Do you know what I did last summer? I’ve visited the wine region that I admire the most: Champagne. I was already in love with everything about Champagne before the trip. As a winemaker, it’s the production method that I’ve studied and admired the most; as a wine drinker, it’s the wine that I enjoy the most. So, I was just focused in the wine aspect of the trip, also because it was the aim in the end. However, when I went there, I’ve realized that Champagne region is more than the house of the one of the most famous wines in the world, but it is also an important piece of the history.
Notre-Dame de Reims
To start to discover the history of Champagne, first thing to do is visiting the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims. Parisians might be angry with me but this Notre-Dame just took my breath away. I know that I am not the only one who admires this Cathedral, since whenever I passed through, there were at least ten buses coming from all around Europe to visit. To be more specific, it is one of Europe’s most important Gothic structures and over a million people visit it every year. Another reason that makes it so special besides its architecture is that Notre-Dame de Reims was where the kings of France were crowned. To have an idea of how many important events thE Cathedral had hosted, it would be enough to say that in 2011 Notre-Dame de Reims complied its 800th years. (1)
Just a look from the outside, and you see the Notre-Dame de Reims is covered with 2300 (yes, two thousand three hundred!) statues. (2) The statues of different sizes are all over the Cathedral and some of them are very big. I actually couldn’t realize how big they were since they are situated high, but when I saw them closer in Palais du Tau, double of my height, I was speechless. I still cannot believe how they were able to build and maintain them – except the war time unfortunately.
Traces of War
It’s sad to know that the city of Reims, including the Notre-Dame de Reims was severely damaged during First World War. Inside of the Cathedral there is an exposition of the war photos, showing all the damage done by the bombardments – it’s actually quite tragic, I’ve experienced that most people seeing this part with eyes full of terror, and I was one of them. However, the photos include the details of the work of restoration which are still going on since 1919. Notre-Dame de Reims became and remained as a powerful symbol of the war. (3)
Then, I’ve realized that this Cathedral is very important for the local people. They do everything to protect it and they are very proud of it. When we were inside of the Cathedral and reading the information about the construction and renovation, we saw a French guy that we’ve met casually in a wine tasting the other day. He told us if we had any question about the Cathedral, he would be very happy to answer. So, we made couple of questions and he started to tell all the details that he knew by heart. This was great because the local people are always the best guides.
Le Sourire de Reims
When we finished visiting inside of the Cathedral our local guide reminded us to pay attention to L’Ange au Sourire on our way out. The Smiling Angel, also known as Smile of Reims, is an emblematic sculpture situated in the west façade of the cathedral. The Smiling Angel is unique, because normally the angel sculptures of this genre don’t have face impressions. She is also unique because she’s believed to give hope, belief and power to recover to people with her smile. (4)
Vitrail du Champagne
Another charming part of the Cathedral is the vitrail du Champagne, stained-glass window of Champagne. This window consists of three lancets ten metres high surmounted by three oculi 2.4 metres in diameter. In Champagne window, you can see all the story of historical Champagne production; winegrowers working in the vineyard, harvesting the grapes and finally pressing the grapes and making wine in cellars, viticulture and winemaking tools and landscapes of 44 Champagne villages. Moreover, you can see Dom Pérignon, cellar master of Hautvillers, John the Baptist, patron saint of cellar workers and St Vincent, the saint of winegrowers.(5)
Palais du Tau
When you go out from Notre-Dame du Reims and walk about 2 minutes, you will be arriving to the Palace Tau, where the kings of France were having their coronation banquet after the ceremony in the Cathedral. When I was walking there, I was imagining myself as one of the guests of the banquet. Actually, it is not very difficult to imagine it because the palace holds some rooms which retain their medieval aspect. (6)
I was lucky to visit this palace when they had a temporary exposition of Henri Abelé, who founded Société des Amis de la Cathédrale de Reims (Society of Friends of the Cathedral of Reims) in 1917, to help and promote the renovations of the Cathedral. (7)
Rêve de Couleurs
A final touch for finishing the day surrounded by the history of Champagne would be where we’ve started, in Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims. Before mentioning the unforgettable show that I’ve watched here, I want to use this chance to mention that this Cathedral was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. (8)
Every year, in different periods along the year, they are making this amazing light and sound show. To watch it, you should just check the time table (9) and go in front of the Cathedral and take your seat! I suggest you to go early to choose a nice place to be able to have a complete sight of the Cathedral. This show, as well as being so much fun and a festival to eyes and ears, it’s also a great way to feel the history and symbolic importance of Notre-Dame de Reims.
A glass of Champagne to feel it all!
To be able to understand all these better, I’ve chosen a bottle of Champagne from Henri Abelé. Maison Abelé was founded in 1757. Since then the maison is supporting the local heritage by contributing to the restorations of the Cathedral Notre-Dame du Reims. (10) In the necks of the champagnes of Henri Abelé, you will have the Smiling Angel, smiling to you. Also the premium cuvées of the maison are named after Smiling Angel; Sourire de Reims Brut and Sourire de Reims Rosé. (11)
I am tasting the Henri Abele Brut, a blend of Chardonnay (40%), Pinot Noir (35%), Pinot Meunier (25%), non-vintage, aged 3 years in cellar before disgorging.
– Tasting notes to come.
All in all, these visits that I’ve listed here helped me to understand better the area and the inseparable history of Champagne the region and champagne the wine.
All images © 2017 by Nedret Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.