Our Barge, Odysseus

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Champagne Country June 11

After a night moored to the wall above the lock in the village of Tours-sur-Marne, we headed down the Canal Lateral a la Marne toward Epernay; with Reims, the champagne areas principal cities. The tie up in the city is quite expensive so we opted for a free mooring in the nearby village of Cumieres. There's a 40 meter pontoon with water and electricity provided but, when we arrived, there were already two boats tied up, one about 24 meters and the other 17. Both were owned by English boaters who didn't mind if we rafted up so we settled in for a couple of days.

Epernay was just a 10 minute bike ride away but we were also only about a 3 km walk up a very steep hill to the village of Hautvillers. Those of you up on your wine history will recognize the place as the 17th century home of Dom Perignon, the Benedictine monk who "invented" champagne. He's buried in the local church.

Dom Preignon is, in many ways, responsible for wine as we know it today. He was in charge of the abbey cellars for 47 years and in that time he pioneered the idea of blending grapes from different areas into "vintages," the method of pressing black grapes to make white juice, the first use of thick glass bottles with corks to contain the bubbles and the digging of chalk cellars to keep aging wine at the proper temperature.

On the way back down the hill we had a beautiful view down to the mooring in Cumieres.

But isn't this what it's all about?

The hills are alive with the sounds of ... grapes ripening!

Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are the grape varieties used in champagne.

Friday night we decided it was time for a dinner in town so we visited Le Caveau, a restaurant in Cumieres that the guide book said was known for its regional specialties. The dining room was in a cave carved out of the local chalk mountainside, just like the champagne cellars. We were thoroughly stuffed.

Saturday was market day in Epernay so we bicycled into town and made our way through the vegetable stalls, stocking up for the week. The afternoon was devoted to a walk around Cumieres that included, you guessed it, the purchase of some champagne.

In the US we treat champagne as a celebration wine, reserved for special occasions. Since it's the local product, it's the everyday drink around here. The woman who poured for us at one of the tastings said, as we discussed the wine, that we must know something about champagne, but she preferred to drink it, not talk about it! At yet another tasting, one provided for tourists at the tourist office in Epernay, we were assured by the nice lady at the desk that you could not get drunk drinking champagne. I think she believed it!

Sunday began hot and humid so we stuck around the boat taking care of some chores. By the afternoon, huge thunderstorms built up and the heavens opened. We had planned to head on down the river Monday morning but the rain was still coming down in sheets and the river was full of debris so our departure would have to wait.

No comments: