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Too Late for the Train to Reims...
How About Epernay?

Grape Vines in the Champagne country sideThat's the way the trip began. For a visit to the Champagne region from Paris, Reims was our first choice. Reims cathedral added to the wine cellars makes for a good mix of fun and culture. But we had enjoyed the morning in Paris and after lunch the train schedule for the planned trip to Reims didn't fit into the day.

Checking the rest of the schedules we found that we could still make the train to Epernay, visit the Moët & Chandon cellars and get back to Paris the same day. It was settled.

The choice was perfect. Getting tickets for Epernay is much simpler, as well. For English speakers, Reims is extremely difficult to pronounce! (Reims is pronounced ‘rans', a somewhat nasal 'ran' with an ‘s' -- better to write it on a slip of paper to show the ticket clerk).

OEpernay weddingff to visit Epernay

This time, with tickets in hand to Epernay, we boarded the train for the quick trip to the Champagne region. Trains in France make travel part of the adventure. As you relax in your seat, the scenery floats by...

Arriving in Epernay, we emerged from the station to find the Church of Notre Dame. While not as magnificent as the Cathedral at Reims, the gargoyles and architecture were a very nice surprise. The village was pleasant and the wine houses were a short walk away.

We were also treated to a traditional French wedding procession as a young bride and groom crossed the courtyard and entered the Church. The children walked behind the bride holding the train of her dress with the rest of the family and guests making an honor guard in front of her. What a warm welcome to the village of Epernay!

Leaving the wedding we made our way to the great Champagne house of Moët & Chandon. Guests are greeted by a statue of Dom Perignon, the monk who is generally credited with discovering the Méthode Champenoise (may-tawd shaw-pah-nwaz). His call to the other monks, "Come quickly, I am tasting stars!" may still be the best description of the sparkling wines made in his name. Dom Perignon is the flagship product of Moët et Chandon. We were ready to see the cellars where one of the finest champagnes is created.

The Tunnels, caves, at Moet store millions of Champagne bottlesInside the tour guides were waiting. The tours are offered in several languages and the guides are fluent. Our guide was actually a British student who was studying in France.

The tour of the limestone caves that house the Champagnes is an experience you should put on your schedule if you are visiting the Paris area. The miles of tunnels are used to store more than 100 million bottles of Champagne! Do not wander off from the group or you will find yourself lost in the labyrinth of the cellars.

Bottle Broken during the Champagne fermentation processThe guide leads you through the caves where you can see the bottles of champagne in the stages of fermentation that lead to a finished bottle of champagne. In Methode Champenoise, the wine is fermented more than once. After the first fermentation, which takes takes two to three weeks, the wine is transferred to very sturdy bottles designed to prevent breakage from the pressure inside the bottle. Some bottles do still break, but the percentage is very small.

A sugar and yeast mixture called Liqueur de Tirage is added to the wine at this point. The bottles are sealed with a metal cap that looks like a beer bottle cap. Adding the sugar and yeast causes the wine to ferment again. This second fermentation in the bottle is what makes the carbon dioxide bubbles - the sparkle in champagne. During fermentation the yeast settles in the bottle. This is called sediment and needs to be removed before the wine is ready.

Bottles of champagne are stored at a 45 degree angleThis is done by placing the wines in racks at an angle. Every day the bottles are turned just the right amount. This process, called riddling or remuage, is very precise and the people who are responsible for it train for years before they become experts. After about 6 or 8 weeks, the sediment slips to the neck of the bottle. The liquid in the neck is frozen, the bottle is opened and the force of the pressurized wine inside the bottle pushes the frozen sediment out. This process is called disgorgement. Wine and sugar is added to replace the liquid that was removed with the sediment. The amount of sugar added in this last step determines the sweetness of the champagne. The bottle is then given its permanent cork.

After all of this we moved to the tasting room where the staff served samples of the finished Champagne to the tourists. Most thought this was the best part of the tour. After the tasting, the tour moved to the shop where Champagne and other items were for sale. We did bring home a case of Brut Imperial, as a keepsake of the day.

also see in Travel -> Train Travel | Rome to Florence by Train

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