Back in July 2012 I was nominated to go no the Champagne Academy with 15 other candidates. Not quite the normal working week by here are my memories of the event.
Having prepared my packed bag and laptop, I set off from Nottingham to St Pancras to catch the EuroStar to Paris. Spent the most of the trip reading up and checking my knowledge about the wines of Champagne and the region. Met the bus at Gard du Nord in Paris which took us to our hotel in Epernay. Quick shower and walk around Epernay, took in the Rue to Champagne where many of the champagne houses are based. Evening first dinner at lat Briquetetrie, sat next to the charismatic character Oliver de La Giraudiere, export director of Lanson who gave and insight into where the brand is and going.
The miles of miles of cellars at Champagne Bollinger. Up at 7.00 and on the bus to Bollinger in the village of Ay. First two hour lecture on Champagne looking at the History, appellation and regulating companies as well as the geography and soils of the region. Tour of Champagne Bollinger, interesting visit to some of the oldest vineyards in the region. Visit to the Bollinger cooperage, one of the last remaining houses to still use their own cooperage. (Bollinger uses oak in the making of their wines in which gives the wine its unique style). Tasting and lunch at Bollinger.
Afternoon off to Hiedsieck. Interesting contrast to the huge production facilities and modern wine making techniques used here, compared to the hand production used at Bollinger. Tasted the base wines blended to make champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Menuier. Back to hotel, 20 minis to get ready and out again to Perrier Jouet in Eperney. The most amazing Dinner at the Maison Belle Epoque with Export Director Pierre-Aymeric du Cray.
Back to hotel, deiced to go to the bar and revising for the exam the following morning with the other students! (Honestly we did)
In the vineyards of Moet. Up at 6.30, change for a bit of revision. On the bus for 8.00 for quick drive to Moet & Chandon. Started with and Exam at 9.00 for 30 minutes. Todays lecture was about the Champagne Vineyards and harvest. The main focus was their move towards sustainable viticulture and the evolution of the region. After lecture drive into the vineyards to see the vines, soils and the differences between Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards.
Transfer to Laurent Perrier for tasting and then Lunch. In the afternoon back to Epernay to visit Pol Roger. Tour of their wine making facilities and cellar with Commercial Director Hubert de Billy. In to the tasting room, yet another tasting.
Back to hotel turnaround and walk to Moet & Chandon for lunch at their Residence to Trioan. Fantastic meal and tasting hosted by Jean Berchon, the Managing Director of Moet & Chandon. Very lucky to get to sample a glass of 1911 Vintage Moet, amazing!
Back to hotel, time for some revision.
Starting again at 6.30 with breakfast and more revision. Left hotel at 8.00 for transfer to Reims and visit to Champagne Pommery. Exam and lectures again, this time lectures about harvesting, fermentation and bottling. Amazing Charles Heidsieck Tasting at Pommary with Benedicte Lefevre, tour of the cellars (the longest in Champagne with around 7km of cellars), Some of these were open to the public and saw and interesting art display laid out.
Back for a tasting then lunch. In the afternoon visited Charles Heidsieck, fanatics tour of cellars and tasting again hosted by Christian Holthausen. Back to hotel for a quick turn around for supper at Champagne Ruinart with wine maker Frederic Panaiotis. Also saw their cellars which are reputed to be the deepest in Champagne.
Back to hotel for more revision.
What a van! The world famous Krug Bentley Up again at 6.30. Transfer to Krug. Exam again then onto the lecture, this time about Champagne Cellars, the second fermentation which puts the sparkle into the wine and the packaging of the final product.
Tour of the winery at Krug with their wine maker Julie Cavil followed by a tasting of the Krug wines.
Transfer to Piper Heidsieck for more lectures, how wines are developed. Also had a very interesting tasting of the unmade wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Menuier and did a compaision of how these wines taste. Then also tried to blend them to make our own base Champagne wine. Very interesting!
Lunch and tasting again before transfer To Veuve Cliquot in Verzy. Dinner at Veuve Philip at the Champgane tasting at Krug. Clicquot hosted by their wine maker Cyril Brunand evening walk around the vineyards.
Back to Reims for the evening saw the Cathedral Light display which was amazing, back to the hotel for more revision.
Up at 6.30 breakfast and yet more revision. Transfer to Lanson for final 2 hour lecture about the Champagne market. (Did you know that the UK imports 35 million bottles of Champagne?)
Taittenger Champagne Food and wine matching exercise with Lanson Champagne presented by the wine maker Jean-Paul Gandon. Back over to Verzenay for lunch at Champagne Mumm with commercial director Anges Laplanche. Tasting of their wines before transfer over to Louis Roederer.
Tour of their cellars with Martine Lorson, many bottles of maturing Crystal! To the tasting room for yest another another tasting, this time of Crystal. Back to the hotel; freshen up before transfer to La Marquetterie, Taittinger’s house for dinner. Back to the hotel
The exam, it was not all play. Here blind tasting the base wines that make up champagne. Up earlier for yet more revision. Transfer to Taittenger for final exam and blind tasting, tasting wines without seeing the label. Exam went well. I correctly indentified the base wines of Champagne. On the blind tasting where we had to identify the finished wines my initial assessments were correct, only I changed my mind! I broke my golden rule of tasting wines blind which is never change your mind!
Transfer for the final meal at Restaurant Les Crayeres, one of the finest restaurants in the Champagne region for the results from the exams and presentation. Glad to say I passed! We had the most fantastic meal severed where we re taste many of the wines we had in the week. Graduation 2011, (from left to right) Val Simpson UK Champgane Acadmay, Philip Trease, Jean Berchon Moet & Chandon, Benedicte Lefevre Pommery.
Back on the bus to Gard du Nord and home. Finally got back to Nottingham at 11.00pm
Summary of Wines Tasted
Lanson Vintage 2002
Lanson Vntage 1988
Mum Cuvee R
Louis Roedere Rose Vintage 2006
Louis Roedere Crystal 2004
Louis Roedere Crustal 1999
Krug Non Vintage
Kru Clo De Mesnil 1998
Krug Vintage 1998
Krug Grand Cuvee Rose
Piper Heidsieck NV Piper
Heideieck Rare 2002
Piper Heidsieck Rare 1999
Piper Heidsieck rare 1998
Cliquot Vintage Rose 2004
Cliquot Rose 2000
Cliquet Rose 1998
Piper Heideieck Rage 1998
Cliquot Vintage 2002
Krug Collection 1989
Vicuve Cliquote Demi Sec
Pommary NV Summer Pommary NV Fall
Pommary NV Spring
Pommay NV Winter
Domain Runart 1998
Cuvee Louise 1990
Charles Hiedsick Vintage 2002
Charles Hidesick Brut Charles Hidesick Rose
Reserve Charles Heideisck Blanc de Blanc 1995
Heideisk Charlie 1985
Runiart Blanc du Blanc Domain Ruinart 1998
Domain Ruinart 1990
Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle
Laurent Perrier Alaxandra 1998
Pol Roger Extra Brut
Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc
Pol Roger Winston Churchill 2000
Pol Roger Winston Churchill 1998
Moet & Chandon Vintage 1911
Moet & Chandon Vintage 1992
Moet & Chandon Vintage 1975
Moet & Chandon Vintage Rose 2002
Bollinger Special Cuvee Grand Anne 2002
Taittenger Comtes de Champagnes Blanc de Blanc 2000
Lanson Extra Age (In Magnum)
Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 2004
Mumm Rose Perrier-Jouet Bell Epoquet 2000
Perrier-Jouet Bell Epoquet Blanc de Blanc
1998 Perrier-Jouet Vintage