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Since today is my birthday, I thought it only appropriate to write about my favorite experience in Champagne 🙂

Champagne is my prefered drink for nearly every occasion, so when our AirBnB host suggested we go for a glass of champagne on the grounds of the five star hotel Les Crayères, we did not hesitate 🙂 Les Crayères is behind the Pommery estate, but a world away from its mass commercial enterprise atmosphere.

If you want to stay on the property, rooms start at around $400 USD, and meals at the main restaurant by a MOF chef, start at about $200 per person, not including beverages. If you want to enjoy the space without taking out a loan, there is a garden cafe with a set menu beginning at around $40, or you can enjoy the veranda views with glasses of remarkable champagne beginning at about $30 per glass.

The view of the veranda in the back is as stately as the entrance.

Some of the views from the veranda.

The foot paths throughout the property invite strolling.

You can see the hotel from the far end of the domaine.

They grow their own herbs and vegetables on the property.

I chose a Laurent Perrier Rosé and my friend the vintage Tattinger for about $70 USD.

Parmesan crisps and fine jambon were complimentary accompaniments.

Vineyards surround the property, a reminder that there is no substitute for terroir 🙂

Pommery is literally one of the biggest champagne houses and the most vast vineyards in Reims with over 80,000 acres. It’s easy to book a tour here either online, or once you get to the property, but make sure you are on time or the tour will start without you and they will not allow a change or reimbursement. There are several options with the basic tour beginning at 20 Euros or $22 USD, which includes a glass of champagne.

Located at a main intersection, there are several buses which stop here and there is a large parking lot if you are driving a car or taking a tour bus. The scale here is enormous as you can see from the people in the photo of the property. Many contrasting styles of architecture are all built next to each other making for an unusual look. Walking around the property I felt as if I was looking at a set built by competing set designers.

 

 

This is the Maison Demoiselle, a sister property and champagne across the street (you may purchase a combination tour ticket for both).

Several acres of the vineyards surround the original estate.

Entry here bar coded and automatic; you can buy your pass at the machines at the entrance when you arrive, so this can be a last minute decision if you are visiting and not sure of your time allotments. It’s very different from the front desk personal style of Veuve Clicquot which requires a reservation at least a week in advance with a confirmation. The size of the groups and the style is also very different here, with about 40 of us in the group, as opposed to 5 of us at Veuve Clicquot, and the tour guide was definitely scripted with pat answers for her questions and comments. My friend and I would have preferred an electronic audio guide to the human who led our tour.

 

 

The tour began with a question about what these were….after a few guesses and condescending retorts from our guide, we learned these were face masks to protect the first guests who took tours of the cellars. The bottles sometimes exploded in the days before they learned how to control the pressure.

 The descent into the cellars is steep and long and it gets colder as you go down.

Once in the chalk pits, you can see how far underground you are when you look up.

 Some of the old machinery is on display along the walls

and above the bottles you can see the old pulley systems used for transport.

 

 This is stunning showpiece of Pommery bottles.

 Artists carved these over five years by candlelight and went blind in the process 😦

 

 The oldest priceless bottles are kept locked behind bars.

 The end of the tour includes a glass of champagne

served in glasses I would have used only if I had no other drinking vessel. The champagne was on par quality wise with the glass.

The gift shop offers both trendy gifts

 and their trademark Louise champagne.

Like Madame Clicquot, Madame Pommery was also a widow with a child to raise. She expanded her brand and business worldwide from 18 hectares (44 acres) to over 300 hectares (700 acres). She was also a humanitarian maverick, setting up a pension fund and social security fund for her workers, and the first orphanage in Reims, an admirable and audacious woman in any era.

 

Veuve Clicquot was a pioneer in many respects, being the first woman to ever manage a Champagne house. Her status as “Veuve” or widow, gave her the rights and privileges a married woman of her era would not have enjoyed. She brought the celebrated drink and the town of Reims to the world market, and also created a company that was both creative and humanistic in its practices.

To visit the caves in Reims, you must make an appointment, receive a confirmation email, and respond to the email before you are granted access. The visit lasts about an hour, costs 25 Euros ($30 USD) and includes a glass of the Brut Yellow Label. I requested a time two weeks in advance and got my confirmation three days later through Veuve Clicquot. There is a parking lot if you are driving, and a bus line stops directly in front of the property if you come by public transit.

There is a spacious waiting area upstairs next to the gift shop which has pictures of the caves and a video of the company, giving you an overview of the tour. Luckily our group only had 5 guests and one of us had limited mobility, so we had the luxurious use of an elevator along with our excellent enthusiastic guide who loved her job and superbly shared the history of Veuve Clicquot. Tours are offered in several languages and can include several types of tastings, as well as private tours, so pick one which suits your taste and budget.

The descent into the caves also makes the temperature descend to around 53 F, so bring a warm sweater with you! Reims was originally a textile town, and the caves where the champagne is stored were excavated for their clay. The monuments above ground are made from the clay taken from these caves, and the clay was used to wash the textiles manufactured in the city. The champagne industry use of these caves is just practical recycling of the empty “Swiss cheese” holes created by the dominant city industry since the temperature stayed a constant 53F all year round and they had the space:)

There are over 27 kilometers (16 miles) of caves, so our tour only covered a small portion of the extensive underground network. During the wars, many people lived in the caves and there were designated areas for arms as well as medical care.

One of the things Madame Clicquot did was honor long time workers with plaques in the craters with their names, dates of service, and jobs. Monsieur Raguet worked for the company for 57 years!

Everything is labeled and organized.

One of the inventions of madame Clicquot was the riddling rack, which was originally just a door with holes drilled into it! Today it’s all mechanized, but the bigger bottles are still riddled by hand, allowing the yeast to settle to the neck by slowly turning the bottle upside down in precise movements.

The oldest bottle of Veuve Clicquot (1893) is kept in a special secured vault and is probably the most priceless bottle in the world.

It’s under the red light in the middle.

Not every year produces a Millésime, or vintage year, but the ones at Veuve Clicquot are each marked on the stairs out of the cave.

The specially made glasses (available in the gift shop) for the tasting encouraged the bubbles to dance long after the pour, and ended our tour with an effervescent flourish. Santé 🙂

The exterior of the Reims Cathedral is undergoing extensive renovations, so the main entrance is now on the right side, and scaffolding is on both the front and back obscuring at least a third of the building.

Hidden in the rear of the cathedral is a beautiful garden,

 with a long path and several seats.

 

On the left side of the church (facing the front) there is a delightful little specialty food shop Terroir Des Rois. They have everything from chocolate to 30 year old balsamic vinegar, and if you can’t decide, premade gift baskets are available.

In front of the shop are a few chairs and tables so you can taste their featured champagne of the day, a cold non alcoholic drink, or sip the champagne you just bought,

for a very modest supplemental fee depending on the size of the bottle you purchased,

while gazing at this magnificent view from your table:)

In the Summer, there is a light and music show projected onto the front of the cathedral twice a night starting at 11 PM and each lasts for 20 minutes:)

 

Not all the projectors were working, so there were several blank/black spots,

but the last projection worked fine 🙂

 

Air Tahiti Nui is one of my favorite airlines for trips from LAX to Paris, not only are their flights ALL direct, but their crews are friendly, their coach seats have amenities most business fares offer, and their rates for excess and overweight luggage are lower than most other airlines flying this route. The only downside is that they do not fly daily, so it helps if you can be flexible with your dates of travel.

The flight was scheduled to take 11 hours, but we arrived an hour early 🙂

Inflight coach lunch was coq au vin with a choice of red, white, or sparkling wines, salad, a camembert, and a dessert (which I did not taste). It was on par with a Business class meal on American Airlines. The breakfast the following morning was terrible, so I would recommend ordering a kosher or vegetarian meal online before you travel (at no extra cost).

Every seat had its own iPad size screen with flight details, movies, Tahitian TV program, music, and games.

The only time I am truly happy in the morning is when I am awake because I am landing in a city I love, like Paris 🙂

Most buildings do not have elevators and the ones that do are usually only big enough for 2 people or 1 person and 1 piece of luggage, so be ruthless in paring down what you are packing. You might be lugging baggage up FIVE flights of stairs. For views like this, it might make the exercise worth it. If you are booking a rental, remember that the ground floor does not count as a floor, so the 1st floor in France is the 2nd floor in the US.

With open air markets several times in week in every neighborhood, you can pick up fresh fruit, bread, and local wine for a meal or picnic and live like a native.

The natives love chocolate (who doesn’t?) and sometimes the best finds are new chocolatiers who worked for famous ones befor opening up their own shops like Pascal Legac who the creative director of La Maison du Chocolat and was voted one of the 12 best chocolatiers for three years in a row.

He makes caramel (they were sold out) and chocolate eclairs (this was the last one left at 1pm), chocolate tarts, and chocolates with single origins and he will DELIVER if you are in France!

To celebrate my return to France, I picked up the last bottle of Drappier 2006 Millésime on the shelf. This full bodied velvety finish champagne was the perfect welcome home 🙂

It’s my birthday 🙂

I admit I am an addict; I can not say no to either great champagne or great chocolate.

Last night, the gracious Madame Chocolat (aka Hasty Torres), invited me to her Decadent & Delicious event to introduce her new champagne truffles. Her new milk chocolate truffles are infused with Domaine Carneros Champagne, a winery whose founder, Eileen Crane, thought she knew me from one of my former lives on the East Coast. As women who follow their passions, it is very fitting that they have now combined their talents into a new unique treat for the senses just in time for Mother’s Day, the day of celebration for women who create and nurture new lives.

The truffles are dusted with gold glitter which add a very festive note reminiscent of the bubbles in sparkling wine. I’m normally not a milk chocolate fan, but the the smooth creamy 43% Belgian chocolate ganache filled truffle was a smooth compliment to the balanced brut champagne. I ate two in about two seconds and had to move away from the table to restrain myself from eating the entire tray.

Gift boxes with 12 champagne truffles and a bottle of 2007 Domaine Carneros are available for delivery on Mother’s Day (or any other day) for only $55 and will begin shipping May 4, 2012, so place your order here now.

It was fun to be behind the counter of the shop for the first time! The new glitter heeled shoe chocolates were also beautiful to behold (they had literally just been finished that day).

The heavy duty machines kept working even though all the guests were drinking and eating chocolate!

There were delicious savory bites catered by Chris Brugler which were not only beautiful to behold but delectable to eat. The Watermelon Feta Mousse Bites with Aged Balsamic was both refreshing and rich with complexity.

The Sesame Encrusted Ahi Tuna Topped with Sweet Chili Avocado Mousse was one of my favorites.

The Sweet Potato Cake with a Black Bean Salsa and Chipolte Aioli was a surprisingly sweet and savory delight with a nice smoky flavor.

My favorite of all the small bites was the aged Prosciutto with Burrata served on Crostini finished with Aged Balsamic. I loved this so much I ate three!

I didn’t taste the Black Mission Fig Challah Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onion & Thyme with Brie Cheese, but it looked amazing.

Chris is the Challah King and sells his breads at Nate n Al in Beverly Hills, but his catering is impeccable and professional.

Thank-you and gros bisous to Hasty and Eileen for a fun, festive, and fantastic event launching their new joint venture of decadent and delicious champagne truffles!

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