We arrived back in Epernay with the same foreboding feeling my friend and Vietnam vet buddy Jim Groeger must have felt when returning to the scene of a horrendous battle a few days later only to retake the same hill again. I imagined the streets littered with empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses. Thank god the ghosts of bottles drank were gone and the streets clear. Whew!
Looking at road signs in a wine region is a bit like reading a great wine list. Every direction offers great possibilities. Which way to turn, towards Bollinger or Rene Geoffrey? Today we headed to one of the best small producers in the region at the behest of my friend Peter Zitz who works for America’s foremost distributor, Michael Skurnik.
Rene Geoffrey is one of the superstars in this neck of the woods, and one of the few who does no malo fermentation and actually makes rose champagne the way rose champagne ought to be made. Trivia tidbit, only two percent of rose Champagne is made saignée. In short, saignée is one of the methods of making rosé wines, along with blending white and red wine. It is simply macerating (allowing contact with skins to leech out color and flavor) the wine with the skins for a short period of time. 98% of rose Champagne is made by adding red wine.
Jean Baptiste Geoffroy started making Champagne closer to his vineyards with part of the production occurring at his, his father’s and his grandmother’s houses. Life was chaotic and confusing and spread out. Luckily he found a building an old cooperative had operated that he modified with an ingenious gravity fed wine making system and moved his production there. The size of the building allowed grapes to be trucked to a higher street where his two huge wine presses are located.
The grapes are pressed and the juice passes through a series of pipes that go down one level, deeper into the caves. Using gravity rather than pumps is gentler on the wine and therefore preferred. Everyday each and every bottle is given either an 1/8 or 1/4 turn. Every one of his 10,000 bottles he makes each year. Some of this is mechanically done and some by hand.
After the tour we tasted three different Champagnes and a rustic still wine he makes using solely Pinot Meunier grapes. We were excited because we had never tried one. Look at the crazy stairs between levels of his cave.
After the tasting and a prix fixe lunch at a non-descript brasserie we headed back to the Chateau with high hopes of napping. Eating and drinking takes its toll on your body. Please, no tears for our excesses. Upon arrival, Beaumont decided he would torture us by carting him around the property for a survey of the fountains and moat. That boy is single minded…
The Chateau was originally built in the 12th and 13th century and received many notable members of the French royalty including both Louis the XIII and Louis the XVI (obviously before he and his head became separated during the revolution). Parts of the castle crumbled with time and some, such as the original bridge, crumbled under the weight of royal carriages. Parts were added throughout the centuries and parts faded into memories. Beaumont is related to the Louis line through my father’s side of the family.
Dinner brought us back to the city of Epernay and onto what seems to be the only street we drink and eat on. We arrived promptly on time for our 7:30 reservation at Caves du Champagne for a bit of local cuisine and more Champagne. The tiny storefront restaurant was packed and the guests looked decidedly unhappy to see a 15 month old boy enter. Thank god Beau did not let the crowd down with a rare performance that hurls this tiny gourmand into the annals of terror with his ear splitting screaming and chucking of water glasses. Times like this make me want to crawl under the table and curl up in fetal position sobbing incoherently. As a parent you quickly realize who has had children and who hasn’t. Other parents look at you with sympathy, kindness and understanding. Non parents shoot visual death daggers at you. We ate three delicious courses and drank Champagne quicker than you can say “ah”. Lisa started with a terrine of foie gras with Ratafina Gelee, a local sweet aperitif while I inhaled six oysters gratinee. I ate them so quickly I didn’t notice they scorched my throat till later. For our main courses, Lisa had a wonderful Magret of Duckling with Green Grapes and I sautéed Sweetbreads with Girolle Mushrooms. Beaumont paused his tantrum long enough to eat most of my sweetbreads. As a parent, you learn to give whatever petit Satan wants just to quiet him long enough to recoup. Both courses were very very good and complimented the champagne well. I must admit the small amount of sweetbreads Beaumont let me eat really brought out the apple flavors of our R. Pouillon Cuvee de Reserve. Slight reprieve before Beaumont’s act two began. Somewhere during dessert Lisa fled under the table and tossed Beau at me. Everything was hunky dory till he grabbed a small water glass and doused me with holy water as if to exorcise the demons from within. This actually brought the Chef owner out who clearly was not a parent. With Lisa now trying to speak French and pretend neither Beau nor me was related I fled the dining and escaped to the technological world of our über modern Peugeot. In retrospect I think the dining room was too small and crowded and offered too much stimulation for Beau. One day we will return, though I probably will wear a fake set of glasses with a plastic nose… For those keeping score I believe it is Christians 0, Lions 1…
bon soir and bon nuits and tomorrow brings Burgundy in all her splendor!