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There and back again: a champagne lover’s tale

An early start, decent Eurotunnel prices and the smooth French péage roads now make a day return journey from the UK to Champagne feasible, enjoyable and affordable, writes Caroline Hampden-White.

Jean-Pierre Redont at Taittinger 1

Jean-Pierre Redont at Taittinger. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

The theme of our visit was grower champagnes and we had appointments with three quite different houses. Introducing someone to this wonderful area for the first time is an exciting and romantic moment; my photographer husband and I were launching my Paris-based sister and her husband into the new world of the Champagne region.

I’m normally sipping a latte at 10am but today we were being greeted by Jean-Pierre Redont at the gates of Taittinger. A charming man, originally from Champagne, J-P was formerly involved in the political world but now he’s Taittinger’s Brand Ambassador.

Certainly Taittinger is a grand marque Champagne but, unlike many competitors, 50% of the grapes come from their own vines and the rest are selected with enormous care from trusted growers. They are also the only family-owned, family-run grand marque champagne left; family spirit and values are evident in their business and produce.

Sinking back into the plush seats of their mini-cinema room, we learnt something of the area’s background and discovered Taittinger’s place within that history: from the thirteenth century Benedictine Abbey of Saint Nicaise, destroyed during the French revolution, to Pierre Taittinger’s debut in the early 20th century. Greater detail of the history would be revealed to us later, during the tour.

We descending several levels via a spiral staircase (there is a lift also) and emerged into a smallish passageway, 16 meters underground. You can still see the original stairs the monks used in the thirteenth century and a few racks holding large format bottles of Comtes de Champagne.

Comtes de Champagne

Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

Down another level we emerged into perfect storage and maturation conditions of 90% humidity and 14 degrees centigrade.  The walls are fascinating. A lacework of carvings, made through the ages, covers the limestone. There are many poignant and beautiful examples from the First World War, when the cellars were used as a hospital, and older ones dating back even as far as the middle ages.

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