vineyard that was only ever a secondary interest to his other business pursuits. Not only did she purchase extra vines but also developed the way to take the excess sediment out of the champagne bottle and retain the bubbles to develop a clear fine bottle of beverage which we are more familiar with today. The bottles are stored in well over 20 kilometres of tunnels and caves!
You may well ask so “what has this got to do with a Monk”? According to the wikipedia the French Monk Dom Perignon (1638-1715) did not invent champagne although always accredited with this fame. However, it is true he developed many advances in the production of this beverage, which included holding the cork in place with a wire collar (muselet) to withstand the fermentation pressure. Up until this time sparkling wine was made totally by accident and was known as Devil’s wine due to being likely to explode!
Now for me it is all about getting back to that tasting table!