Harvest in the Champagne Region of France

Handpicked Beautiful Pinot Noir Grapes

The Champagne region of France harvest was well underway the second week of September with a flurry of activity in the wineries, villages and vineyards. As each plot reached optimal ripeness the annual parade of pickers descended upon the vineyards to handpick each grape varietal, which is a strict part of the Champagne appellation’s regulations. Handpicked grapes is one of the steps key to producing high-quality and unique Champagnes that come only from this region in France.

Vineyards surrounding Épernay

The Grape Pickers are the True Champions of the Harvest

In France a grape picker is called Vendangeur or Vendangeuse. The regions of Champagne and Beaujolais are the only two wine regions left in France where picking grapes by hand is the law, all of the other AOC’s and regions allow for mechanized picking. Many of the grape pickers in the Champagne region, come from Eastern Europe traveling each year for the 2-3 week harvest. The great majority of these workers hail from Poland. Time is of the essence when it comes to grape picking in this region as there really are only a few days when the grapes are optimal for picking. This fast paced work can be challenging for the grapes pickers as well as hard on their backs as the grapes grow so low to the ground. Each grape picker that I saw during my time in the region seemed to be enjoying the work the best that they could. For this reason, if you enjoy drinking Champagne, than you should consider these individuals the true champions of the harvest.

It will be interesting to see if hand picking continues to be the law in the Champagne region as the labor pool is shrinking. Finding the needed 100,000 plus people to pick grapes in Champagne, for up to three weeks a year is getting more and more difficult.

The major share of grapes produced in Champagne are Pinot Noir, they make up about 38% of all grapes grown in Champagne. Pinot Noir grapes are the earliest to ripen and are best suited to the south or south-west facing aspects. Pinot Noir grapes have thick skins and are high in sugar and many experts describe the Pinot Noir in champagne as giving it vitality, complexity and fullness.

It is true, the beautiful Champagnes are the main reason for visiting this area of France, but another important feature of this amazing region is the breathtaking landscape.

The views in the higher elevation vineyards are amazing, in the distance is the village of Épernay and the Marne River, which is an eastern tributary of the Seine.

Champagne Pioneer Dom Pérignon

Less than 6 km from Épernay is the small and quaint village of Hautvillers, it is there that you will find Abbaye Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers, the church that holds the grave of Champagne pioneer Dom Pérignon. A visit to this peaceful location even after numerous restorations gives a wonderful glimpse into the past.

Abbaye Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers

Dom Pérignon, a name which is now synonymous with the popular Vintage Champagne bottled by Champagne house Moët & Chandon, is named for a monk and cellar master at the whose contribution to wine from the Benedictine abbey in Hautvillers. Famous for his elaboration and contributions of wine, Dom Pérignon was a pioneer in the blending of grapes to improve the quality of the wines and with fixing the imperfections of both bottle and cork. Some people say that Dom Pérignon was blind and that when he tasted a grape, he could tell exactly what vineyard it originated from.

The abbey, active between 665 and the French Revolution of 1789, was founded in 650 by Saint Nivard, Bishop of Reims. Full of history, Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers also housed the relics of Saint Helena, Empress and mother of Constantine, between 841 and 1819. Since 1983 the abbey has been classified as a monument of historical value.

As a sign of honor and respect, Dom Pierre Pérignon was buried in the abbey which was traditionally reserved only for Abbots. For this reason and if you are a lover of bubbly, it only seems appropriate to pay homage to this Champagne pioneer while visiting this historic wine region.

A tour and tasting with Champagne Salmon

In the small village of Chaumuzy in the Marne department in north-eastern France you will find Champagne Salmon.

The Salmon family wine making legacy spans three generations;
Grandfather Michel, grandson Alexandre and son Oliver.

Preparing for the Harvest

My visit to Champagne Salmon was the day before their first grapes were set to be harvested and everything was set, ready for the busy days ahead. Prior to the Champagne tasting at Champagne Salmon a tour was given of the pressing room and production facilities.

Champagne Salmon wines matured to perfection, resting quietly in the cellars awaiting the right time of release.

When you pop open a bottle of champagne, you’re uncorking the complete story of that bottle including the importance of storage in the champagne house’s cave. A naturally cool underground setting where the Champagnes character can develop.

In 1958 Salmon produced the first vintage of Champagne with a total of 500 bottles. Today, Champagne Salmon is one of the 5000 growers in the region that also makes their own wine, and in 2008 the house became one of the elite 28 members of the exclusive “Club Trésors de Champagne” otherwise known as the Special Club.

The Special Club started in 1971 with one purpose: to promote the terroir of Champagne. Unlike the big producers, who combine fruit from many different places to create a uniform style, Special Club members must be designated RM (Recoltant Maker, or a grower-producer) and use only fruit from their estate vineyards to create the most memorable vintage bottling possible. Members then submit the wine to two blind tasting panels, and if judged good enough, the wine goes into a uniquely shaped bottle. Three years later, the carefully prepared bubbly is released to the world.

