It is rather difficult to fathom over two hundred million bottles of Champagne are being aged in underground cellars beneath the streets of Epernay. I pray there is no earthquake! In fact, there are 110 km of subterranean cellars, holding more than 200 million bottles of Champagne, just waiting for me. Epernay is 25 km south of Reims, and as easy as a train or auto trip for the day.
A typical tour might start at Moet et Chandon in Epernay for the first tasting. The tour will introduce us to the famous chalk cellars used for aging the precious bubbly. A short drive away is the village of Hautvilliers, home to the ancient Benedictine abbey where a local monk by the name of Dom Perignon worked on the creation of Champagne in the 18th century.
After Dom, perhaps a short ride to a small boutique winery for some high quality tasting, and a very French lunch of cheese and charcuterie (cured meats sausage and pate’). After lunch, a ride to the Premier Cru area is highlighted, with more tastings.
While this type of tour sounds good, I actually plan to stay in Epernay for three nights. I plan to walk to many of the famous Champagne houses. When that becomes tedious, which I doubt, I will hire a car and driver for points hither and yon. I cannot imagine a better way to visit this famous region.
Epernay itself is 130 km northeast of Paris. It is on the main rail line of the Eastern Railway to Strasbourg. The town itself sits on the east bank of the Marne River. Though I will spare you the history of the town, you must read “The Widow Clicquot” by Tilar J. Mazzeo, the oenobiography of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin. Not only will you learn more about the history of the region, you will discover Madam Ponsardin’s rise to success in the wine business against all odds, in a male dominated business.
The central and oldest part of the town still has quaint narrow and irregular streets. Modern and spacious suburbs to the east contain many villas of the rich wine merchants. The town has moved over to the right bank of the Marne as well. The most famous street in Epernay is the Avenue de Champagne, which features the leading Champagne manufacturers.