I am the first to admit that I am a bit of a champagne whore. OK, “whore” might be a bit strong, but it can’t be that far off. I am a sucker for the bubbles and I use just about any excuse with my wife so that I can buy more. How bad is it? At this point, if I were to have a bottle of champagne every night until the end of the year, I would still have plenty left for a rather raucous New Year’s Eve party.
My wife says I’m “obsessed.”
I say I am “prepared.”
Thus, when I was offered to lead a bike trip in Champagne, I jumped at the chance. (By the way, Champagne the region is feminine and always capitalized [i.e., la Champagne] and the beverage is masculine and not capitalized [le champagne]. If I ever get that screwed up, it is likely due to having consumed more of the latter.) Over the weeks leading up to the trip, I tried desperately to set up some appointments.
I emailed Ruinart.
Closed for renovations.
Krug (impossible to get in, but I thought I would give it a shot).
Never heard back.
Moët (getting desperate).
Success (of course).
After a couple of weeks of this, I decided I would try and play the “wine blogger card.” It has worked with limited success in the U.S., so I figured it couldn’t hurt. I contacted a few local big wigs in the wine media that I have met one way or the other and while they were very nice, it did not lead to anything substantial.
So I tried again.
Krug (a guy can dream).
Gosset: makers of my favorite Non-Vintage Brut (since Krug really does not count as a N.V. Brut), the Grande Réserve.
Veuve Clicquot again (despite all the snobby rejection of the Veuve by “true” oenophiles, I still like their wine).
My ego was certainly starting to take a bit of a hit.
I forgot about the effort for a while since a guy can only take so much rejection—after all, I was not looking for a prom date or to get into college, just a tasting room appointment!
Then, two weeks before my scheduled departure, it came.
An email from Krug.
It stated that even though Krug was closed to the public, they were “always happy to welcome Krug Lovers for private and personnalised [sic] Krug experiences in Reims…”
I stopped reading—I was in! This was it!
I continued reading to figure out when the visit would take place, what wines we would be drinking, etc.
“…when they are invited by our distributors. Those programmes exclusively take place from Monday to Friday, they are planned weeks in advance but they are actully [sic] fully booked until the end of July.”
I tried to take some solace in the poor spelling/typing of the form letter.
It didn’t work.
Later that same day, however, I got another email, this one from Gosset:
“Dear Mr Kralik [if anyone ever actually addresses me as “Doctor” I might actually need a “real” doctor since I will likely pass out],
Thank you for your email.
My colleague, Philippe Manfredini, International Director, will be happy to host you on July the 4th at 10.30 a.m.”
Finally! I had an appointment at one of my favorite houses. That gave me Moët and Gosset. Good enough.
On the morning of the tasting, I first took most of the cycling group to Moët, which I have been to several times, and it is one of those big corporate houses with a bunch of history and some cool caves. I figured I would go on the tour as well since I had some time to kill before heading over to Gosset. I had called the folks at Moët a few days before to inquire about the duration of the tour. They replied “One hour.”
And added: “Exactly.”
I paused for a bit and contemplated if I would address that added bit of precision. I truly love the French, but at times they have an artificially elevated sense of their collective persona.
It’s not like you’re Swiiss, or even German for Chrissakes. Let’s all just calm down and remember that you are a Latin country and move on. No one is going to judge, but you French are not known for punctuality (OK, the Swiss and the Germans will judge you, but who cares? You are better than the Italians! [yes, that is a really low bar, but we digress]).
We walk up to Moët (you pronounce the “t” by the way–mow-ETT) about five minutes early (ahem), so we were able to take a few photos of the Dom Pérignon statue out front (even though DP is owned by Moët, they claim to keep the two operations separate).
We proceeded into the facility where they laid out the costs of the Tour:
- Traditional visit (with one flute of champagne) 16€50
- Impériale (two flutes) 24€
- Grand Vintage (two flutes of different vintages) 29€50
The last of those was the only one of real interest to me, but I was not going to pay 30€.
Yeesh. 30 stinking Euros (about $40) for two flutes of champagne? A while ago I ranted about tasting room fees, and clearly, the kind folks at Moët had learned quite a bit from their brethren in Napa.
30€? $40? Puh-lease.
I weaseled my way in for free (I was the “guide” after all) but they would only comp me the “Traditional” visit.
The tour was certainly a bit on the cheesy side. Our tour guide had a well rehearsed script, from which she rarely deviated (despite my repeated efforts). She also spoke English with a decided Cockney accent that did not fit all that well with the “history of luxury” that she was spewing.
We did go down into the caves, though, and I took a few photos.
I left the tour (which started at 9:30) at 10:40 (“exactly” “almost” an hour later). I sucked down the glass of bubbles, and ran through the gift shop.
All-in-all the Moët tour was not all that bad. A visit to Champagne should include a stop at one of the big champagne houses–for no other reason than to see the caves which were made largely by the Romans (they mined the stone to build their monuments). Still, I think I would put the tours at Pommery and Veuve Clicquot ahead of Moêt.
I hopped on my bike, and sped over to Gosset, worried that I was a bit late.
Since I know how the French are keen on punctuality.