A lot has changed since the grandfather Michel, who was born and raised in Chaumuzy, sold each bottle produced door to door. Now son Oliver and grandson Alexandre maintain the day to day operations and the total annual production of more than 100,000 bottles.

Still very much a part of the winery, it was truly an honor to have Michel guide the tasting at Champagne Salmon during this visit.

The Champagne Salmon wines show a genuine sense of place, and a exquisitely unique style that’s all their own.

Salmon Prestige Brut Champagne

A beautiful symphony of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this vigorous sparkling adds words to the symphony with bubbles that you can hear. Soft, pure and fruity, each sip distributes new flavors of citrus, brioche and oak to deliver a delightfully long finish. This sparkling would be a perfect aperitif or a delicious “the weekend is here” celebration wine.

Salmon 100% Meunier Brut

Pinot Meunier contributes fruitiness, richness and body to Champagne and Meunier’s can add a little extra roundness in cuvée. The 100% Meunier Brut is a champagne which, thanks to the Meunier grapes, brings an array of confected fruit aromas and flavors to this sparkling. Silvery gold colors twinkle in the glass as soft and vibrant bubbles rise expressively to the surface bringing with them nuances of apple, tropical, and minty citrus fruit. The accession on the palate is fresh and graceful with a creamy smooth froth that develops unfolding a refreshing fruitiness. A lightly saline dry finish completes the collective flavor harmonies. This is a swank Champagne that speaks strongly and eloquently of this region of France.

Salmon 100% Meunier Brut Rosé

Developing a strong expertise in Pinot Meunier, the Salmon family has chosen to create cuvées of pure Pinot Meunier instead of masking it in blends with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This 100% Pinot Brut Rosé (which includes 20% ​​Pinot Meunier sautéing rosé and 5% Pinot Meunier red wine) is a shining example of Champagne Salmon’s complete collection of Pinot Menunier champagnes. The nose of on this fine lively glass of bubbles evokes smells of honey roasted apples and with sliced almonds and hints of smoky pineapple. The visually appealing raspberry pink appearance divulges a fresh and ripe summer red fruit flavored wine. Combined with lemon, floral and light spicy notes the finish on this sparkling is rich, textured and sincerely refreshing.

Salmon Ratafia De Champagne

A Ratafia de Champagne is a grape based spirit they make in the Champagne region. Typically the grape juice that goes into making Ratafia comes from the third or fourth press and Ratafia de Champagne often tastes more like a light port, sweeter and with a slight syrup texture. Ratafia is best enjoyed chilled as an aperitif or with a dessert at the end of a meal, and it’s often used in cocktails.

Champagne Salmon Ratafia is a blend of fresh Meunier juice and fine de champagne. Copper salmon in color this Ratafia in both aroma and flavor releases sensations of Autumn with orange spice and caramel apples. This was my first experience tasting a Ratafia and I was drawn in by its syrupy and balanced sweetness.

A tour and tasting with the Salmon winemaking family allows one to understand the meaning of putting your heart and soul into your craft. Their generational contributions combine to guarantee a stellar line up, no matter the vintage.

“Flying over Champagne in a hot-air balloon, as we like to do, anchors us down to this terroir. We take it to heart to express tradition and exception through the quality and finesse of our productions. Our family passion for traveling in hot-air balloons is akin to that which makes us gather in the vineyards, around the great grape press and in the cellars where we elaborate the cuvées of the house Salmon.”
Champagne Salmon
“Grapes are the most noble and challenging of all fruits.”
-Malcolm Dunn

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

At This Moment…

“In this moment, there is plenty of time. In this moment, you are precisely as you should be. In this moment, there is infinite possibility.”
— Victoria Moran

Welcome to a new series, At This Moment….

Since launching Drink In Life in January I have come to realized how much I love this sharing space that I’ve created. I love writing about my travel, wine, and food experiences, but much of it is past tense. In this new series I want to offer something a little more broad and a lot more personal by sharing things that I am currently enjoying, doing and working on, at this moment.

I want to expand on the day to day things that I see, do, read, eat and drink, and share them with you so that you too may be inspired by some of these things. Then in turn, I hope that you will share with me what is grabbing your attention…at this moment. I think this is a great way to build mindshare, spark conversation, explore new things, and inspire each other.

I’d love to hear your feedback! Let me know what you think about this new endeavor. 

So without further adieu, here’s At This Moment:

Buzzing About…At This Moment:

Since the Kincaid fire in Sonoma County started on October 23rd, I like so many others have been following the devastating news. One article that really caught my attention was Vineyards can help stop fires. They did in the Alexander Valley by Esther Mobley. An interesting article on how “vines’ firefighting capacity may be enhanced as these natural disasters occur.”

