Articles By Gord
As I see it... Marne, France

November 2007 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

As I see it... Marne, France

Forget ‘an apple a day.' CHAMPAGNE. It might not keep the doctor away, but with a flute of champagne, you likely won't care.

The Marne Valley is approximately 120 kilometers east of Paris, France, and it is the birthplace of champagne. Dom Perignon is likely the world's best-known champagne. Dom Perignon was a 17th Century Benedictine monk and has most often been credited with the creation/discovery of today's champagne. He had placed newly bottled wine down for storage in the late fall, but unbeknownst to our vintner, Perignon, the fermentation process had not completed. So, when the weather began to warm a second fermentation occurred within the bottle, resulting in the release of carbon dioxides. The bubbles, the pop, and voila, champagne.

Only the sparkling wines produced in this valley are entitled to the designation, ‘champagne.' I don't think the Marne is a week's vacation, nor is it everyone's cup of tea. But, if wine is your choice of beverage to fill that cup, then it is worthy of a few days of play. The region is easily accessible by train or car from Paris. Although by car the entire valley is easier to explore. Plus think of the excitement that car trip will bring to your relationship.

“How was I supposed to know what the frigging sign meant? And you're yelling at me, ‘which way? Which way?' That sure didn't help.”

“Yeah, well, you're the EXPERT, remember? You're the one who studied grade ten French. Remember?”

But, all of that hostility will dissolve with that first sip of bubbly.

The two towns of Epernay and Reims dominate the Marne Valley. Either would make an ideal base. Epernay is the smaller of the two and perhaps I felt more comfortable there for that very reason. And stronger too, was my connection to the surrounding countryside. I felt free to wander the quiet roads and often stood silently imagining hillsides covered in vines, as Catherine did describe them.

Both towns play host to a number of the world's greatest champagne houses. Moet et Chandon, Mumm, Roederer, Heidsieck, Pommery and Perrier Jouet, to scratch the surface. All offer tours of their caves. Caves cut deeply into the chalky soil. Caves that initially the Romans dug way back in the 4th Century A.D. I don't know why the Romans created them. Perhaps it was recreational therapy for their slaves. Kind of like a day at the beach gone sour. Or maybe they had a lot of blackboards without chalk.

Today the caves have been greatly expanded by the various champagne houses. The temperature in the caves is maintained at a constant 53 degrees Fahrenheit, fluctuations in temperature by even a few degrees would spoil the development of the wines. At one point of our tour, Cath guided my hand to a portion of wall; it was slick with moisture, dripping from the humidity. The chalky soil virtually eliminates risk of any vibrations, deadens sounds and absorbs moisture. I was fascinated by the whole production process, staggered by the sheer quantity produced and giddy with delight standing amongst those delicious bottles and their liquid gold. I thought I'd found heaven, but I was pulled back to earth by the price tag. The price tag and a scream from my Visa card.

By the end of our fifth tour, Cath and I had pretty well got the champagne story down pat. Gone was our fascination and my giddy delight was beginning to wane. Our focus was now on the glass of champagne that awaited us at the conclusion of each tour. We had become Pavlov's dogs.

“Was that a ‘POP?' Then it must be dindin.”

Regardless, a prowl about the Marne is well worth it, but I suggest you go with the idea of sampling plenty and spending a bundle. Oh, yeah, there's lots of First and Second World War stuff and churches too; like Notre Dame de Reims, where for centuries French monarchs were crowned. When we visited this Cathedral, it was late afternoonearly evening on a cold, windy and rainy November day. The posted signs read; ‘Fermez.'. We were cold. So, we ignored the sign, tried the door and stepped inside. It seemed we were alone. Alone and warmer. We quietly sat on hard wooden seats and in a whisper Catherine did her best to describe. The stained glass, the worn stone floor and the alter.

Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time. Catherine's description was halted by the only other occupant, the organist. The organ burst forth, Bach's Toccata and Fugue, powerful and massive, we sat in awe.

This Marne thing may not appeal to you. For that matter champagne may not appeal. Tsk –tsk but I love them both dearly. Catherine was responsible for introducing me to champagne and we have done our best to introduce others. So it was to that end that we imported a very special bottle for our wedding reception.

That was way, way back in the 4th century…sorry, those were the Romans. They weren't able to make our little shindig in 1990.

The previous year at the house of Mumm we had discovered these gargantuan bottles. Many of you would be familiar with a Magnum of champagne, 1.5 litres. But that Magnum becomes a baby's bottle when you see it stacked up against the Jeroboam- 3 litres. The Methuselah-6 litres. The Salmanazar -9 litres, the Balthazar-12 litres. And the granddaddy of them all, the Nebuchadnezzar-20 litres. So, when the idea came up of us importing one of these puppies for our day of joy and rapture, we first discussed the Magnum or perhaps the Jeroboam. Then we discussed our guest list. We settled on the Salmanazar. We had to order the Salmanazar through the LCBO special services, five months in advance of ‘the big day'.

A month before our wedding I contacted our LCBO representative and asked her for an update. The bottle had left France on September 5th and as soon as it arrived in Vancouver they would ship it across to Toronto.

“Why is it going to Vancouver?” I enquired.

“Well, duh. It has to come through a Canadian port.”

“Well, wouldn't Montreal be closer?”

Her response: “Would it?” She must have skipped that geography lesson.

The bottle's chilling, it must be din-din. A toast to the Marne!

At least that's the way I see it.

 
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