According to legend, monks from the southern region of France brought the method for making sparkling wine north to the Champagne region. They learned that the combination of the chalky soil and climate produced a bright, bubbly wine that is known today as champagne. But not just any sparkling wine can be called champagne – only those that use the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes and follow the traditional production method. In fact, since 2006 the United States banned using the label “champagne” for sparkling wine that has not met the above criteria.
There are marvelous and superb wine regions all over the world, but there is only one Champagne. The famous and renowned vineyards of Champagne lie on the chalky hills to the south west of Reims, and around the town of Epernay. Traveling throughout the area you will see beautiful landscapes, quaint villages, pockets of French history, and, of course, grand vineyards.
Centered around its worldfamous cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site, Reims is the largest city in Champagne. It was at the cathedral where the most famous and cherished event was the coronation of Charles VII in the company of Joan of Arc. Thus, the Cathedral of Reims (damaged by the Germans during the First World War but restored since) played the same role in France as Westminster Abbey did in England.
Reims has a beautiful and charming pedestrianized zone with awesome restaurants and incredible stores filled with bottles and bottles of bubbly. The cathedral and the neighboring museum are must visit sights as are the large extensive champagne houses of Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, and Taittinger. Most houses are open to the public, however reservations are recommended since many of the tours fill quickly. Reims sits on more than 100 miles of ancient caves and cellars where an estimated one billion bottles of champagne are aging at any time.
South of Reims is the smaller town of Epernay, called the “champagne capital” with many of the biggest champagne producers heralding from that region. Along the Avenue de Champagne, the grandest and palatial champagne houses sit like monuments or embassies. Some of the most acclaimed names are located here – such as Moet Chandon with tours of its magnificent cellars including where Dom Perignon ages along with Perrier Jouet.
Just minutes outside Epernay sits the small commune of Hautvillers. This miniature village and abbey are very significant because the famous and recognized monk Dom Perignon lived (and is buried) here. The tiny medieval streets are lined with intimate champagne houses and cozy shops. Hautvillers offers a very contrasting experience from the larger group tours at the bigger champagne houses.
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