After a tough weather year in France I am trying to keep up on the latest news about how the French wine output is set to fall in 2019 due to extreme weather .

Getting ready for the holiday season means stocking up on some extra bottles of Sparkling wine. This article from Wine Press Northwest gives some great information on how Northwest sparkling wines continue to pop out with delicious diversity

Reading…At This Moment:

With my upcoming WSET Level 2 classes and exam approaching in early 2020 it goes without saying that all of my current reading involves Wine. On my reading list is the WSET Level 2 textbook, Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack and the 8th edition of The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnsonand Jancis Robinson

Wine…At This Moment:

November 7th is International Merlot Day. I am getting ready for this Wine Day by drinking some of my cellared Merlot to share with my followers on social media. Two Washington Merlot wines that I will be sharing are the 2016 Merlot from Pepper Bridge and Matthews 2016 Merlot.

Next to be opened are some bottles of Pinot Blanc that I brought home from my last trip to Willamette Valley. I am currently working on reviews to introduce these lovely wines to you, but until then you can read more about Oregon Pinot Blanc from this article written by Leslie Kelly last year for Sip Northwest Magazine .

Travel…At This Moment:

Quickly approaching is my trip to Santa Fe, NM to attend the IFWTWA 2019 CONFERENCE . In addition to the scheduled seminars and presentations I have given myself a few extra days to discover New Mexico wineries around Santa Fe and dive deep into the fantastic food scene. It has been over 20 years since I have been to Santa Fe and I am excited to see how things have changed and to share this destination with you.

I am excited to share my thoughts and interests with you here and I thank you, as always, for reading

Autumn in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley

The beauty of Autumn in Washington State can be found within each turning leaf in the vineyards of Lake Chelan Wine Valley.

Summer isn’t the only season to spend time at the lake.

Lake Chelan is a naturally veiled gem located in the Northern part of Chelan County

Nestled in a valley, Lake Chelan traverses approximately 55 miles along the green and rocky slopes of the Cascades and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Lake Chelan Valley enjoys almost 300 days of sunshine a year and those rays of sunlight along with the gorgeous water is a magnet for those seeking the Lake Life if even just for a weekend. The Valley is known for its ideal growing conditions for both apples and grapes. The unique glacial soil along with the agreeable climate in the Lake Chelan region have been a catalysis for optimal harvests of these crops. This makes for an abundance of wine and cider makers through the entire valley.

Viognier Grapes-Clos CheValle Vineyards in Chelan

Over the last 20 years the Lake Chelan Valley has steadily been building up a faithful following of wine lovers as a destination that offers a combination of recreational activities as well as exciting and bold wines. Grape growing in the Chelan Valley is not something new however, since before the turn of the 20th century a few Native Americans and a group of Italian immigrants began planting and growing grapes here. Today the two lakeside towns, Chelan and Manson, are home to over 30 wineries, surrounded by 250 plus acres of vines that can be seen peppered along the hillsides among the orchards.

Although the first winery in Chelan, Lake Chelan Winery, was established in 2000 and was followed by a hand full of other wineries, the Lake Chelan AVA was not officially established until 2009. Even at this young age the Lake Chelan AVA is increasingly drawing attention from the rest of the wine world with its bold wine production as well as its dedication to creating a welcoming environment for wine lovers to enjoy all that the Valley has to offer.

Grape varieties in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley are 51% red to 49% white, a nice blend due to the “Lake Effect” temperatures that delivers a longer growing season and a reduced risk of frost. Leading varieties being produced in the Lake Chelan AVA include Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay.

Map from http://lakechelanwinevalley.com

Whether you are seeking out a Vintage Reserve Merlot or a new vintage Gewurztraminer, the wineries in the Lake Chelan Valley offer something for everyone. With so many wineries and tasting rooms to visit in both Chelan and Manson it is hard to visit all of them in a weekend. To help you in your destination travel planning, I wanted to share how I spent two days in Chelan discovering this “naturally intoxicating” Washington Wine region.

Rocky Pond Winery

Rocky Pond Tasting Room is located in Downtown Chelan:
212 E Woodin Ave

My first stop in quaint town of Chelan was a visit to the tasting room of Rocky Pond Winery. For this post I wanted to share this location and highlight a favorite wine that was on the tasting list that day. A more in-depth story about my visit and wine tasting at Rocky Pond will follow in the next couple of weeks.

The Rocky Pond tasting room is a nice modern gem that is warm and welcoming, with a large array of seating options available both indoor and outdoor. Offering both genuine hospitality and some of the areas best wines, the staff at Rocky Pond will walked you through a tastings with enthusiasm and exceptional wine knowledge. Having done some research before my trip and reading about their unique white wine blend , I was excited to be able to try Rocky Pond’s 2017 Glacial Treasure for the first time.

