April 23, 2018

Reims, Part One – Champagne Oui! Oui!

Reims Night Scene

That delightful bubbly beverage known as Champagne has be tickling taste buds and pleasing palates since the 17th century when Benedictine monk Dom Perignon created it somewhat accidentally. To preserve its authenticity laws and traditions have evolved that impose upon all who wish to create “Champagne” that what they create is truly Champagne and not merely wine with bubbles. So universally enjoyed is Champagne, that today more than 300 million bottles are sold annually around the globe. But while Champagne is enjoyed around the world it can only be made in one place and that one place is the Champagne region of France. The collective epicenter of the Champagne region is Reims, France and so with purpose our next stop on our European adventure would be Reims, France a mere 90 miles north of Paris and a very comfortable 45 minute train ride away.

Reims, Mumm Gate

Our two daughters, Kimberly and Kari along with our granddaughter Somaya left us in Paris and rather than going to Reims, they took off for Venice, Italy. So from our arrival it was pure serendipity that guided us. The girl’s decision to go to Venice was made after I booked a hotel for them that was non-cancelable and non-refundable so I had a spare hotel room whether I wanted it or not. After my wife Nenita and I checked into our hotel, the Novotel Suites Hotel, we headed out to the Reims town center area on the opposite side of the train station. There we found Hotel Bristol a very modest establishment above one of the many restaurants that lined the streets of Reims Center. It was our room so I formally checked in, took the key and continued on our adventure.

The weather was still cool and moist, yet the streets were overflowing with tables and chairs filled with happy people dining and chatting and yes consuming Champagne along with a wide variety of other beverages. It was a scene of joy and warmth that cancelled the somewhat less than perfect weather. But we would see and learn more the next day. We strolled back to our Novotel Suites Hotel and soon took full advantage of their extremely comfortable bed.

There are easily 20 top wineries in Reims, France including top brands such as Veuve Cliquot, Taittinger, Krug and Mumm, each offering visitor’s an in depth look into the amazingly complex process of making Champagne topped off with at least one sample. There are also tours of nearby vineyards but we chose the nearby Maison Mumm, a full wine cellar a fairly short and pleasant walk from our hotel so we could and did easily arrive in time for their 11:00 a.m. tour.

Mumm Cellar One in Reims

After a fairly routine buffet breakfast at the hotel we headed out first passing through the train station and then walking along the Basses Promonades in a northerly direction passing a not yet open carnival, which we would visit once our granddaughter and our two daughters retuned from their little side trip to Venice, Italy. Today, however, was a Champagne day.

In less than ten minutes we found and entered the Mumm winery and signed up for 11:00 a.m. tour. They offered a selection of options but all in all the tour was the same. The difference came at the end of the tour when you were offered a glass of Mumm Champagne the quality level of which was determined by the price you paid. My wife does not drink Champagne nor any other alcoholic beverage and I am cheap so she got the no drink ticket and I bought the Cordon Rouge experience. The tour was in every other way identical.

Our tour guide was a pleasant, tall lady who spoke French accented English and cheerfully led us through the facility explaining the history and complexities of Champagne in general and G. H. Mumm in particular. As we descended deep down into the cellars the legend unfolded as we literally saw Champagne in various stages of preparation including one fascinating room that held many pieces of historic equipment used in the manufacture of Champagne. Another room held a collection of historic bottles of Mumm Champagne going back 200 years or so. I wondered what they might taste like but not I nor likely anyone else will ever know. As my lovely wife Nenita will attest even if you are not a consumer of Champagne the story was fascinating and well worth the time and modest expense, plus the ending was extremely pleasant as I received and thoroughly enjoyed my glass of Cordon Rouge Champagne.

Reims- Mumm cellar two!

After the Champagne tour we were hungry so we walked back to the city center near the Sube Fountain and its magnificent golden angel keeping watch over the little city. The only hard part about finding food in Reims or pretty much anywhere in France is in deciding which of the many excellent eateries to choose. But we found one and enjoyed our meal before continuing our walking tour.

We happened upon a very nice super market, Monoprix, located in La Cave d’Erlon. One thing that became very apparent in French grocery stores in general but in Reins in particular was the abundance of wine throughout the store. I mean there was the meat section with wine at both ends, the wonderful pastry section surrounded by wines. The fresh vegetable section laced with wine and, of course, there was also a full wine, beer and liquor section as well. So yeah ,I bought a bottle along with some snack food including the obligatory baguette and we slowly strolled through the bustling city center on our way back to our hotel. Nenita was done for the day but I felt a need to revisit the city at night and so I did.

Ron toasting with Champagne at  G. H. Mumm

The energy was compelling with hundreds of people sitting outside enjoying a wide variety of food and beverage and pleasant conversation in many languages. It was the very same place I had visited earlier that day but the cacophony of lights and sound presented a much more compelling atmosphere. However, two things were emerging that moved me back to my hotel and my wife. One was the never-ending joy of being with her, but the other was less pleasant. Even presented in the French language the local news made it abundantly clear that there was a strike in progress that severely effected train travel in and around Europe. There was a real threat that we may not be leaving Reims anytime soon and even if we did get to Paris the chance of continuing on to London for our return flight was at extreme risk. So I needed to delve further into that situation first thing the next day. The best way to prepare for that was a good night’s sleep and so with just a little help from the wine we had purchased at Monoprix that is exactly what came next.

All photos: Ron Irwin

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