On the Champagne Trail: Moët & Chandon in Épernay, France

150 years of Impérial.

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Champagne is like no other wine. So, too, the wine region of Champagne is like no other region. This small patch of land in northeastern France is a strictly defined territory made up of some 34,000 hectares of vineyards. Moët & Chandon, founded in 1743, is one of the oldest champagne houses; it is also one of the largest, dominating the champagne market. (One indication of how much someone knows about wine is how they pronounce Moët. Insiders say “Mow-it” rather than “Mo-ay”.)

“Champagne is wine, but something more,” says Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon, referring to the complexities of the wine, but also the je ne sais quoi that champagne elicits. Impérial, Moët’s flagship blend, is celebrating 150 years, and there is no better occasion than a milestone birthday to visit Maison Moët on Avenue de Champagne, in the town of Épernay. The grand white-stone building houses mementos of the Moët family, but it’s descending into the cellars—a labyrinth 28 kilometres, cut deep into the chalk beneath the town—that is the marvel. “You are not visiting a museum,” reminds Gouez. “This is a production site.”

 

The cellars of Maison Moët are a marvel, holding thousands of decades-old vintages.

 

Wandering the dimly lit caverns, one observes thousands if not millions of bottles, many on riddling racks (on occasion you may spot the riddler, whose task it is to rotate each bottle a small increment and who turns up to 50,000 bottles a day) and plenty of others resting on the lees. There are decades-old vintages, some dating as far back as 1907. Visiting the hallowed caves of Moët & Chandon makes for an unforgettable #moetmoment.

Champagne is all too often regarded as the wine for celebrations. But one should keep top of mind that champagne is a wine and should be embraced as such. In an everyday moment, it can be uncorked as routinely as a cabernet or a chardonnay.

 

 

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July 29, 2019