2017 Glacial Treasure

The 2017 vintage of Glacial Treasure is a collaboration of grapes from two of Rocky Ponds Vineyard’s, Clos CheValle and Double D Vineyard, this white blend is 32% Pinot Gris, 24% Gewurztraminer, 21% Riesling, 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Viognier. Well priced at $20 a bottle this blend could easily become a “go to” white wine due to its easy drinkability and crisp refreshing flavor. With all of the individual varietals adding a little something special to this creative blend you get a heady floral aroma mingled with whispers of citrus and spicy mineral notes. I was pleasantly surprised at the slight dryness of this not overly sweet wine and the delicious blend of stone fruit, crisp apple and tropical fruit flavors. It is as if all of these grapes had a secret meeting and agreed to bring out their best flavors to orchestrate the ideal blend.

I would highly recommend a visit to Rocky Pond Winery’s Tasting Room in Chelan. Stop in for the ambiance and wonderful hospitality and stay to taste your way through their perfect representation of Lake Chelan wines.

Sigillo Cellars Chelan

Although Sigillo Cellars is a very familiar to me, this new location in Chelan that opened in July of this year was a great way to revisit a favorite winery and enjoy a beautiful sunny October day in the valley. You can read my post about Sigillo Cellars in Snoqualmie here.

There are many reasons to visit Sigillo Cellars in new tasting room, you can enjoy partial views of Lake Chelan, talk with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, comfortable setting, as well as indulge in the available food selection and well crafted wines.

2017 Sparkling Viognier

Produced in the true Champagne Method with 100% Viognier grapes this Brut is a new release from Sigillo Cellar and I was eager to try it as part of my tasting flight. As Viognier is continuing to gain a comfortable niche in vineyards of Washington State many wineries are using it more in white blends and releasing 100% Viognier wines. Delightfully, this was my first experience in tasting a Viognier Sparkling and hopefully it will not be my last.

The opening of the bubbles in this Sparkling Viognier release the aroma of warm baked bread with orange zest and citrus blossoms. A uniquely fragrant sparkling that taunts you to take a sip. On the palate the sparkling is all Viognier with noticeable flavors of citrus and soft peach. For me this tasting flight was all about this Sparkling Viognier and priced at $30 a bottle it is worth picking up some bottles for the holiday season and to give to my wine friends. Lovely!

At Sigillo Cellars one of the tasting flights is 3 glasses of your choosing from their wine list. I love being able to pick and choose three wines that fit my taste and desire to discover something new.

My flight included the 2017 Sparkling Viognier, 2018 Sauvignon Blanc and 2016 Grenache. I selected each of these wines because they were releases that I have not previously tasted from Sigillo Cellars and I felt each of them in their own way would pair nicely with the Charcuterie board that I ordered.

The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was a nice accompaniment to the tangy food items on the Charcuterie Board like the olives and artichoke hearts. A wonderful example of a Lake Chelan Sauvivgnon Blanc. I really enjoyed the 2016 Grenache with its spicy notes, it was perfect to pair with the fig spread and goat cheese. Enjoying the warm October sun while sampling some of Sigillo Cellars food and wine, was a perfect afternoon treat.

Chelan Resort Vacation Suites #409

Being a Lake community there is a wide array of accommodations available in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley. The Lake Chelan area boasts 60-plus hotels, resorts, lodges and vacation rentals. During this trip I had the pleasure of staying at Chelan Resort Vacation Suites #409, which delivered stunning views of the Lake and a warm and welcoming interior.

Chelan Resort Suites #409 has everything that you would want in a vacation rental. The unit was incredibly spacious, clean and comfortable, with special touches that made it a perfect ‘Home Base’ while visiting Lake Chelan. From the secure building, to the warm and welcoming décor, and the extra special items, like a king size sleep number bed, everything included in this rental makes you feel like you have a home away from home. Also, the Lake views from the condo are incredible. The attention to detail and hospitality from the hosts, Val and Mark, made this an extremely enjoyable and relaxing stay. I cannot recommend this location enough if planning a trip to the Lake Chelan area.

On a vacation, there is nothing more important than the bed. giving you a restful night’s sleep for your mind and body. This rental includes a King Sleep Number bed to help make your stay as comfortable as possible. An added bonus is the lake view from the bedroom window, providing beautiful scenery to wake up to each day.

At Chelan Resort Vacation Suites #409 guest friendly improvements are a priority. In addition to the King Sleep Number bed there is multi-functional furniture, and an array of beach and technology items. In the Suite you will find a guest guidebook, guest information board and partnered with local businesses for discounts for their guests. Val and Mark have done everything they can to put their guests first. If you are planning a trip to Lake Chelan you can find out more about how to book a stay at #409 here on TripAdvisor.

