The night of my wedding, my husband and I poured a bottle of Champagne down the hotel sink drain. It was a gift from the hotel, so we joked that we would make it look like we drank it—we hated the stuff. Yet somehow, four years later, I ended up spending $130 to play the part in Champagne cellars, vineyards and tasting rooms in Champagne, France.
Mom and I wanted to get out to the countryside of France, a fairly difficult task to do on one’s own without a car. We decided a tour through the nearby Champagne region would probably satisfy our need to venture out of Paris.
We booked the only tour we could find at a decent price and met bright and early on a Saturday morning for our tour [with France Tourisme].
Our tour guide attempted to give the tour in Spanish and English (while driving), though mom and I were the only ones who spoke English, so it was mostly Spanish. Good thing I can recognize the word bueno. Some things on that tour were bueno. Muy bueno.
The others on our tour were from South America. I believe one couple, if my Spanish and body language interpreting is strong enough, plans on becoming King and Queen of Uruguay. I’m not sure, but they did close the door to the van behind them because they apparently thought it was a private tour and were fairly upset about the peasants joining them. Every. Single. Time.
For our first stop, we went to the cathedral in Reims (“rans”), where the kings of France were once anointed. After a quick look around, we headed to the Champagne cellars.
A few wrong turns later, we arrived a bit late but just in time to learn the history and making of Champange in the dark, musty Mumm House cellars.
Fun Facts: The Mumm cellar is 50 feet below the ground and a steady 58 degrees Fahrenheit with 90 percent humidity. It holds 25 million bottles over 25 kilometers. A bottle of Champagne is made from several wines. Sugar and yeast are added for fermentation. As it ages, the sediment falls into the neck of the bottle. Later, the neck is frozen, the bottle opened and the pressure explodes the frozen block of sediment out, it is quickly corked. Champagne only comes from this area of France.
Our tour finished in the tasting room, with a glass of Champagne. Somehow, I remember it tasting good. Maybe it’s mental: the idea of being closer to the origins makes it taste better. Or perhaps it was the lesson I’d had in Champagne-making that made me appreciate it more.
After our Champagne tasting, we grabbed a quick lunch before heading to the small town of Verzenay to visit the vineyards and the Verzenay lighthouse.
The lighthouse was built more than 100 years ago as a marketing ploy to get more people to visit the vineyards at Verzenay. But during World War II, French troops took over the lighthouse, using it as a watch tower. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the tower was repaired.
After touring the lighthouse, I voluntarily paid for an extra glass of Champagne. It was delicious.
Our day trip finished with a visit to the small town of Hautvillers, where the Monk Dom Perignon served in the cathedral when he invented Champagne.
As we drove back to Paris, through the beautiful countryside, we hit traffic and I had time to eat my cork-shaped chocolate and think about Champagne.
Perhaps it did taste fresher there. But in reality, the stuff ferments for several years so “freshness” probably isn’t the issue. It was certainly about my appreciation for the craft.
That’s what all travel really is, isn’t it? It’s making a connection with something we know about but have never touched. I’ve now smelled the vineyards of grapes. I’ve bumped against the barrels and cold cellar walls. Today, I know where the Champagne in the grocery store has truly come from. Not only do I know — I remember.
People say the world is more connected than ever and, in a way, it is. But I’m not connected to it personally until I touch it. I can’t appreciate it until I feel it. I will never pour a bottle of Champagne down a sink drain again. Though it’s certainly not my favorite beverage, I appreciate it. I can better appreciate the world, the people in it, and the products of it when I truly touch it.