As the dawn broke on our last morning of the Tour we were for the first time greeted with the light tapping sound of rain on our windows. Undeterred by this we fortified ourselves with our morning cup of tea, donned our bathrobes and ventured to the outdoor pool for a quick swim.
By the time we got ready to head out the rain had stopped and the day was clearing up nicely. Before checking out we had an important champagne buying stop to make just a five minute walk away from the hotel.
One of my favourite discoveries in Épernay is the house Champagne Paul-Etienne St. Germain . We first discovered this place back in 2012 and we were gutted to find them closed last year so were unable to make any purchases. As luck would have it last night, as we were walking down past their house to dinner, when we saw Agnés’ father, Serge, watering the garden. I spoke to him and asked him if it would be possible to visit tomorrow morning and he said “sure come by around 10am!”
So here I was, rocking up at probably my favourite domaine in Champagne and once again very grateful for my reasonable grasp of the French language which had opened this door for me. Serge and his wife Josiane speak no English but greeted me warmly and took me into the house to offer me a tasting. They were house sitting for their daughter and family who were taking a well earned holiday before the harvest!
I was keen not to impose on their time and as I had had a long degustation last time I just place my order and Serge disappeared off to make up the box!
It was fascinating talking to them both. Serge and Josiane have lived in Épernay all their lives, he was 80 years old and told me that he clearly remembers the day, 28th August 1944 when the American army liberated Épernay from their German occupiers!
I bid them both farewell and headed back to La Villa Eugène to load up the car and check out. La Villa Eugène is a beautiful property that was lovingly restored and refurbished several years ago from being the run down former home of the Mercier champagne family whose domaine is located about 300m away from the hotel.
Mercier may not make the greatest champagne but we did visit them on a previous visit and thoroughly enjoyed the tour especially the train ride through the miles of tunnels that weave underground beneath the scared champagne terroir!
Another house that’s also worth a visit and is located a little further down the Avenue de Champagne is Möet et Chandon. Their tour is probably more of historical interest although the place is undergoing an extensive refurbishment this year so when it opens again on 1st October 2015 I expect that it will have had further enhancements.
With a few hours to spare before we needed to start making our way north to Calais we decided to go and check out the villages along the Côte des Blancs. We took a circular tour through Cramant, Avize and le Mesnil-sur-Oger home to some of the greatest Blanc de Blancs Champagnes.
We stopped just outside Oger on the D9 to shoot this short video clip that really captures the stunning beauty of the Cote des Blancs
With over 3000 hectares dedicated to growing Chardonnay the clip gives an idea of the sheer scale of production.
We pushed on further north to the town of Mareuil- sur Ay and home to the famous label of Billecart Salmon Champagne
You can pre book a tasting here but its expensive and you’d probably want to leave the car behind if partaking in this, so that’s one for next time! They did have an interesting shop where they sell the full range of Billecarte cuvée including a non branded NV champagne that they make for the German market at just 14 Euro! Called “Champagne Charles Le Bel” , I thought it was worth getting a bottle to see what’s like! I’ll be posting the results when this one gets opened on our return to the UK!
We returned to Épernay keen to have lunch before our drive to Calais but were somewhat disappointed to find a lack of places that were serving lunch al fresco, maybe the rain earlier that day had made them nervous. Instead we decided to pick up a few local goodies and have a picnic.
One place that you cannot miss is the legendary Patisserie Vincent Dallet.
This place is a real Aladdin’s cave of indulgent cakes, pâtissèrie and chocolates. They also serve coffee to go and light lunches in a little cafe on the side.
One of their specialities is the Pain d’Épernay. This is a large pastry filled with almond crème pâtissière and sultanas soaked in marc de champagne. OMG what a pastry!
We made a few purchases and bought a cafe au lait to go along with a Pain D’Épernay as a kind of brunch. Stopping off at the grocer’s for some cheese and pâté we headed back to the car and decided to have our picnic when we got to Calais!
We swung out of Épernay making the slow climb out of the town and looking back at the spectacular tableau below us.
As we made our way into Calais even the frustration of UK immigration’s delays which meant that we missed our ferry couldn’t really take the gloss off of an absolutely fabulous Tour du Vin and probably our best so far.
French style as we waited the 100 or so minutes for the next ferry, we broke open our baguette, some cheese and a few tomatoes and picnic’d by our car on the quayside!
I hope you’ve enjoyed following our adventures as much as I’ve enjoyed experiencing them and sharing them with you all and look forward to the next one wherever that might take us!
In the meantime don’t forget to look out for my ad hoc posts on Food, Wine and Restaurants! As they say in French “À la prochaine!”