After a day of wine tasting you can enjoy some quiet time in front of the fire.

Lake Chelan Winery

A wine tasting tour of Lake Chelan Wine Valley really would not be complete without a visit to the first winery in the area, Lake Chelan Winery.

Lake Chelan Winery was the first winery permitted in Chelan County in 2000. This family-owned winery has a rich heritage in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley that offers unique handcrafted wines, and a relaxing and inviting atmosphere. At Lake Chelan Winery you can stop in for a tour of the winery, indulge in a complimentary tasting, and enjoy BBQ fare in the vineyard.

In the Lake Chelan Winery tasting room you have the opportunity to hear some history of the winery while expanding your Lake Chelan wine knowledge and test you wine palate. The friendly wine specialists do a wonderful job of guiding you through a personalized tasting and are happy to share deeper insight in regards to the wine that you are tasting.

One of the things that I really liked about the complimentary wine tasting at Lake Chelan Winery is that you can pick and choose the wines that you want to try. This allows you to really personalize the tasting experience. You can also purchase a special tasting that allows you to try their sparkling wine and select Reserve Wines.

2013 Fifty Five Mile Sparkling Wine

Lake Chelan Winery’s Fifty Five Mile 2013 Méthode Champenoise Extra Brut is an ideal way to start off a wine tasting. A blend of 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay, and this sparkling has 3.9% residual sugar. A beautiful bright wrap around your tongue, sip of bubbly goodness. On both the nose and palate a sense of place can be detected with pear and green apple followed by a creamy almond note. Crisp, refreshing with a pleasant mineral tone that adds a brightness to this Washington sparkling wine.

An Exciting Discovery at Lake Chelan Winery

One of the most interesting wines that I tasted at Lake Chelan Winery was their 2018 Stormy Mountain White, which is made from 100% White Syrah. Syrah is mostly associated with red wine, but in this bottle you find a total reversal of what a Syrah is perceived to be. With an inviting bouquet of citrus and white flowers, with a taste of grapefruit, apricot and lemon infused honey, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I was drinking a wine made from Syrah grapes. This is definitely a wine that deserves to be tasted when visiting Lake Chelan Winery, both for its uniqueness and its enticing flavor characteristics.

I was so charmed by this Stormy Mountain White that I brought a bottle home.

2016 Syrah River’s Bend Vineyard, Columbia Valley

After enjoying the Stormy Mountain White I really wasn’t too surprised that my second favorite wine of the tasting was the LCW 2016 Syrah River’s Bend Vineyard. If you are a Syrah lover then the rousing aroma of this Syrah will seal the deal even before you take a sip. Pacific Northwest ripe wild blackberries meld with vanilla and peppery spices to deliver a marvelous bouquet. Each sip of this Syrah brings an array of balanced and complex flavors including blackberry, sweet ripe plum, and the same vanilla peppery spice notes that are present on the nose. During the tasting a club member stopped in to pick up her box and a couple extra bottles of this Syrah for an annual family dinner. The last few years have seen only LCW’s Syrah poured at the family’s annual dinner and I can completely understand why after this tasting. And Yes, a bottle did come home with me as well.

Lake Chelan Winery does a great job of offering a one-of-a-kind wine tasting experience.

WineGirl Wines

Another not to be missed winery in the town of Manson is the incredibly friendly and down to earth WineGirl Wines. WineGirl offers both indoor and outdoor areas to enjoy a glass of wine or a tasting flight. A more in-depth story about my visit and wine tasting at WineGirl Wines will follow in the next couple of weeks.

A Perfect Fall Wine WineGirl’s 2018 Reserve Gewurztraminer

A favorite sip from my tasting in the “Blending Room” at WineGirl Wines was their 2018 Reserve Gewurztraminer. This wine delivers a delicious balance of sweetness with the taste of ripe peaches and just a whisper of spice. WineGirl is correct when they say, “This is what they meant by Nectar of the Gods.” A bottle of this wonderfully aromatic wine also came home with me.

There is a lot to appreciate about the Blending Room at WineGirl Wines – the wine, the people and the location! 

A trip to Lake Chelan offers natural beauty, along with a sense of peace and quiet that you may be looking for.

A few more reasons to visit Lake Chelan:

  • The 55 mile lake is beautifully crystal clear blue all the way to the bottom.
  • The climate in the Chelan Valley is ideal for year round visits, there is approximately 300 days of sunshine.
  • There are many lake activities, such as boat, canoe, kayak and jet ski rentals.
  • Chelan and Manson offer a wide variety of restaurants and dining experiences.
  • No matter the time of year, the area is perfect for wine tasting.

