Reims, France: Touring the Caves at Maison Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin

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Whether you blend the wines, age them in dark underground caves or carefully rotate the bottles to disperse sediment, there is no where else in the world where you can make “champagne,” other than the Champagne region of France. Of course, this is in terms of the appellation, or protected name “champagne,” which only applies to wines produced according to the long established traditions of the region. Per the strict regulations, only three grapes are allowed in the production process: pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. Of the most famous areas for champagne production within the region are Reims and Epernay, the champagne capitals of the world. One of the most well known and historic champagne houses, Maison Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin is located in Reims.

Veuve Clicquot is a leading champagne house; its iconic yellow label is one of the most recognizable in the world. In order to understand the company’s success, you have to look to its unique and remarkable history. Originally started by  Philippe Clicquot, who had a trading business with a small interest in some nearby vineyards. Upon retiring, Philippe passed the business to his son, Francois, who lacked a great deal of business skill but had an unbridled passion for producing wine. Francois was already married to Nicole-Barbe Ponsardin upon gaining control of the company, who would turn out to be the saving grace of the family business. Francois died several decades after taking control, but rather than sell of the business, Widow Clicquot, or Veuve, in French, decided to take over, a feat that was unheard of in a time where business pursuits were largely considered to be matters only governed by men. Thus the name Veuve Clicquot was born. Possessing an acute business acumen, the Widow strengthened the house and made it one of the most profitable of its time. In driving the company’s success, she undertook many risky ventures, one of the most well known being the conquering the Russian market, which she did by sending in a large shipment of champagne, amid a hostile political climate, in order to sell it to celebrating Russians as Napoleon’s blockades fell in 1811. The Widow also developed the revolutionary technique of remuage, a process of rotating the bottles in order to later remove sediment from  the champagne before the bottling process was completed.

During a guided tour of the champagne cellars (caves), you’ll be told the story of Madame Clicquot and the house’s champagne production techniques as you are given the opportunity to navigate the expansive, historic cellars located deep into the earth. The cellars store hundreds of thousands of bottles, you’ll see earlier vintages stacked and covered in dust as they age and large wooden barrels filling entire rooms. Best of all, once you emerge from the caves, you’ll be invited to enjoy a glass of the popular yellow label Brut.

1 Place des Droits-de-l’Homme, Reims, France/By Appointment Only

Reims, France: Touring the Caves at Maison Vranken Pommery

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At Vranken Pommery, the artwork found throughout the caves is just as much on display as the racks of champagne bottles lining the walls and filling the storage rooms.The estate was built in 1868 to represent modernity and extravagance,  images that remain clearly visible throughout the property today.

Upon descending the 116 steps into the cellar, visitors will instantly become aware of the atypical surroundings of the Pommery caves. In upholding Madame Pommery’s reputation as a great supporter of the arts, the cellars house a permanent collection of contemporary art in addition to serving as an unusual gallery space for temporary exhibitions of the same genre. Neon colored lighting cuts through the dimly lit cellars, highlighting a stark contrast between the modernity of the house and its rich and historic champagne producing traditions.

A variety of guided tours are available throughout the year, the standard being the “Découverte” tour, which includes a tour of the cellars during which the history of the house and an overview of the champagne making process are presented. This basic tour can be combined with a viewing of the house’s contemporary art exhibit,  “La Belle Histoire” tour or a tour of the estate on a mini train before continuing with the Découverte tour. All tours include a tasting. The “Train” tour is only offered seasonally.

5 Place du Général Gouraud/Reservations Recommended