A Tale of Two Wineries
Every year thousands of tourists flock to the village of Épernay, 25 km south of Reims in northern France, to visit the great champagne houses gathered along the av de Champagne. Even on the cool autumn day, well out of the tourist season, that we visit, there are enough visitors for the cellar tours to depart ever 20 minutes at the Moët et Chandon headquarters. Our group has about 15 English speakers including UK, US and Australian accents and we wait for our tour to start in a lavish hall displaying posters of beautiful young things, with perfect smiles, telling us that champagne is sophisticated.
Nowhere near as important as putting bubbles in beer!
We are guided by a young man, named Julian, with a soft French accent dressed in the corporate uniform of black suit, black shirt and black tie. He guides us through an in-house video that sets the tone with slick production but no useful information and a walk through parts of the 28 km of cellar tunnels set aside for tourists. He explains how champagne was made emphasizing hand turning bottles and long family traditions.
Skipped over in the presentation are the simple facts that champagne is made like any other modern wine; fermented in huge stainless steel vats in an industrial shed then turned and purged by machines. It has been made this way since the 1960s and it would be impossible to make a million bottles a year any other way.
Under questioning Julian admits that the “family” not longer controls the company which has been part of a conglomerate since the 1980s. The family values till drive the company we are assured.
We then appear in the tasting room for our one glass of the product before being abandoned in the boutique with the expectation that we will buy a bottle or two to take away with us.
We rush out into the cool autumn afternoon and leave without looking back sure that we have just been given a one hour advertisement for the champagne lifestyle and paid $20 for the privilege.
Épernay is the centre of a French marketing marvel that has sold wine with bubbles as a lifestyle accessory for 90 years. A visit to the great champagne houses, however, is not the whole story of the district or this amazing wine style.
While 75% of the vineyards legally able to provide grapes for true champagne lie in the Marne département around Reims and Épernay, the other 25% is situated more than 120 km south in the département of Aube. The wine growing area in Aube is more limited and centres on about 20 villages from Les Riceys in the south to Bar-sur-Aube 30 km to north east.
The Aube wineries have a long history of champagne production but, when the areas for inclusion in Champagne’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) were established in 1909, the Aube département vineyards were not included. 18 years of conflict, including crippling strikes and confrontation followed. The chaos was such that the Army was brought in to regain government control.
Riding through the Chardonnay vineyards in Aube is a delight.......
....even on a bitterly cold and foggy day!
By the time the dispute was settled and Aube was included in the areas of the Champagne AOC, the major producers of the north had established market dominance in a new, image driven, wine market. As a consequence, the southern wineries lack the pizzazz of the big names, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the product or experience of a visit.
We select a wine maker in the south at Celles-sur-Ource on the basis that they advertise that English is spoken and turn up at the door of Champagne Marcel Vézien unannounced. It is a bitterly cold foggy day and customers are thin on the ground. The locals complain that it is unseasonable weather but we suspect that they are just being polite to visitors.
This is a family business run by Jean-Pierre and Marie-José Vézien. There is no charge for tours or tasting and we settle into the warmth of the tasting bar with Marie-José for a chat about the history of the vineyard and the wines. There are no special tourist areas dedicated to the image of the product or the company. Jean-Pierre wanders through in work clothes for a chat. The business goes on around us.
Unfortunately the bike doesn't handle as well after excessive tasting of champagne, regardless of rider skill.
We select three champagnes for tasting, a chardonnay, a pinot noir and a rosé, and taste them in that order with the stronger rosé last. All have strong varietal character, interest and complexity. We purchase two bottles of the rosé to take with us for a friend in Belgium and a bottle of the chardonnay for that evening. Our host packs them in boxes for transport and throws in a reusable stopper, a pen, a key ring and smile.
These shelters, called cadole, were built in the fields by the workers to provide protection from the elements. These days,the workers jump in the mini-bus and whip into town for the two hour lunch break.
Caught somewhere between the marketing triumph of the Épernay houses and the small family vineyards of the Aube is a more complex and reassuring story than we had anticipated. To visit one is to find champagne as a lifestyle accessory prized for its brand name and exclusivity. To visit the other is to get involved with the wine for its own sake.
Our veteran travellers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure.
"A fantastic, informative and inspirational DVD."
"It's brilliant - thank you very much!"
Check it out at the HU Store! Remember to use Coupon Code 'ONTHEROAD' on your order when you checkout.
Next HU Events
- Canada West: Aug 21-24
- USA North Carolina: Sept. 4-7
- France Mini: Sep 5-7
- Canada Ontario: Sept. 11-14
- NEW! UK - Haggs Bank: Sept. 19-21
- USA California: Sept. 25-28
- Aus Queensland: Oct 3-6
- Aus Perth: Oct 10-12
- Aus VIC: Oct 24-26
- NEW! Aus NSW: Oct 31-Nov 2
- NEW! South Africa: Nov 13-16
- NEW! HUMM Morocco: May 13-16, 2015
What others say about HU...
"I just wanted to say thanks for doing this and sharing so much with the rest of us." Dave, USA
"Your website is a mecca of valuable information and the DVD series is informative, entertaining, and inspiring! The new look of the website is very impressive, updated and catchy. Thank you so very much!" Jennifer, Canada
"...Great site. Keep up the good work." Murray and Carmen, Australia
"We just finished a 7 month 22,000+ mile scouting trip from Alaska to the bottom of Chile and I can't tell you how many times we referred to your site for help. From how to adjust your valves, to where to stay in the back country of Peru. Horizons Unlimited was a key player in our success. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world are in debt to your services." Alaska Riders
10th Annual HU Travellers Photo Contest is on now! This is an opportunity for YOU to show us your best photos and win prizes!
NEW! HU 2014 Adventure Travel T-shirts! are now available in several colors! Be the first kid on your block to have them! New lower prices on synths!
Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!
What turns you on to motorcycle travel?
Global Rescue is the premier provider of medical, security and evacuation services worldwide and is the only company that will come to you, wherever you are, and evacuate you to your home hospital of choice. Additionally, Global Rescue places no restrictions on country of citizenship - all nationalities are eligible to sign-up!
New to Horizons Unlimited?
New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!
Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.Read more about Grant & Susan's story
Membership - help keep us going!
Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events (22 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.
You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.
Books & DVDs
All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.
MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!
Story and photos copyright © All Rights Reserved.
Contact the author:
Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.
Hosted by: Horizons
Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
You can have your story here too - click for details!