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.
The cellar pictures are cool. I personally would tell them just keep your wine and show me around – the prices are completely tourist-oriented – big problem with all this big houses. But I think as the wine becomes more popular nowadays, this overall situation with tasting and tours becomes universally worse and worse, especially when it comes to the bigger wineries, but now even with the smaller wineries…
Yeah, they still charge 10€ for just the tour, so you might as well get a flute of the juice (it is by no means horrible, just rather bland). I agree, as vinotourism continues to expand, more and more will have their hand out to take advantage of it.
I prefer the term “Champagne Slut”.
That probably is a better term….
“My wife says I’m ‘obsessed.’ I say I am ‘prepared’”…sounds familiar.
A nice last minute tour we arranged while there was Castellane in Epernay. The champagne was a tremendous value compared to the big boys and the caves (although smaller) were still cool.
Very fun read. Have a great weekend! – E
De Castellane used to be one of my favorites as well—they used to have a pretty cool butterfly garden, but that was removed several years ago for some reason. I have not been there since they got rid of it, I guess I am protesting the decision.
Do we get to hear about Gosset? Next time, cycle out to the Cotes du Blanc, I reckon you’ll get in a few smaller tours down there. The Moet gift shop was as near as we got this time to a tour, and having done Mumm in Reims before. I imagine it wouldn’t be much different. It was 4pm on a Thursday – with a pushchair and 2 kids, I was pretty pleased we got that far.
I am finishing the Gosset write-up for later this week. It was awesome. I would love to go down into the Côte des Blancs at some point, but unfortunately the tour I lead does not take us down there….
The tours are all very similar—I did the Mumm tour ages ago as well as Pommery and Veuve Clicquot up in Reims.
Try Mercier (for the cellar tour). A nicer story, the cellars are bigger still (though built by Eugène, not by Romans)… Veuve has just re-vamped its visit, and it should be good, but I have not been since they re-opened.
I would love to do Mercier, but it was a bit of a chore to get folks to go to Moët (I think the fact that they had heard of it made it possible). The Veuve tour was good before, interesting to see what they changed. I always thought the caves at Pommery were the coolest.
The cellars look pretty neat – how old are those bottles? It didn’t seem like they were labeled yet, do they wait until they are ready to distribute so the labels don’t look ratty? Ahhh… so many questions, so little time.
One of these days I will do a post on champagne production. It is hard to say how long those bottles have been down there exactly (the chalk boards are written in some ultra-top-secret-code for some reason), but the bottles with the green tops have been there for about two years, while the red topped Dom has been there for about 5 or 6. After the bottles are disgorged (to remove the sediment), they are topped with a cork stopper, the bottles are washed, and then the labels are added.
The behind the scenes of a tour–who knew? Sounds like yours would be fun though.
I would like to think my tours are fun, but I am biased (and usually hammered).
Looking forward to hearing about your next tour!
Finishing up the Gosset write-up this weekend (I hope).
So here’s some more future blogpost fodder… Can you clear up something I heard back in Somm school? I had heard that Moet has these caves and all for the tours to keep up appearances…. But there’s also a giant room with – sacrebleu! – a gyropalette spinning around all that overpriced Dom. Makes sense to me – you can find Dom in crappy liquor stores and in basically every country in the world. So how exclusive can it be?
There would be no way that Moet could hand riddle all the bottles they put out. They claim that they still hand riddle all the Dom, but you are right–there is just too much of it. There is no evidence that hand riddling is any better than the gyro-palates, though. So unless you are just a hopeless romantic and want to know that some 70 year old dude fondled your bottle for a few months, there is no real advantage.
Very nice, informative and enjoyable post as usual, Jeff – well, minus the usual Italian bashing remark of course 😉
Ah, you know I’m just kidding about the Italians–now if it were Canadians….