One of the hardest things about visiting Champagne is knowing where to go for tastings and getting there – who wants to drive when you can drink champagne???
There are plenty of champagne tastings you can book fairly easily in the bigger towns… Reims and Epernay are home to most of the big name houses.
But one of the (many, many, many) reasons I love Champagne as much as I do is that the region is heart-breathtakingly beautiful. And full of wonderful warm, kind, knowledgeable locals who are deeply passionate about their region and its wine, and they are just dying to share that with the world!
And if you just stay in the big, easy cities you miss the very best that Champagne has to offer.
So the answer.. is book to a tour with a driver. I did three tours on my most recent trip, the first of which was with Brice from The Champagne Tour Company.
The Champagne Tour Company
Larry has been running tours in Champagne (and Paris) for ten years. Now the name Larry doesn’t sound very French… it’s not and he’s not. He is American but has been living in France for more than a decade, and is passionate about helping international visitors see the best the region has to offer.
Larry works with local drivers and guides, like my guide Brice, who speak English and know the area inside out. Brice grew up locally and has worked at a bunch of champagne houses (including a few we stopped in at), which is why his connections are so amazing.
Larry and Brice do offer standard tours for guests who don’t know much about the region, but they also tailor options for people like me. I was visiting for five weeks and had set up dozens of appointments on my own and wanted something very specific from them.
Check out their video of a day tour below… but don’t stop reading my story!
Here is how my afternoon with The Champagne Tour Company went!
I visited my first Bouzy winery
Something I probably should explain first is that Bouzy is the name of a village in Champagne. (There’s one called Dizy too 🤣!) I had to explain to many of my guides in Champagne what Bouzy means to us in Australia (and probably the US, Canada, NZ and the UK too). My guide Bastien at Mumm had an aha moment.. it explained why so many people love posing for this picture haha!
Posing under the Bouzy sign in the GH Mumm cellars on my first trip. I have matured since then… haha NOT! I totally take a repeat pic every visit!
Boozy jokes aside, Bouzy is special in Champagne for entirely more serious reasons. So much so that I actually made a special request to visit winemakers in Bouzy on my day with Brice. If you hang out with me long enough, you’ll know I love high pinot noir champagne and some of my fave champagnes contain grapes from… the Grand Cru village of Bouzy (find out what Grand Cru means here).
There is a very special terroir (and you can check what terroir is here) in Bouzy that I really enjoy, and there are many highly-regarded producers in the village. Apparently, this can be put down to…
- Bouzy being one of the warmest areas and
- the slopes lie just far enough from the Marne to be more mountain than valley and
- are south facing, so they get plenty of sun which produces ripe, full-bodied wines.
Brice also set me straight about a misconception about Bouzy… that a lot of people think Bouzy is well known for making exceptional rosé champagnes. That’s not entirely correct… Bouzy is more well known for making beautiful still red wines that are used in the best rosé champagnes and Coteaux Champenois (yes – they make wine without bubbles in Champagne too!)
In Bouzy, Brice introduced me to Delpine the winemaker from Champagne Jean Vesselle (read about that visit here) who makes one of the best known…
Oeil de Perdrix champagnes…
Brice also introduced me to a whole new style of champagne I hadn’t tried before.
So…. we know that champagne is a clear wine.. unless you make a rosé champagne (if you don’t know this, catch up here). When they press the grapes, winemakers go to great lengths to avoid the grape skin coming into contact with the grape juice because the skin is where the red/pink colour comes from.
Well, an Oeil de Perdrix is actually made when they DO let the red skins have contact with the juice. Hundreds of years ago before wine makers were intentionally making a rosé champagne, the champagnes they produced were tinted pink from the grape skins. The technique to make an Oeil de Perdrix dates back to these times, before they had the techniques available today, using a direct pressure method. The short skin contact turns the juice a very pale pink colour or a very delicate amber, which is apparently the colour of the “eye of a partridge”. The name Oeil de Perdrix means “eye of partridge” in French.
Champagne Jean Vesselle is famous for producing Oeil de Perdrix today. So well-known is the Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix, that on the day of my visit they had sold out of their entire stock! Which is fine, I made Brice promise to take me back next time so I can try it then.
