Today is our designated day to visit the Champagne region. It seemed like a good way of seeing a little of regional France, with a destination of interest in mind. This was Franks choice, mine was Giverny, so we are both happy.
That said, the tour of the Champgane companies, we did two (G.H. Mumm in Rheims, and Moët et Chandon in Epernay) was much more interesting than I was expecting, and certainly turned out to be more entertaining than either of us could have imagined.
Our driver, Guillaume, also acted as our tour guide giving us a non stop explanation of the champagne making process, with comments about the prowess of the French thrown in from time to time. It was interesting, but after a few hours of continual talk, with the need to decipher his accent, exhausting. That said, his description of the process used to make champagne was better than either of our tour guides once at the Champagne Houses.
Guillaume is by training a chef, having worked for some time in a three star Michelin restaurant he needed a break from the hours and pressure. As he described it being a chef is about the glory not the money.
G.H. Mumm, was our first destination. The firm was started by three German brothers around 1827. Mumm seems to rank about third in the champagne race, after Moët and Chandon, and Verve Cliquot. After the tasting, I knew why. Mumm does not suit my palate.
There is now 50% of the original number of vineyards in existence. Insect infestation and mildew were problems at one point and nearly wiped out the stock of vines. There is strict control over use of the name Champagne, with only wine produced in this region allowed to be named Champagne. Also there is strict control over establishing new vineyards.
Apparently there are three main varieties of grapes used. Pinot Noir (black grape with white juice) Chardonnay (white grape) and Pinot Melouir (black grape with white juice). The 100% cuvée or very best champagne uses a mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay only. In exceptional years when the conditions are right they may do a batch of non mixed champagne. This is the very best "privee". When champagne is not blended they will allocate a year to the show the vintage. Blended champagne has no year annotated.
For a vintage produced in 2004, it is only ready for drinking in 2011. Most champagne is produced, then rested a minimum of 16 months before the bottle is cleaned and "dressed" ready for distribution world wide.
Moët was started in 1743, and when the grand daughter of the founder married into the Chandon family, the name changed to Moët et Chandon. Personally, I can recommend the Moët and Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage....currently sitting on ice in our room. Big smiles from this girl.
The tour of the G.H.Mumm facility was probably better, and more professional. We actually saw the oak casks used for production up until the mid 1950's, the concrete vats lined with ceramic tile used until the 1990's, used for ease of cleaning and clean scent....but not the stainless steel used for production currently. I guess it is an OHS issue.