A week in Champagne, in photos

After a week in Champagne it is a little strange not to spend the entire day slowly sipping champagnes from throughout the region. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to meet one of the heads of the Comité Champagne – the group that represents both growers and houses from throughout the region – who invited me to visit the region this year during harvest. Harvest was unexpectedly early this year so by the time I arrived the fruit was all picked, but wines were still fermenting in cellars. With the fruit already in, producers were more able to take the time to chat and share wine actually so it turned out the perfect time to travel Champagne.

The 2018 harvest looks to have enormous quality potential, so keep an eye out for it to start appearing about three years from now, though far later for the premium vintage wines. Some of my favorite producers started first pick on my birthday so I’ll especially be looking for the 2018 vintage champagnes.

In the meantime, here are photos from through the trip compiled from what I shared while there on Instagram. There were five journalists, myself included, traveling together. We turned out to be a nice group, getting on well together. While also tasting ample wine (far more than shown in the photos), we were also able to do some historical tours of the region and even take a cooking class. Here’s a look.

 

 

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Back beneath the textures of a favorite ceiling. Charles de Gaulle, Paris Airport. #france

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“For us, it is very important to start off straight away with a champagne from a grower and a champagne from a Champagne house both. For us, it is essential.” – M Phillippe Wibrotte of the Comité Champagne discussing the history, culture, and range of styles present today in Champagne. Later, then, dinner must be enjoyed with two champagnes instead of merely one. And so we open first an Henriot Blanc de Blancs for its intense verticality so deftly balanced by oak and fruit – a wine from one of the preeminent Champagne houses – and then the M Loriot Apollonis 2008 Monodie Extra Brut, the natural flesh of Pinot Meunier balanced by low dosage – made by one of the first growers to successfully make their own champagne for release. Both wines single variety – Chardonnay then Pinot Meunier – one a non-vintage wine, the other ten years old; one made from multiple parcels about the region, the other from old vines on one estate; one made to be recognized across releases brilliantly blended to be non-vintage, the other a single cuvée of one vintage made by a man who plays his wines music from his own hand as they age. Each such a testament to balance though each approaching it from almost opposite ways necessitated by varietal character and production logistics. Thank you, Phillippe, for such a thoughtful welcome to Reims. #champagne @champagnehenriot @apollonischampagne

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During WWII the cellars of Champagne were being ransacked by the occupying forces. To preserve their region the growers and houses of Champagne joined forces and founded the Maison de la Champagne in 1941, creating a distribution market to make the bottles available for purchase while controlling access to them at the same time. The Maison de la Champagne was founded by a grower family, represented by Maurice Doyard, and a house, Moët Chandon represented by Robert Jean de Vogüé. Soon after, Vogüé was taken by the Germans and put in a concentration camp in Central Europe. Incredibly, he survived and returned to Champagne to again help lead the region through its recovery from the war. #champagne

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Gêraldine Lacourte is a ninth-generation grower in the village of Écueil. In 1947 her family also began making their own champagne from primarily Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay. Today, she and her husband, Richard Desvignes, farm their family plots organically, and have begun experimenting with using horses for farming and sheep for managing the cover crop. Together, they make small production cuvées for Champagne Lacourte-Godbillon relying on gravity flow and hand riddling in their cellar beneath the house that belonged to Gêraldine’s grandparents where she also grew up. Here, she shows us a plot of forty-plus year old Pinot Noir planted selection massale and vinified single-plot in oak barrels made from trees in the same village. The plot is a mere ten rows and makes 1300 bottles. #champagne @lacourtegodbillon

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Visiting Tattinger. My second time enjoying the Comte 2007 – a beautifully focused vintage with a lift of delicate herbs and sapidity versus the slightly rounder fruits of the 2006. I have learned to accept that along the way as I am studying wine with the producers themselves I sometimes find myself weeping. The gratitude simply leaks out of me at times. Often too it comes in what feel like waves of recognition, finally so many in a row they overwhelm me. The lesson for me has been that though old school models of professionalism ignore or deny emotion, to honor the significance of a moment the feeling can and sometimes must be expressed with appropriate emotion. It should still be kept in proportion but it being present is genuine too to the work. For Tattinger, it is the Historical significance of the location – recovered from the Roman era, destroyed during the French Revolution, recovered then lost and regained again during WWI and WWII – the fact that it is the last still original-family-owned house, that the caves descend 30 meters into 4th-century-carved chalk, that the oldest oak barrels in the world are held in preserve and on display in the visitors’ hall, and that there are innumerable layers of personal meaning for me reaching all the way to growing up in Alaska to this wine and place that strike me. On top of that, Comte has become associated with the love of so many friends – who gave it to me for my birthday, who bought it for me when my mentor died, who drank it beside me without spitting during a work lunch, who also love it as a favorite champagne. All of this is to say one simple thing – thank you. #champagne @champagnetaittinger cc: @trevering @fredswan @asparks01 @madsmw @petergranoffms

