Famous Champagne houses, panoramic views of the vineyards, pretty wine-growing villages in the vicinity,… Epernay is the perfect destination for a first insight into the world of Champagne.
What is the capital of Champagne and so the best place to discover the king of wines ?... Reims or Epernay ... ? ... Opinions differ, but the second seems more legitimate because this small town of 24,000 inhabitants is dominated by the Champagne business and sits at the heart of the three largest and most prestigious production zones: the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs. Fourteen famous Champagne houses have their headquarters right in the city centre, along the aptly named Avenue de Champagne, in Renaissance or Classical style mansions built in the 19th century over a 100 kilometres long underground labyrinth of chalky cellars.
[ Practical ]
- By road
148 km from Paris on autoroute A4 till Château-Thierry (exit 20), then on D1 and N3 till Epernay.
30 km from Reims on N51, D301 and D40.
- By train
TER train from Paris Gare de l’Est to Epernay. The journey takes 1 h 10 mn.
TGV from Paris Gare de l’Est to Reims, then TER from Reims to Epernay. The journey takes approximately 1 h 40 mn.
Hôtel de Champagne
Hôtel Le Magellan
La Villa Eugène
La Cave à Champagne
Le Chapon Fin
L’Oeil de Bœuf
La Table Kobus
C comme Champagne
Sentier du Vigneron
Tel : 0326523137
Aÿ Eco Visite
Rates : €35 per person, €40 with aperitif, €65 with picnic.
Tel : 0613490945
- Marne Tourist Office
Tel : 0326684645, www.tourisme-en-champagne.com
- Epernay Tourist Office
Tel : 0326533300, www.ot-epernay.fr
- Champagne-Ardenne Tourist Office
Tel : 0326218580
Moët et Chandon, the world’s largest Champagne producer, that boasts 28 kilometres of tunnels containing 90 millions of bottles. De Castellane whose impressive 'Belle Epoque' building was designed by the architect of the Paris Gare de Lyon railway station and is topped by a 66 metres high tower offering great views of the city and the vineyards. Pol Roger, that was the exclusive supplier of Winston Churchill. Besserat de Belfond that prides itself on developing the champagne with the finest bubbles and the softest foam. Mercier, where you go to the depth of 30 metres with a panoramic lift around which are models of the company’s vineyards and then go in a section of the 18 kilometres long cellar in a laser-guided train seeing monumental chalk sculptures and one of the world's largest barrels, which can hold over 200,000 bottles of champagne.
Also worth to see is the Château Perrier, former home of Perrier- Jouet’s owners that was built in 1854 in Renaissance style, which was successively the headquarters of the British, German and U.S armies during WWII.
Tour of the vineyards
Also in Epernay, the Champagne bar and shop " C Comme.. " is a good place to discover the diversity of Champagne . It indeed sells champagnes from fifteen major houses and about fifty growers scattered across many villages of the appellation whose bottles are reasonably priced. In addition, each day five champagnes made up from various combinations of grape varieties are served by the glass allowing you to taste a flight of different Champagne styles.
Even without a car, you can also explore the vineyard thanks to James Richard Fliniaux, winemaker at Ay, a village just 5 kilometres away from Epernay. Founder of Aÿ Eco Visite, he may indeed pick you up with an electric car at the train station or at your hotel for a two hours ride through the vineyard of Ay. Planted on a hillside overlooking the river Marne, it covers 400 ha shared by twenty-five majors and a score of small producers.
One of the best terroirs
A highly sought after land because it is the only one being classified as Grand Cru for the three main grapes used for making Champagne : Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Along the way, you get the chance to hop off the car and step into the vines while Richard-Fliniaux explains the wine growing techniques and the Champagne-making process. Whenever is done this outing, it ends with a tasting of three champagnes taking place in the vineyard or at the property. It also includes a picnic or an aperitif if taking place in the late morning or late afternoon.
If you have time and the opportunity, go to the next village, Mareuil -sur- Ay , nestled around a 18th century castle made up of stones and red bricks and a 19th century church boasting a Romanesque tower. On its eastern outskirts, you will find the Clos des Goisses, a 5.5 hectares walled vineyard with one of Champagne’s most exceptional terroirs.
A 30% to 45% south facing slope with chalky soil planted with vines being at least 25 years old and producing remarkable Champagne. This plot got its name because in old local dialect Goisses means " hard work " and is a monopole of Philipponat, a Champagne house still run by a member of its founding family.
Overlooking Ay and Mareuil -sur-Ay, Mutigny is another must-see. Located 240 meters above sea level, the highest point of the vineyard, this tiny village offers unparalleled panoramic views over the heart of the Champagne appellation. From there, you can see church steeples from 45 villages located in the Marne Valley, the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs. In addition, a 2.2 kilometres long trail called “Sentier du Vigneron” developed by the municipality threads through the vineyards and is marked with explanatory panels providing information on the various steps of the Champagne production process, from vine cultivation and the diseases threatening grapes to the economic weight of the sector.
This walk can also be done as part of a guided tour providing additional insights and ending with a Champagne tasting.
Finally, there is no question of going to Epernay without popping into Hautvilliers. Only 8 kilometres away, this winegrowing village is indeed regarded as the birthplace of Champagne because it is here that its making process is said to have been developed by Dom Perignon in the 17th century. Considered one of the fathers of oenology, this Benedictine monk is buried in the church of the former abbey where he lived and worked. The village is also famous for its 140 inventive wrought iron signs adorning most houses and symbolizing the activity of each building’s occupant, Champagne production being of course the predominant theme. Hautvillers being high on a hill, there are many viewpoints over the vineyards, for instance from the terrace facing the Champagne G.Tribaut’s tasting room.
June 05, 2014