October Sunrise over Lake Chelan

“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.”
–Jo Walton

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

The City of Reims – A Perfect Pairing of History and Champagne

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Mark Twain

Before exploring the Champagne Region, sit back and enjoy a welcome glass of Champagne with a rooftop view of Reims

By train Reims is less than an hour from Paris, and once there this enchanting city opens up many opportunities to taste a plethora of Champagnes, both in the city and out in the surrounding wine region.

Reims, the City of Kings and Champagne is filled with spectacular architecture, statues and history. Many people visit Reims for the Champagne, but to truly experience the city you need to walk the street and take in the historical beauty that is everywhere.

Drouet-d’Erlon Square

A stroll through Drouet-d’Erlon square will take you past cafés, bakeries, shops and selection of nice restaurants. In the center of the square, you will see the Subé fountain, capped by a golden angel statue, the symbol of Reims.

“With a kiss let us set out for an unknown world.” -Alfred de Musset

Walking the grounds and venturing into Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is like a journey back in time.

Besides its extraordinary historical significance, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is also recognized as one of the most prominent symbols of Gothic architecture still standing in Europe today. Construction of this Roman Catholic Cathedral, whose name means “Our Lady of Reims”, began in the 13th century and concluded in the 15th century . Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Cathedral Reims is famous for being the traditional location for the coronation of the kings of France.

While mainly seen as a classic example of 13th century French Gothic art, due to the damage the cathedral sustained over the years and throughout both World Wars, there are examples of more recent architecture also visible.

In 1861, more than 2,300 statues were counted on the Cathedral, which makes Notre-Dame de Reims the cathedral with the most sculptures in France.

Surrounding the exterior there are several chimeras at the chevet of the cathedral. In the Christian religion, these mythical animals duty was to keep evil away outside the churches. There are 88 gargoyles outside Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims and many are mainly used to drain off rainwater.

“Architecture is the biggest unwritten document in history.” Daniel Libeskind

Built in the shape of a Latin cross, the cathedral measures 149 meters in length and 87 meters in height (including bell tower). Inside there are four chapels that surround the nave.

A sense of the Renaissance can be felt in the wood structures and wood carvings.

A magnificent Pipe Organ: Gothic in style, the organ-case has about 6742 pipes.

As with the stone work and statues in the cathedral, the wood carvings are equally exquisite.

“For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world.” Marc Chagall

The Cathedral, known for its beautiful sculpture and statuary, also has the most beautiful stained glass windows. Although the cathedral was heavily damaged during World War I and some statuary and stained glass features were destroyed or damaged, some 13th century stained glass remains, having been restored.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims also reflects stain glass work of the twentieth century. Artist Marc Chagall created three beautiful stained glass panels in the mid 1970s. These windows are in the apse of the cathedral, behind the main altar. The middle window (seen above) tells the stories of Abraham and Christ. Christ on the cross dominates the right hand panel.

Fragments of primary colors can be found among the remaining ancient stained glass. Decades after the start of WW1, two sets of stained glass artworks created by German artist Imi Knoebel were installed in 2011 in the cathedral’s Saint Joseph chapel and in the Sacré Coeur chapel. Inviting a German artist to create art in a cathedral they nearly completely destroyed, was done to help heal scars from old strife that ran deep between nations.

Illuminated candles add to the spiritual ambience.

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” – Francis of Assisi

Along with over a million visitors a year, when you step into Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of some of France’s most famous figures. The cathedral has been the site of 31 French King coronations, beginning with Louis VIII in 1223. Perhaps the most famous coronation held at the site was the crowning of Charles VII in 1429, which was done in the presence of Joan of Arc. The last coronation held in the cathedral was that of Charles X in 1825.

In 1991, the Reims Cathedral was consecrated, it is featured on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.

In 2011, Reims Cathedral celebrated its 800th anniversary.

A Haven for Champagne

Reims, functions as one of the centers of champagne production, hence it is named the unofficial Champagne capital of France. Many of the largest les grandes marques (champagne producing houses) have their headquarters in Reims, and some are open for tasting and tours. Champagnes are aged in the many caves and tunnels under Reims, which form a sort of maze below the city, these passages date back to Roman times.

Champagne tasting in Reims

One alternative to visiting the Champagne houses in Reims is to simple explore the many wine bars and restaurants in the city to try an array of the vast Champagnes available during your stay.

With a radiant view of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, Bistrot 31 Cafe & Brasserie offers a wide variety of regional Champagnes. While wandering the city during the late afternoon this is a perfect location to sit outside and people watch as you begin your Champagne tasting journey.

Champagne OUDEA Rosé Premier Cru

Displaying a deep pink color, Champagne OUDEA Rosé Premier Cru draws you in with its effervescent Rosé bubbles and fresh fruit aromas. Sitting outside Bistrot 31 watching the students head home from school and hearing snippets of surrounding tables conversations it is easy to become enchanted by Reims and the glass of champagne in your hand. A rich and fruity Champagne, this Rosé exhibits a beautiful aromatic persistence making it a wonderful sip while taking in the historic and yet modern city that surrounds you.

