Greg and I had a magical time in Paris, but one of our favorite days of the trip actually took place outside the city!
We took a train to nearby Reims (pronounced like this) where there’s a cathedral that’s a lot like the Notre Dame cathedral, but more crazy (read: more gothic).
It’s beautiful though, especially its stained-glass windows.
But that’s not what makes the cathedral unique. Rather, it’s the fact that this is the cathedral where for centuries the French kings were crowned. It’s still not clear to me why the kings traveled to this cathedral for their coronation (after all, there are quite a few churches in Paris!) but it does give the cathedral an interesting bit of history.
We weren’t just in Reims for the cathedral, of course. We were there to experience something you can only experience in France: champagne tasting in Champagne!
My cousins Joe and Corrie had recommended a champagne tasting and tour at Wafflart-Briet, so Greg and I browsed the tour options and chose the discovery visit. This option lasts for four hours and includes a pickup and drop off in Reims or Epernay, a drive to the small Champagne village of Sacy, a discussion about champagne and the champagne process, a visit to Wafflart-Briet’s cellar, a visit to the vineyards, a picnic-style lunch and of course, champagne tasting. At €170 per person it was well worth it.
Rachel, a British woman who married into an old champagne-producing family, picked us up in Reims and drove us to Sacy, chatting the whole way. Rachel is wonderful, and is one of those people who instantly feels like your best friend the moment you meet her.
We arrived in Sacy, a quaint and picturesque village in the heart of Champagne.
Predictably I was immediately snap happy, and couldn’t help but have that song from Beauty and the Beast stuck in my head:
Little town, it’s a quiet village. Every day like the one before. Little town, full of little people, waking up to say… bonjour!
I may be getting the exact figures wrong (blame the champagne!) but 19 families produce champagne in Sacy. And the land where champagne can be grown is extremely valuable. One hectare (10,000 square meters) that can’t grow champagne is worth about $15,000. One hectare that can grow champagne is worth 1.2 million!
Again, the exact numbers may be off, but you get the point. Land that is able to grow champagne is significantly more valuable. So where you may have an image in your head of massive chateaus in the champagne region, the houses and villages are actually very small, because they don’t want to waste land that’s able to grow champagne by building on it.
Rachel began our tour by walking us through the champagne-making process, from harvesting the grapes all the way to corking the bottles. As it turns out, a lot goes into it. I’ve often heard people daydream about how they would love to retire on a vineyard and make champagne, making it sound like a leisurely activity. But in reality it is SO much work!
I was surprised at how regulated the process is. The Comité Champagne are essentially the mob bosses of champagne. They tell the growers what land can grow champagne, what grapes should be planted and when, what treatments to use on the crops while they’re growing, when the grapes should be harvested, and how long the bottles need to be stored before they can be sold. Basically they control all aspects of the champagne-production process for all of Champagne.
And just in case you didn’t know this already, champagne can only come from the Champagne region in France. A similar bottle from another area isn’t “champagne” but rather “sparkling wine.”
It was fascinating learning all about the champagne-production process.
And Rachel even set us to work!
Here’s a video of me affixing the foil to the top of the bottle.
And here I am applying the two labels:
After all of our hard work, Greg and I relaxed on the patio with gorgeous views of the vineyards.
Can you believe this is their backyard?!
It makes our views of the alley behind our NYC apartment seem especially pathetic!
Then it was time for the best part of the day: the champagne tasting!
Most champagne tastings in the U.S. involve small tastes. Not at Wafflart-Briet! Rachel opened three entire bottles of champagne, and since she was pregnant it was solely up to Greg and me to make sure they didn’t go to waste!
Luckily we had a picnic lunch to help ensure we didn’t get too drunk but still, it was a “relaxing” afternoon to say the least!
My favorite champagne was the Demi-Sec. In fact it’s the best champagne I’ve ever had! Greg and I took home several bottles and this was one of them. And if you remember from the video, I even got to label my own bottle! So I practically made the champagne myself!
You can see all of Wafflart-Briet’s champagnes here. And don’t worry about FOMO, because they’ll ship bottles to you anywhere in the world!
After lunch and a significant amount of champagne, we headed out into the beautiful vineyards.
Greg and I were both sad when Rachel drove us back to the train station. It was such a perfect day, and we couldn’t have had a more wonderful time.
Champagne tasting in Champagne is the perfect day trip from Paris, and offers a welcome relaxed vibe away from Paris’ more fast-paced energy. I’m sure there are many champagne tour and tasting options, but we really loved our experience at Wafflart-Briet and I strongly recommend it! As I said, Rachel is awesome, and I liked that the experience didn’t feel too commercialized. It wasn’t the Disney version of a champagne tour. Rather we got to visit their home, see how they make champagne, and hang out on their patio and drink. It felt like an authentic “day in the life” experience, and we loved that aspect of it.
You can find out more information on visiting Wafflart-Briet here. In addition to the full tours they also offer shorter tastings, so there’s an option for any schedule and budget.
And when you go, say hi to Rachel for us!
(You can find all of my France travel posts here).
P.S. My dress is by Marissa Webb and you can find it here.