You might read about it, you might watch videos or listen to people from there, you might even taste the wine coming from there. But before you actually visit the place, you cannot have the full picture. Visiting Champagne houses is an exciting event, and makes you understand better everything about champagne.
In this series of posts, we will be visiting six Champagne houses, G.H.Mumm, Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Taittinger and Pommery. Together we’ll feel the atmosphere of its cellars, watch the amazing view of its vineyards and taste the wines. If you’re planning a trip to Champagne this series would be inspiring and helpful for you to understand what’s awaiting you.
It’s very easy to arrive in Reims by train from Paris. It takes less than an hour, and on the way, you get to experience the countryside and vineyards. Once we arrived in Reims, we started immediately discovering the Champagne houses without losing a minute. Generally Champagne houses have their cellars in the city, while most of them produce their wines out of the city, closer to the vineyards. Our first visit is to G.H. Mumm in the center of Reims. It’s actually around a fifteen minute walk from the city center.
We entered and took our tour tickets. Red carpets on the stairs elevate the excitement of the tour. While waiting for the tour time, I used the opportunity to take some photos of the Formula 1 scenery that they created. G.H. Mumm has been the sponsor for Formula 1 for fifteen years before it ended in 2016.
The visit started in the production area, these large wooden vats, also known as foudre, were designed specifically to keep the wine coming from each vineyard: each designated for a specific plot. After foudres, we saw the concrete tanks, again designated for each vineyard. These tanks were used for the fermentation of the still wines, which were then used for the second fermentation in the bottle.
We went down to see the cellars. Underground cellars seem to be endless. The people who work there are using small vehicles to move, as walking from one side to another wouldn’t be practical at all.
After the still wine production, the wines are bottled and inoculated again for second fermentation in bottle. This stage is also called “prise de mousse”, literally translated as foam formation. After this second fermentation, the yeast sediments, also called lees, settle down as in the photo and the wine is aged staying in contact with the lees. We saw a sign showing the minimum legal aging times for different types of Champagne versus what is actually done in Maison Mumm. For the vintage champagnes the minimum required aging time is three years, while in Mumm vintage champagnes are aged for two year more on top of that.
After the aging process is completed, riddling takes place. Riddling, when done manually in the past, involves rotating the bottles and gradually collecting the sediments in the neck of the bottle, to be able to finally remove them. During this process wines are placed on pupitres, wooden riddling racks.
In the cellar, you can see a demonstration of “vieillissement sur lattes”, literally translated as aging on laths and “remouage” which is riddling.
There are different sizes of the Champagne bottles: Salmanazar (9 liters), Mathusalem (6 liters), Jeroboam (3 liters), Magnum (1.5 liters), bouteille (classic bottle of 75 cl), la demie (37,5 cl) and finally la quart (18.75 cl).
The tour finished in the museum of winemaking, where there was old machinery that were used to produce Champagne in the past. It’s impressive how they were so sophisticated considering the era. It was very interesting to see them.
Bottle carrier: This basket and special system was used for carrying bottles of Champagne from caves to the ground.
Wine pump: This type of pump dates back to 1880 and was used to racking the wine which was then poured into vats or casks.
Weighing machine: Towards 1850, this machine was used to weigh the casks before and after filling them with wine.
Stacking Pulley: This machine was used during the second half of the 19th century in order to stack three or four casks on top of each other for the first fermentation.
Rinsing machine: Thanks to a sprinkle introduced inside the bottle as well as a certain water pressure, the bottles were rinsed before the bottling process.
Rotary labelling process: After the filling process the bottles were placed on the rotary table prior to shipment.
After visiting the museum, we tasted the symbolic Mumm champagne, Mumm Cordon Rouge. It’s a blend of three main Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and aged for twenty months in the cellars we just visited. The exciting bubbles and freshness of the champagne was a great way to finish our tour.
All images © 2019 by Wines of Nesli. All rights reserved.