During our roadtrip from the Netherlands to Switzerland through France, we decided to make a stop in the Champagne region to see first hand where those lovely bottles of bubbly come from. Located in the northeast part of France, the Champagne area covers 76,000 acres of vineyards around 319 villages that are home to 5,000 growers who make their own wine and 14,000 growers who only sell grapes (thanks Wikipedia).
Not knowing exactly where to go to find the vineyards, we headed to the town that had the name Champagne in it - Châlons-en-Champagne. The town was a treat in itself with very traditional French architecture, a large park with a quiet lake on one side of town, and the most beautiful cathedral I have seen yet. We walked around for a little bit and learned that the place to find the vineyards is between Châlons-en-Champagne and the larger town of Reims in the natural park Montagne de Reims. There are dozens of villages in that area, all surrounded by rolling hills and fields of vineyards.
A Treasure Hunt for a Taste of Champagne
With our Google Maps narrowed down to wineries and Bryan in the driver's seat ready to take us to the sparkling treasure, we stopped in a few villages with our eyes open for signs on the houses that said "degustation," indicating that they did wine tastings in their homes. While some regions are full of big commercial wineries, this quiet little area is one where most people produce smaller batches at home and then allow tourists and wine lovers like us to taste and buy it from them right then and there. After knocking on at least half a dozen doors, I finally figured out the reason why nobody was answering the door to allow us to come in and enjoy a taste of their bubbly creations. We hadn't been in Europe long enough yet to realize that - duh, it was siesta time! One lady that responded to my knocking kindly informed that it was lunchtime and that most places will start opening back up around 2pm.
We drove a bit further and got lucky enough to find a house on one of the narrow streets in the village of Trépail that was open - Fredestel. The young lady that kindly invited us in explained the background of how their family acquired the winery and gave us a taste of four different kinds of champagne they produce. She also advised where to go next for another sampling with a nice view of the area.
Less than 15 minutes up the road in Verzenay, there is a winery with a tower that overlooks a large part of the Montagne de Reims area called the Verzenay Lighthouse. One the way there, we stopped at Champagne Louis De Sacy to do another sampling. Here we learned a bit of background on what Grand Cru is and why champagnes with that label tend to be of a higher quality. Out of 312 villages that produce Champagne, there are only 17 that are classified as "Grand Cru" locations based on the quality of their grapes. The villages of Verzenay and Verzy where we stopped were included in the list of the 17.
After a beautiful early afternoon spent in the champagne region, it was time to head south to the Alsace Wine region and Colmar!
Tips for visiting the Champagne region
Make your first stop at the Tourist Office in Châlons-en-Champagne and get a list of the wineries in the area. Call ahead to reserve a wine tasting so you don't end up randomly knocking on doors like us (especially not between 12 and 2)! If you have time, you could probably spend a whole day driving around Montagne de Reims Natural Park and stopping in each village to sample a few different varieties of this bubbly gold.
"One day our lives will be two dates on either side of a dash. We are alive to make that dash dance, to fill it with memories of love."