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5 Things I learned on Guild Enrichment trip to Champagne

Before getting into the details of the visit, I must first take the time to thank the parties responsible for organizing and making these enrichment trips possible. First, I would like to thank the Guild of Sommeliers for its ongoing and relentless efforts to build the largest and strongest professional group of passionate individuals in the world. It's truly an honor to be a part of such a great community. I must also pay thanks to Moët Hennessy, and most specifically Ruinart, for realizing the value in education and for supporting the Guild & its members to offer up these kinds of experiences.

Showing hospitality and being gracious hosts is something we all have the pleasure of experiencing on a daily basis. When someone comes into our places of businesses they are no longer strangers, or even customers, they are guests. We go to great lengths to make them feel comfortable and hopefully offer them an experience they could not receive anywhere else. It is rare that we are on the receiving end of such warmth and kindness. But when it happens we could not be any more grateful. This is how I feel after having been invited to Champagne by Ruinart and letting them show us their home. For all of us sommeliers on the trip it was our first time visiting the region. I think I speak for everyone when I say I could not have asked for better hosts than Fredéric Panaïotis, chef de cave at Ruinart, and his team in Reims. From the crayères underneath the maison to the experimental fields of the CIVC we saw firsthand the long history of the region as well as a peek into where Champagne is heading into the future. While I probably could, writing for hours on this topic would bore each and every one of you. I'll summarize my findings in the top 5 things I took away from this trip:


1. Champagne, although a region steeped in tradition, with clearly defined production methods, is still experimenting and learning. For example, Ruinart learned that when aging sur latte wines under cork tend to, counterintuitively, oxidize at a lower rate than wines under crown cap. They still employ a few crown caps for controls, but largely they have switched to the more expensive and time consuming cork closure for long-term aging.

2. Blind tasting remains one of the most humbling experiences in which we wine professionals can continually take part. We tasted a flight of 30 different non-vintage blanc de blancs from co-ops, growers, and houses. I will just say there were many upsets. Quite a few bottles for which most of us routinely clamor ended up showing rather poorly when pit against their less heralded peers.

3. If a RM purchases more than 5% of his or her fruit for production, he or she enters the realm of NM.

4. The CIVC has about 7 hectares of experimental vineyards located in the Côte des Blancs, which are considered outside of AOP boundaries, where they tinker with all sorts of factors: alternate trellising techniques, currently unpermitted grape varieties, auxiliary plants which promote more biological activity in the vineyard in hopes to limit need for spraying.  

5. Champagne is super close to Paris. In the time it would take you to walk from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame you can be in Champagne on the TGV. It certainly behooves one to stay a couple of days there, but wine trips can be busy and you don’t always have a lot of time. You can see Champagne in a day if need be. Leave in the morning, visit a producer or two in Reims, have lunch and you can be back to Paris in time for dinner and drinks!