Brice was so keen for me to try an Oeil de Perdrix, he invited me to ‘gate crash’ a tour he was taking the next morning, to Champagne Philippe Martin in Cumières. (Sorry Brice, I don’t think I was meant to tell anyone that… hope you don’t get in trouble from Larry! Larry, don’t be mad – this is exactly what makes Brice awesome and why I recommend you… everyone LOVES above and beyond!). Cumières is a premier cru village known for its pinot meunier, just down the hill from where I was staying in Hautvillers. So I wandered down the hill the next morning and met up with a fun loving group on a girls’ weekend from London, AND I got to try my first Oeil de Perdrix with Brice (see the picture above!)
All thanks to Brice and the The Champagne Tour Company but it doesn’t stop there!
Brice also introduced me to a Champagne legend…
Jean-Jacques Cattier of Champagne Cattier.
Me with Jean-Jacques Cattier at Champagne Cattier
For 40 years from 1972-2010, Jean-Jacques was CEO of Champagne Cattier, and his family can be traced back to 1763, growing grapes in Chigny-les-Roses.
Brice used to work for the family at Cattier and knows the family well. So even though our stop was unplanned (Chigny-les-Roses is not Bouzy!), Brice suggested we dropped in at Cattier and he arranged a private tasting for me… and my meeting with Jean-Jacques.
I had a lovely chat with Jean-Jacques about his travels in Australia. Our conversation soon turned to football.. I was visiting in June 2018 and the very next day the first round of the 2018 World Cup was on and… Australia was set to play France. After our tasting and photo, Jean-Jacques came back with two young French lads draped in their French fan gear and a football which we kicked around in the reception… France beat Australia in the reception that day… and the next day too, but it made a very memorable visit even more memorable.
Jean-Jacques and the team at Cattier were warm and welcoming, kind and generous… and of course the champagnes were fabulous!
My final stop with Brice was at Champagne Louis Brochet
By our last scheduled stop we were running pretty late (I like to chat, apparently haha!). My tour was booked for 2-5 for three producers and by 6pm we were just arriving at Champagne Louis Brochet, just as the family was heading out for the night.
But that’s no problem… when your guide is Brice. We had a quick chat with the family, who Brice used to work for…. and they left Brice the keys to the cellars so he could do the tasting for me. (Again, not sure I was meant to tell anyone that. But again… it is exactly the kind of thing that makes your tours so special!)
Champagne Louis Brochet is a family-owned (four generations) grower producer set on 13 hectares in the village of Ecueil (Montagne de Reims). The tasting room has a stunning backdrop of vineyards (see below), which was a spectacular setting for my last tasting with Brice.
And then of course there were the champagnes!
I have talked about a lot of the people and the experiences from my afternoon with The Champagne Tour Company… but you can’t talk about an afternoon with in Champagne with The Champagne Tour Company without looking at… the champagnes!
The Champagne Tour Company
From the smaller producer to bigger houses, the diversity of champagne making styles and terroir (from Bouzy to Chigny-les-Roses to Ecueil to Cumières) I covered a lot of ground with The Champagne Tour Company and tasted plenty of champagne! Remember this was over two days and tastings are smaller pours than a full glass. #drinkresponsibly
You can find more out about The Champagne Tour Company on their website. If you tell them you were referred by Marnie at Bubble and Flute, you will get a 10% discount on your tour price!
I only had time for a half day tour, but The Champagne Tour Company offers full-day Champagne tours, large group options, a masterclass in Reims, and overnight stays too! Larry is based in Paris and organises experiences in Paris too… river cruises, caviar tastings, and other food experiences. Email him at [email protected] and he can prepare you an itinerary.
A quick note about Champagne Tours with The Champagne Tour Company. The pricing was done differently to the other tours I took – not better or worse, just different so to make you aware. I paid for Brice as my private driver and his expertise and connections, but at some producers there may be an extra change for the actual tastings. They generally waive the tasting fee if you buy something, but just so you are aware of the extra fees. It may not be what you are used to in the US or NZ or even Australia but it will be worth every cent to try champagnes you will never see at home!
Have you been to Champagne and done a great tour? Or do you want to know more about my time with Brice and The Champagne Tour Company? Ask or tell me about it in comments below or post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute #happychampers on Facebook and Instagram.
Bubble & Flute promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol for individuals of legal drinking age in their country.