Take a Ride in an Old Renault into the Champagne Vineyards
Everyone loves Champagne. But it’s even tastier and bubblier when you sip from a flute served from the back of a classic old French van with the charming hostess of My Vintage Tour Company, Maeva Garza.
She started the tour company last year with her brother, who is the one who loves the old Renault vans.
Maeva picked us up, a group of four, at the Reims Tourist office and we were off. It did not take long before we were driving on a narrow country lane and then winding our way among the wires where the pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes were just getting green.
Maeva was quite prepared. She pulled out a folding table, some chairs
Champagne glasses, and some local bubbly and poured us a round. We noticed that both here and in the restaurants of Reims, no one seems to use flutes any more. Now it’s a squat round glass with a slightly tapered top, considered the best way to get the floral notes and all of those important sensations when sipping.
The industry is doing well, Maeva and other local officials told us, and it remains a ‘by hand’ operation. No mechanical grape pickers have worked in this region, and thousands of grape pickers are hired each year for the two-to-three-week harvest season.
One advantage that Champagne growers have is that if they have a bad year, it’s not a problem to blend different years together. So weather can’t wreck a season’s profits.
Riddling, the time-consuming task of regularly turning each of thousands of bottles is one area that has benefitted from mechanization. Huge racks enable the winemakers to automatically have them turned that essential quarter turn on a regular basis, which was once done by skilled practitioners who used to be able to turn many thousands of bottles every hour.
The big Jeroboam and Methuselah bottles, however still need to be hand riddled.