A Wine Rally in Champagne
After 3 editions in Flanders, one that crossed the border with The Netherlands in the Meuse Valley ánd a tour in Wallonia, this year the Flemish Wine Guild took its wine rally to the Champagne region in France. More than 180 winelovers gathered in Rilly-la-Montagne for a two-day adventure scouting some of the prettiest parts of the Côte des Blancs, the Montagne de Reims and a slice of the Vallée de la Marne.
Winemakers of all shapes and sizes
Together with organiser Luc Dewulf of the Flemish Wine Guild and my champagne ambassador colleagues Peter Doomen and Gido Van Imschoot, we selected 11 winemakers. Not an easy choice, because there are countless amazing producers in Champagne. On top of that, we also wanted to honour the region’s diversity and had to take the rally concept into account. Therefore the wineries we visited had to be located within a reasonable radius from the starting point and at a well-spaced distance from one another, have the capacity to welcome a large group of people and represent different styles and price categories of champagne wines.
The wine rally was spread out over 2 days and consisted of 2 circular routes, which intersected in Rilly-la-Montagne, our point of departure. In carefully planned intervals, small groups of participants left either on Trail North (via Ecueil, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Avenay-Val-d’Or and Verzy to Ludes) or Trail South (via Venteuil, Saint-Martin d’Ablois, Courcourt and Cuis to Avize). A handy booklet contained the photo search challenges, which ensured a scenic route with wonderful vistas, the odd marital dispute, and for some a switch to satnav in order to get to the next winery a lot faster. After all, when Belgians travel to Champagne, it’s all about the tasting…
Fun, educational ánd delicious
We were warmly welcomed by each of the 11 participating winemakers with a short introduction to the winery, 2 or 3 champagnes to taste, and a mini masterclass about a topic close to their heart.
At Champagne Pierre Gimonnet we learnt about the blending of their Brut Sans Année; at Lacourte-Godbillon about vins clairs and terroir; at Waris-Larmandier about biodynamic winemaking and at François Lecompte about vintage champagnes. Fabien Grumier (Champagne Maurice Grumier) enlightened us about the Vallée de la Marne’s unique terroir, Jean-Pierre Lalouelle about the specific nature of Pinot Meunier; Sébastien Crucifix (Champagne Crucifix) about oaked cuvées and Vincent Tissier (Champagne Diogène Tissier) about weed management in the vineyard. Alexandre Penet (La Maison Penet) talked to us about his specialty: single-plot champagnes, and Jean-Paul Hébrart (Champagne Marc Hébrart) about dosage, after which he disgorged a bottle ‘à la volée’:
The tour ended in Ludes at Champagne Forget-Chemin, where oenologist Thierry Forget elaborated on the ageing potential of champagne wines. A fitting topic, because, as befits good Belgians, our cars certainly were a lot heavier on the way back!