Since 2005 we’ve sought out and introduced you to wines made by families not factories and that has been the single greatest joy in our wine importing venture - the relationships with our producers and their families. We just returned from 6 exhilarating (and delicious) days in Champagne and Chablis, and I am filled with gratitude for the hospitality that was extended to us - lovely lodging, beautiful meals and extended tastings. I want to express how much we appreciate the generosity of our producers - they are busy families, most with young children, who have been consumed with "la rentrée," (back to school), and in the middle of harvest and feeding harvest crews!
It was a treat for me to have camera in hand to get updated images of the producers and their beautiful tasting rooms and vineyards! Pretty hard for Scott to do that when he's tasting, spitting and scribbling in his trusty moleskin notebook.
I haven’t spent as much time in Champagne as Scott so in some cases I was meeting our producers for the first time. And some are newer to our portfolio. Many of them commented that it was nice to share an afternoon or an evening with us as a family, rather than just Scott’s quick visit to taste in the cellars.
Our producer families have a few important things in common – they are passionate people, obsessed with the quality of their product; and they are very entrepreneurial and hard-working! (At least 6 of our producers operate a bed and breakfast or rental apartments in addition to their wine business. And some of them crush or make wine or tend vines for many other producers on top of their own production). And it is so fun to learn about real French culture by experiencing their differences too. One family is living a beautiful crunchy sustainable life on their farm, with its 250 year old house that they often share with international interns, and their coming-soon "canvas tent b&b" with outdoor showers, surrounded by animals that they make organic feed for. Another producer built the modern home of his dreams after years of ripping pages out of architecture magazines. A few of our producers work with very modern facilities and another one produces wines in an ancient cave with dirt floor that looks like it could have been the scene of Christ’s birth!
Also big fun was that Pirrie was with us and an integral part of absolutely every tasting and meal. Her French, without a trace of an American accent, was remarkable to our friends. She was outgoing and interested and had more cultural references to share than I possibly could. She and Sophie Cossy bonded over Chloé and designer purses. (And maybe because of this, Sophie opened up to us about the extra challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field, but that she'd ultimately found her super-power strength in embracing her femininity. We were moved to tears!). Pirrie also recognized the nod to Christian Louboutin in the red-punted Champagne bottles in the cellar at Pertois-Moriset. There, they sought her design input on their label and she may have solved a marketing conundrum for them! She was not just along for the ride. She made us look good and I was grateful for her conversational skills!
Champagne doesn’t have the plethora of restaurant options that Burgundy does, but we did indeed have some of the best meals that we’ve had thus far in France. Nothing beats a home-cooked meal like the one we enjoyed with the Gueguen family in Chablis on our way to Champagne (Céline graciously shared her recipe for gougères). Or the incredibly delicious gourmet lunch that Valérie Coessens of Champagne Jérome Coessens made for us.
Another particularly memorable meal was our lunch at Le Jardin, the more casual restaurant on the stunning Relais et Chateaux property of Les Crayères in Reims. I had a mushroom “cappuccino” followed by a delicate piece of sea bass in a silky sauce with spinach, then a tender boneless quail on a bed of bacon-infused red cabbage, and finished with tarte tatin with a hint of ratafia (an apéritif made from the often discarded last press of the grapes in Champagne). Scott and Pirrie’s dishes were equally delicious. We shared a bottle of Champagne Fleury Rosé. We had dressed up a little. And here we were, less than one year before our daughter takes off for college, on the same property where Scott and I had enjoyed a very special meal 20 years earlier!