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Roadtrip to Champagne: Taittinger & Vranken-Pommery Houses

This is the final instalment to our Champagne road-trip.
After our pitstop in Paris for less than 24 hours, our Reims Michelin star dinning experience and our day-long drive through the Grand Crus villages, came our last day, when we actually managed to visit two Champagne houses in Reims: Taitinger and Vranken-Pommery.
Both Houses are located in the centre of Reims, but with very distinct attitudes to presentation and experience.


These two are the easiest Champagne Houses to visit, because they are open most of the time and do not require bookings, especially in quieter seasons. I have to say, visiting some of these Champagne Houses has proved harder than we initially thought!
We really wanted to visit the Laurent Perrier for example, and although we did drive through Tours-sur-Marne, where it is located, it looked closed, so we drove off.
The same happened with the Louis Roederer house in Reims, we drove around it on several occasions trying to catch it open, only to eventually find out that it is not open to the public. I felt like a kid outside Willy Wonka's factory at that point...  
 
What a fun day it turned out to be however, after we decided to swallow our pride and walk into the Tourism Office in Reims! We also found it really hard to contact most of the Champagne houses by phone, but the Tourism Office will tell you what's what and will help you plan your day, in no time! 
 
One of the impressive caves, full of bottles, amongst the 12 kilometres of tunnels that belong to the Taittinger House alone.
 
The Taittinger House puts a lot of emphasis on history and traditions.
The Taittinger building wouldn't attract your attention otherwise. It was the first one we visited and we really didn't know what to expect. A short presentation in a very plain cinema room focuses on the House's traditions. However, you soon find out that the current building was built on the ruins of the former St Nicaise Abbaye, where  Benedictine monks used the Roman chalk pits underneath, to store their wines at a constant temperature of 12C.
 
Left: the old staircase that the Benedictine monks used to descend to the cellars. Right: WWII art!


Straight after the presentation comes the interesting part, a windy staircase takes you twelve meters underground, straight into the chalk cellars. They are all stacked with thousands of bottles of champagne and you get to see how bottles are kept at different angles throughout their fermentation, in order to eventually be kept almost upside down and push the sediment out.
We also spotted the old staircases that the monks used to use. In the Roman chalk pits we even spotted little faces, carved in the porous walls; this unexpected art is the result of the people of Reims,  using the pits as hiding place during WWII.


If you thought that "Magnum" is the holy grail of sizes (third in, from the right), think again...here in Reims they go up to a "Nebuchadnezzar", or a whopping 15 litres of bubbles!

Overall, the Taittinger visit was a very interesting experience, packed with historic details throughout.


The Vranken Pommery House on the other hand, seemed like a fairy-tale castle out of a movie, where knights might as well appear, on their colourfully dressed horses.
It had more of a commercial feel to it, with focus on marketing and edgy blue colourful designs throughout the cellars.



Our guide was way too serious, he wouldn't answer to jokes and wouldn't take any comments either. This experience was totally different to the Taittinger one. Here, two double wooden doors open and you find yourself on top of a long staircase that is colourfully lit, descending into the chalk pits. Quite impressive, I will admit. It felt like we were entering a wonderland, with light installations, art pieces and bubbles, off course! We were cautioned to walk on the right only, as other groups were coming up on the left. I understand that safety is important in these conditions, but the attitude could be a bit more relaxed.

Loads of pieces of art were scattered around the chalk pits. This place had a modern feel to it throughout. What I really liked was learning about Madame Pommery, who inherited the House after her husband's death and was an innovator of her time, in terms of marketing.
Every time a new market was opened for Pommery Champagne, a cave would be named after this market. Hence you spot "Birmingham", right next to "Berne" and so on.




At the end of the tour we were taken to a white arched cave, illuminated with fluorescent blue lights, to have our champagne tasting. I had a glass of the Pommery Apanage Rose at first, but what was really nice was the Pommery Gran Cru Vintage, finer bubbles, very fine texture.
I have to say...that's where we decided that we are missing our ferry from Calais that evening, in order to take it easy and enjoy our tour.


Here's a question: why don't they offer any nibbles at these champagne tastings?
No, my inner alchie hasn't proclaimed itself just yet, so I just couldn't down three glasses of champagne, with no food! Well, it seemed like the perfect time to crack open our precious macaroons from Paris, they went down a treat!

PS: we missed the next ferry from Calais too, because we stopped for supplies in Carrefour, on the way!

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