Champagne by definition is sparkling wine from the region of Champagne and includes both the style and method that’s used to make the wine. ‘Champagnes’ from any other region of the world are not Champagne, but a sparkling wine. I had an insightful experience on my Reims Champagne tour, including the Epernay region, and am excited to share it with you!
Reims is located in Northern France, in the Champagne- Ardenne region, and is known for its champagne wine. Reims plays an important role in the history as the site of the coronation of the kings in France and therefore, has many unique places and UNESCO sites to visit. One including the breathtaking Notre Dame Cathedral. Epernay ( considered the ‘capital of Champagne’) is a nearby region which also produces Champagne and is known for the Avenue de Champagne. These are just two of the areas that make up the Champagne- Ardenne region of France.
Plan for a two day trip
This was perfect for my girlfriend and I. I would recommend a two day trip minimum, but honestly it is a great short trip destination. We went in November, and it was absolutely beautiful! Many of the vines still had grapes that were left over from the harvest, and the leaves had been changing colors. It was breathtaking. The weather was also cool, and quite pleasant
What to wear
The champagne caves can be pretty cool. If going during the summer months, make sure to bring a sweater. I would also recommend shoes that are comfortable for walking. Many of the streets in the cities are cobblestones.
How to make the most of your short trip
I would recommend a Reims champagne tour. There are so many vineyards. Many of the smaller vineyards are family owned from several generations. I say that, because it can be a bit overwhelming to go with no plan. Many companies, including Wine Tours Paris or trip advisor offer tours. I can only speak from my experience, and I would highly recommend it. To make the most of it I would suggest booking an all day tour. I would also recommend one that includes Champagne in Epernay.
Wine Tours Paris
Our Reims Champagne tour with Epernay was fantastic! It was well coordinated, and the guide spoke excellent English. It was an all day tour (9:30-4:30), packed full. I felt that it was well worth the 220 Euro price.
- Notre Dam visit in Reims
- Transportation fro Reims to Epernay
- Champagne Gardet 1895 tour and tasting
- Champagne Leconte tour and tasting
- Lunch (from my understanding, it’s provided if available)
- Avenue de Champagne
- Stop at Moet & Chandon
- Monastery of Don Perignon
Our Reims champagne tours included two champagne houses in Epernay, both were family owned and passed down from several generations.
Champagne Gardet House
This was my favorite of the champagne houses in Epernay. I loved the atmosphere and of course the champagne! One of the owners took us down to the champagne caves, and gave us a detailed step by step and answered the question of how is Champagne made. The champagne caves I found very interesting! It was a labyrinth with wine separated into their different stages. Some of the aged champagne had been sitting in the champagne cave for several years! I found the process of Champagne making so intriguing that I had to add it to the end of this post!
Champagne Leconte house
This is the other Epernay champagne house that we visited. The tour was not quite as detailed, but the champagne did not disappoint! Many of the family members were present for our tasting. It really gave the sensation of a family run business. Their vinyards were equally as pretty, with many grapes still on the vines. The Leconte Champagne house included Rose’ into their tasting. They were outstanding!
Avenue de Champagne and moet & chandon Epernay
This was an impressive and beautiful strip. The street was all cobblestones and underneath was a labyrinth of champagne caves. If you are a champagne lover, I absolutely recommend visiting! There are a number of recognizable Champagne houses.
We stopped at the Moet & Chandon house. The bottles on display had a special aesthetic quality towards them. We didn’t do a tasting, but only a quick view of the shop. It was a beautiful strip, and the walk was quite enjoyable. From what I could tell, it is primarily the Champagne houses on this strip. I would recommend stopping to get something to eat prior, or after visiting the Avenue De Champagne.
don perignon monastery
We stopped in the Monastery, it was quite beautiful. It is nestled higher up in the Epiernay region, and an easy drive. The drive also provides gorgeous views of the vineyards. The monestary itself isn’t large, you may find yourself making this a quick stop. I would definitely recommend setting aside a little bit of time to visit.
My three top recommendations for restaurants
la cave de avenue epernay
This was part of our Wine Tours Paris. We had a set menu that we could make selections from. The food was outstanding. I had the Roti de chapon, puree maison, and my friend had the Filet de saumon, fondue de poireaux. Both dishes were out of this world. The atmosphere of the restaurant was cozy and quiet. As expected, they had a beautiful selection of Champagnes to choose from.
alba in reims
If you enjoy Italian food, I would highly recommend this restaurant. The ambience is quite unique and romantic. The restaurant is filled with over-waxed candles. It’s beautiful!
