We were heading to the ever-romanticised region of Champagne. This was my first of five class trips throughout France, and even though I did not know what to expect, I knew that these trips would be absolutely memorable. We were meeting at the train station the next morning at 5 am! I was beyond ready to welcome the adventure and get out of Paris.
It was early morning, I squinted my eyes and looked out to the cold and gray sky with a slight drizzle of rain coming down. I rubbed my eyes to fully awaken from the catnap I had taken on the train. I guess after I had inhaled the pain au chocolat given to me by my professor, I had drifted off to sleep. We had arrived in Champagne. It was late November and the vines were bare as the Champagne grapes are harvested at the same time as harvest in Bordeaux ~ September. There was a chill in the air and we were told our “tour bus” had fresh coffee for us, and more pastries. Hallelujah. I stepped into the tour bus and quickly realized this was no joke. We each had our own plush seat, with a water bottle and storage for our things. I did not realize we would be taken around Champagne, France in a first class bus. Coffee was being passed around and pastry platters made their way through the eisle, with the lofting smell of baked butter and glazed sugar. I was awake now! The bus drove down a main road and we passed the Lanson Champagne House and Vineyard, then next my eyes widened when we passed by Veuve Clicquot. We were making our way to Ulysse Collin, a small artisan vineyard with a plot of some of the best terroir in all of Champagne. Ulysse Collin was located in the town of Cogny, a sub-region of Champagne. Our first tasting would be held at 9 am. I figured there are worse things than sipping quality champagnes in the early morning hours. The bus stopped down a gravel dirt road. It was still lightly drizzling and we all downed our coffee and grabbed umbrellas. We were led into a cellar and introductions to the champagne makers were made. Over the course of the next two hours, we tasted eight different champagnes; each one was better than the next. Most of Ulysse Collin Champagnes were Extra Brut, which means there was absolutely no sugar added to enhance the flavor. The land “terroir” there was so good at developing complexity in the champagnes; there was no need to manipulate the taste profile by adding sugar also known as dosage in wine terms. In just a two-hour period there I had learned so much. To think that this was our first Champagne House of three that day, I could only envision where my knowledge level would be when I left Champagne to return to Paris.
We wrapped up the tour of Ulysse Collin and jumped back in the tour bus. We were venturing to Duval Leroy next. We would taste eight to ten more champagnes and then have a multi-course lunch.
Driving in the bus along the roads of Champagne was a great way for me to be able to compare how this landscape differed from the Bordeaux vineyards. Champagne definitely seemed more rustic, and even though there were massive champagne houses producing champagne and (it was a 4.5 billion dollar industry), it seemed more conservative and private than Bordeaux. Bordeaux had been more picturesque with Chateaus and absolutely stunning vineyards spaced throughout rolling hills. I decided I had better start taking notes of all of my observations in my notepad, as I was experiencing a wealth of information and scenery.
After our tour of Duval Leroy we sat down at a long extended conference table and geared up to compare the taste profiles of the eight champagnes laid before us. This was a very intense hour and I secretly hoped not to be called on. After a while all of the champagnes were blending together and started to taste the same. My palate was already exhausted as well as my mind. I was relieved when my professor called on Thomas to detect the final glass. Phew!
Shortly after, we entered a beautiful dining room where there were lovely table settings and 4 glasses for each seat. Over this multi-course lunch we would actually be getting to drink the champagnes. There was also red wine served, as the main course was a magret de canard. I still could not believe the treatment we were receiving between the tour bus, the lavish lunch, the private tours and explanations, and the conference table made to make us feel like the utmost professionals in this industry. The multi-course lunch was outstanding, and my belly was full by the end. We would venture next to the Jacques Selosse Vineyard, another artisan champagne maker, and then finally we would arrive at our hotel. Shortly after we would be whisked away to dinner at a fabulous restaurant. Day one ONLY …