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Built in the 13th century, the Reims Cathedral replaced the previous 5th century Cathedral (and first church built on the site) that was destroyed in 1210 by fire. The Reims Cathedral then stood from the 13th century till WWI when German forces destroyed 80% of the buildings in the city of Reims, including its tallest structure, the Cathedral. It ‘s destruction and the damage to the city at large became an international symbol of the war so that after the German forces were finally fought back leaders from all over the world traveled to Reims to witness the damage first hand, including US President Roosevelt. After much deliberation the decision was made to restore the structure and its stained glass windows with the goal to mirror its original and use as much of its original stone as possible. The decision was also made to create a fireproof structural framework within the building. The original wood and lead burned and melted after catching fire from German bombing, thus collapsing the building during the war. The American Rockefeller family funded the significant initial cost of the restoration as an international gesture of peace and goodwill. It reopened in 1939, gratefully surviving WWII. #champagne

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In the rebuilding of Reims after WWI, US Ambassador to France, Myron T Herrick, encouraged benefactors of the United States to help fund construction of new buildings for the city. Andrew Carnegie was a pacifist invested in stopping war across the world. He believed the way to stop war was greater knowledge and so directed his spending to sponsoring libraries throughout Europe. Significantly, he funded the building of the city library in the heart of Reims, designed in the Art Deco style. In 1928, what was then named the Carnegie Library was opened and commemorated as one of the first significant new buildings to reestablish Reims after the destruction of WWI. Herrick was one of the people present at both the building’s groundbreaking and its opening. Beneath its cornerstone was placed a magnum of champagne with an inscription dedicated to international peace as well as both French and American coins. #champagne

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Classic. Pol Roger Brut Reserve. #champagne @pol_roger

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A testament to style – balanced, erudite, delicious. Bollinger Rosé. #champagne @champagne_bollinger

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Pauline Michel with the cuvée her father Bruno Michel started, named and made for her beginning when she was a little girl. The Pauline cuvée from Champagne Bruno Michel is always made entirely from Chardonnay aged 15 months in oak barrel then given extended aging on lees for varying years of time. We tasted the first vintage ever made of the cuvée, a 1997 disgorged in April 2018, and the 2005 disgorged Nov 2017 (shown here). Both are impressively vibrant with an intense acidity. The 1997 carries still pixelated white herbs and an intense savory drive. The 2005 feels fuller and rounder, without heaviness, bursting with savory notes, smoked meat accents, and tons of length. Two years ago Pauline and Guillaume took over winemaking and the business from her parents, continuing the organic farming and winemaking practices practiced by Bruno Michel since 1997. #champagne @champagnebrunomichel

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The Alexander Penet line of champagne made by the man himself, Mister Alexander Penet, is meant to be the more aperitif and approachable line of the grower-Champagne Penet-Chardonnet family. And yet, the Brut Nature with which we begin to taste is Grand Cru and all estate grown fruit, vinified in barrel and including ample reserve wine going back far in the family history. The Penet family has been in Verzy over 400 years. Alexander is a 5th generation winemaker having also studied both engineering and business internationally. With his ranging perspective, Alexander has brought innovation to the winery not in radical technical change but instead through improving the focus on sustainability, shifting the wines to Extra Brut and zero dosage, and becoming the first winery in the world to put a QR-code on a wine label. #champagne

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Rich precision. Delamotte Blanc de blancs. #champagne

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Chef Eric Geoffroy cooks mackerel. #champagne #cookinginfrance #fishandfire @aupianodeschefs

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Elaine cooks. #champagne @aupianodeschefs

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Mackerel cooked by torch. #champagne @aupianodeschefs

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Simple tricks for starting plate presentation #champagne @aupianodeschefs

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An exploration of subtlety with a constellation of fruits. Mailly Grand Cru of Pinot noir. #champagne @champagne_mailly

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A perfect aperitif. Copinet Blanc de blancs. #champagne @champagnemariecopinet

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Crisp and expressive. Pierre Trichet Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs. #champagne

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Just an Unangan-Inuit woman surveying 13th c. ruins from the city that crowned kings in France. Reims. #champagne

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