It’s All About Aperitifs

Le Cul Sec Bar à Vin Reims

A short distance from the city center, but worth the walk is Le Cul Sec Bar à Vin Reims, a wine bar and restaurant that showcases a wonderful and long wine list. As you peruse the list you will find a selection of known and unknown champagnes, taking you on a voyage through the centuries of distinction that this region delivers. Combine this with atmosphere, pleasant service and a delicious menu and you have the ideal place for an Aperitif.

Palmer & Co Blancs de Noirs

From the first bubbly pour to the soft straw color in the glass to the smooth and balanced flavors this Champagne provides a sensationally sophisticated tasting experience.

The term Blanc de Noirs indicates, that a Champagne is made exclusively with red grape varieties. The Palmer & Co Blancs de Noirs is equal proportions of the two main red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Intensely aromatic with soft introductory notes of creamy smoked butter followed by stone fruits and ripe citrus aromas, this Champagne is luxuriously silky on the nose. On the palate the luxuriousness continues with a silky texture that teases your taste buds and flows smoothly over your tongue. A perfect balance of lightly smoky citrus fruit, honey and almond give a depth to this champagne that is both complex and refined.

Terrine is my new favorite French cuisine infatuation!

A hefty slice of delicious pork terrine served alongside gherkins, or cornichons, with a crusty bread.

Dinner at Au Cul de Poule

Au Cul de Poule is just a few steps from Le Cul Sec Bar à Vin Reims and well worth making a reservation for well priced authentic French cuisine.

Both of these locations are a good twenty minutes from the downtown area and if walking is not an option prearrange for a taxi to take you back to your hotel after dinner.

The menu at Au Cul de Poule is short, but the food is thoughtfully put together, gorgeously presented and perfectly delicious. The wine list has a nice selection to easily pair with each of the starters, entrees and desserts.

Denis Jeandeau Mâcon Chardonnay, with its buttery crispness was a excellent choice to pair with all three courses; terrine appetizer, Andouillette with potatoes and cream sauce and a beautifully light dessert served with the local glace biscuit rose de Reims.

A last supper at Aux 3 P’tits Bouchons

With organic wines from all regions of France, this is a perfect casual spot to relax with a collection of small plates and a glass bubbly,

Definitely book a table at Aux 3 P’tits Bouchons, this charming little wine bar is popular with the locals and serves fresh and locally sourced tapas style food. All organic, the food and wines by the glass changes regularly, so talk about the wines with the staff and scan the chalk board provided for the food details.

Robert Barbichon Reserve 4 Cepages Brut

Robert Barbichon is one of a handful of new breed small producers of organic and biodynamic Champagne. With just 9 hectares of vines in Gye sur Seine, Courteron and Celles sur Ource he produces wines that will make you take notice of this recent and continually evolving move toward producing more organic wines in France. Reserve 4 Cepages Brut releases a toasty yeastiness on the nose, like a loaf of fresh baked citrus zest flavored brioche. Complex layer of flavors come through on the palate which isn’t surprising with the blend of 70% Pinot Noir, and 10% each of Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Creamy fruit flavors mingled with a dusting of spices and that same toasted brioche notes that you find in the aroma greet you with each sip. A glass of this wine was recommend by the server and I am so glad that she suggested it, otherwise I would never have discovered this opulent Champagne.

It is polite to hold eye contact when clinking someone’s glass. Otherwise, you risk seven years bad luck, according to the French superstition.

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot is a boutique organic grower located in Vrigny who’s family has been making wine since 1789 and Champagne since 1930. The 7th generation of the Lelarge family, Dominique Lelarge, along with his wife and children are now practicing Biodynamic principles in the vineyards that were certified organic in 2013. They believe that letting the grape thrive as naturally as possible will allow it to truly express the terroir on which it grows.  Each sip of this Pale Golden champagne delivered creamy effervescence of ripe apricot and apple, with streaks of citrus zest and crisp mineral notes. Beautifully balanced this is lovely Champagne is 65% Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay. 

A satisfying dinner of homemade cracker with vegetable spreads and fresh mozzarella in pesto with crunchy bread.

After an all day champagne tasting and tour in the countryside, a light meal and some final glasses of champagne, was a fitting way to end a memorable two days in Reims.

Take the time to explore! Reims needs at least two full days but I could see spending a week here as a home base to discover more Champagnes, visit Champagne houses in the countryside and deeper look into the magnificent history of this magical city.

“In a perfect world, everyone would have a glass of Champagne every evening.” -Willie Gluckstern

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Willamette Valley Wine Country: Left Coast Estate

Before you enter the tasting room at Left Coast turn around and take in the magnificent view of this impressive Estate.

