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One Day in Champagne

April 20, 2014

The man from Dallas was actually born in Minnesota, so I asked him, “Cowboys or Vikings?” “Vikings,” he replied. I liked him already. I assumed he was an oil man because at one point he asked out loud what time it was in Abu Dhabi (it was 5:00 p.m.) His second/third/(?) wife was from Finland and has been living in Paris for the past 10 years. She clutched a Louis Vuitton (which is owned by the same company that owns Moët & Chandon) bag. The man from Dallas spoke about splitting time between Dallas and Paris. Between love and work.

In the bathroom at Moët & Chandon, Takoashi, the woman from Japan traveling alone, asked Alex if I was Japanese. No such luck. She told Alex that she was in France for two weeks. The first week she was in the French Alps visiting friends. And now, she was in Paris. Last year, Takoashi also came to France (alone) and took a tour in Champagne. At the end of our tour in Champagne, I could see why one would want to travel across the world alone annually for these bubbles.

Aunt Paula, the loud, older, obnoxious Californian, infantilized Takoashi. When hearing her name for the first time, Paula decided to shorten it to “Taco.” Aunt Paula knew enough French and knowledge about Champagne to show off that knowledge to Amanda (our Tour guide) but also lacked a significant portion of knowledge that sometimes when she would ask a question, her question would simply not make any sense or did not apply. The second/third/(?) wife of the man from Dallas could hardly restrain her eye rolls when Aunt Paula became the official spokesperson of the United States of America.

Aunt Paula’s niece Erin, a curly haired blonde from Hollywood, came on the tour as well. Erin is a social worker and complained that the sun in California can be too oppressive. She explained how her brother covered his car windows with cardboard because it was too much for him to handle.

Throw in a hairy bearded Asian fundraiser and a tenured-track professor at a small Jesuit college and you have quite the motley tour group.

There are more than 6,000 Champagne producers in the region and when you compare that to the 700 wineries in Washington and it is hard to comprehend. A committee in Champagne dictates every detail of the Champagne process. From the window when growers can pick their grapes to the minimum amount of time the Champagnes have to be aged in bottle. This level of bureaucratic control is ironic considering Champagne was created on accident by a monk.

A few years ago I helped a board member at my last job clean out her mother’s wine cellar after she passed away (she was 100 years old). She wanted me to see if there were any wines that would be valuable to donate to our annual auction. The wine rack was filled with 1950s Champagnes, old Washington Rieslings, and 1960s California Cabs. However, as I pulled out each of the dusty bottles, most of them had leaked and were severely oxidized. They were completely ruined.

Amanda and several of the boutique Champagne producers told us that unless the Champagne is from a particular year (vintage), it is best not to age them. That they are designed to be enjoyed now. My mind raced back to that dusty wine cellar, with those bottles waiting for a special occasion that never came.

With 6,000 Champagne producers it is easy to find incredible bottle of Champagne for the same price of a forgettable bottle of wine at Trader Joes. There was never any pressure to buy from each of the producers that we visited in Champagne but we were more than happy to load up.

While the man from Dallas and I engaged in a showdown over the last piece of foie gras, Aunt Paula continued with her running commentary on French/American cultural differences. I won the showdown and the Champagne helped make Aunt Paula’s inane comments bearable. By the time we left the final Champagne house of the day, even Alex and Erin engaged in good conversations despite being complete opposites. Behold the power of Champagne.

The man from Dallas and his second/third/(?) wife left on the first train out of Reims. The rest of us were scheduled on the 7:15, two hours later. As Alex and I walked through the old section of Reims we spotted Aunt Paula and Erin sitting in their hotel lobby. I told her not to look but to keep walking. A little while later we boarded the train with our four bottles of Champagne. I can’t wait to open them.

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