The food was delicious! The caprese salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella was hands down the best salad I’ve ever had. Of all the restaurants we tried in this region, I would go back to this one first in a heartbeat. It had opened up at 7:00 for dinner, with people already standing outside.
en aparthe in reims for brunch
There are several bakeries in this small area, but it was challenging to find a sit down breakfast area. We landed here for brunch. I would recommend getting there early. When we were finished eating there was a long line outside to get in. It was so adorable! The nicknacks and decor were special. The food was set up buffet style. The salads were incredible! There was also a huge tea section. It was a little pricey, but overall worth the experience.
How to get there
It is a fairly easy trech from Paris:
- 46 minute train ride
- 2 hr 44 minute bus ride
You chan check out this site for more detailed information on transporation from Paris: https://www.rome2rio.com/map/Reim
Is Reims worth visiting
Absolutely! It’s perfect for a little short getaway. If you find yourself spending time in Paris, I would highly recommend squeezing out two days to go and visit. Be sure to include visiting some Champagne houses in Epernay. There is so much to see and taste, and it truly is an insightful trip. I gained so much appreciation and respect for the Champagne making process, and it made me love it even more. So much so, that I wanted to share with you what I took from the champagne making process I learned from Champagne Gardet, an Epernay Champagne house.
How is Champagne made
The process of making champagne is specific, unique, and must follow the strict rules and regulations of French law. This is the standard to earn the label of champagne. After learning about this process, it made me appreciate the bubbly so much more! The overall process can take several years. Here is a quick rundown of the process from the Epernay champagne house Gardet
There are three main grapes used to make champagne (there are a few other grapes that may be used, but it’s not common):
- Pinot Meunier
- Pinot Noir
As I stated previously, the French law is very strict, and the winemakers must adhere to the specifics of the law. When we visited the region of Champagne Reims, it was in November after harvesting, and there were grapes still on the vines. This is because the law limits the amount to be harvested. The remaining grapes are left on the vines.
pressing the grapes
The law also regulates how the grapes must be pressed. The first press offers the best quality of wine. The second, follows. And the third press has the most diminished quality and may include skins. According to our tour guide, many of the smaller wineries only use the first and second press.
primary fermentation and aging
This process the liquid sits in a large container for a couple weeks to ferment into a still wine. Once fermented, the wine will need to sit for several months. The length of time may vary depending on the winemaker.
blending the grapes
One of the small wineries we attended told us that it was a family affair. They would sit down and taste different combinations. The small wineries we had attended also had previously stored wines- one up to 100 years old. Depending on the current season’s harvest, they may also combine with past years to make their desired blend. If the current harvest wasn’t great, they would pair it with older or previously great harvests.
bottling and secondary fermentation
Once the blend has been established, it’s time to bottle! The bottles can vary in sizes depending on what the winemaker wants to produce. The secondary fermentation is started by adding some sugar. This sugar (with some additional yeast) will start the fermentation process resulting in the release of carbon dioxide gas. This gives the wine its bubbles! According to our tour guide, some of the larger Champagne producers will add carbon dioxide instead of the sugars to speed up this process, adding in additional sulfites and preservatives. The bottles are then sealed with not corks, but bottle caps. Just like you would see on a beer bottle. The caps help prevent any oxidation from the corks, and is a secured seal from the pressure of the gas.
Once the added yeast has consumed the sugar, the fermentation is complete. Now it’s time to age! The dead yeast will sit in the bottle, and with time, adding characteristics to the Champagne. Per our tour guide, the French law states that this process takes minimally 15 months. The winemaker may decide to age for much longer- up to several years.
managing the sediment
This is a several week process. One winery we attended still turned these bottles by hand, while another used a machine to slowly turn the bottles. This process involves slowly turning the bottles just a bit at a time. After several weeks, the bottles will eventually be faced with the cap straight down, and the sediment sitting at the neck of the bottle.
removing the sediment
This task takes skill. Wineries used to have to do this by hand. In fact, the tours that we had attended, one of them still would, to test a bottle. The winemaker would remove the cap, allowing the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas to discharge the sediment. It can be very messy, and the timing is important to not waste the wine. Doing this by hand for each bottle takes a lot of time.
If the bottle was approved, they would put the remaining bottles through an assembly line like machine. This process they would dip the neck of the bottle into an ice salt bath. Once frozen, the machine would pull off the cap with the frozen sediment attached.
adding additional sugars
Prior to corking, the winemakers will determine how much sugar to add to the wine. This machine had three different settings. This is the step that the winemaker will determine if it will be a brut (dry) or a sweeter champagne.
The corks are much larger than I had expected. In fact, they are too large to cork by hand. A machine heats up the corks, and inserts it into the bottle. Then the traditional wire cage is attached to help hold it in place.
The bottles are then put back into the cellar for aging determined by the winemaker. Once the aging is completed, labeling and shipping can take place!
Learning how champagne is made was such an intriguing process. If this doesn’t make you want to go out and buy some champagne, I don’t know what will! I would recommend that you take a visit to the Champagne regions, it is a trip worth a visit!