Full disclosure here, I have been a fan of Left Coast since tasting their wines last year. My interest in Left Coast was first peaked by a bottle of their White Pinot Noir. At the time I had to ask myself, why would someone take perfectly good Pinot Noir grapes and make a white wine from them? The answer was easy to understand after enjoying a bottle of this white wine for the first time. I had the opportunity to visit Left Coast Estate during the Wine Writers Educational Tour (WWET) of Willamette Valley when the winery hosted our group for dinner and wine tasting of other Oregon wine varietals.

Arriving just before sunset and being ushered into the tasting room for dinner I wished that I had more time to explore the beautiful grounds of Left Coast Estate.

The Estate

As you drive up the long and meandering road to the Left Coast tasting room you get a sense of just how expansive the estate really is. Left Coast is more than just an estate winery, it is also a fully functioning farm with 150 acres of vineyards spread out over the 356 acre farm. The vineyards are mingled among Oregon oaks, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, fields of beautiful wild flowers, and helping to pollinate it all are the estate bees. Roaming the land you will see ducks and other wild fowl along with chickens doing their part to help the biodiversity of this land.

A hand drawn estate map of Left Coast by Cali Pfaff of the ownership family.
Image from Left Coast

This location was discovered in 2003 by Left Coast founders Suzanne Larson and Robert Pfaff who laid out a plan to turn the property into more than just a family farm and winery, but a place that would endure for generations to come. At Left Coast they are “Working to fulfill our commitments to the strengths and benefits of biodiversity, we strive to be the best possible stewards of the land.” Left Coast Estate is LIVE (Low Impact Viticulture and Ecology) and Salmon Safe certified, and participates in the groundbreaking program “Salud” that guarantees basic healthcare to seasonal field workers. The winery and vineyard are 90% solar powered, constituting the 2nd largest agricultural solar grant in Oregon.

Situated on the 45th parallel, Left Coast Estate vineyards are planted on varying slopes, elevations and soils which brings distinction and complexity to each of their wines. The Estate is home to approximately 150 acres under vine including; Pinot Noir (61%), Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Syrah, and Viognier.

“The vineyard is divided into eight unique microclimates, each with its own set of characteristics based on soil type, exposure and elevation ranging from 225 ft to 510 ft above sea level. There is not one terroir at Left Coast but many, allowing our wines to showcase multiple personalities of Willamette Valley wines, bound together through the thoughtful work of Luke McCollum in the vineyard and Joe Wright in the cellar.” Quote from Left Coast’s Website.

Left Coast Estate is home to 11 vineyards including ‘Field of Dreams’ which is the largest at 22 acres.

Planted in 2007/2008 ‘Field of Dreams’ includes varietals of Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay (Clones Musque, 76, and 96), Piont Noir (Clones 828, Pommard, and Wädenswil), Pinot Meunier
Photo from Left Coast Estate Website

Dinner Featuring Other Oregon Varietals

During the WWET in Willamette Valley we tasted a large variety of Oregon Pinot Noir. The dinner, hosted by Left Coast, was a welcome opportunity to taste some of the other varietals that the Willamette Valley offers.

A Welcome glass of Left Coast Estate Brut Rosé of Pinot Meunier 2015

Dinner included many items from the Left Coast Estate and gardens as well as other local ingredients.

I wanted to personally thank Left Coast Estate for hosting us for dinner and wine tasting. Dinner was prepared by Robert Pfaff, Chef Carolynn Andringa and other members of the Left Coast team.

‘Other Varietals’ enjoyed in order of Wine Service:

  • Left Coast Estate Brut Rosé of Pinot Meunier 2015
  • Chris James Cellars ‘Prost!’ Willamette Valley Sparkling Wine 2017
  • Helioterra Arneis Redman Vineyard Ribbon Ridge 2017
  • Helioterra Melon de Bourgogne Willamette Valley 2017
  • Minimus Kerner Johan Vineyard Van Duzen Corridor 2018
  • Bryn Mawr Dolcetto Eola-Amity Hills 2017
  • Left Coast Estate Pinot Meunier ‘High Acres’ Willamette Valley 2016
  • Origin Cabernet Franc Eola Springs Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills 2017
  • Left Coast Estate Rôtie Syrah Noir Willamette Valley 2016
  • Bryn Mawr Tempranillo Eola-Amity Hills 2014
  • Chris James Cellars ‘Cuvée Blanc’ Müller-Thurgau Willamette Valley 2017

Writing about each of these wonderful Willamette Valley wines will be saved for another post. However, I would like to thank the winemakers for sharing these other varietal selections with us.

Representing the wines served from Left to Right:
Rachel Rose-Winemaker, Vineyard Manger-Bryn Mawr
Suzanne Larson Pfaff-Proprietor-Left Coast Estate
Beth James-Proprietor-Chris James Cellars
Anne Hubatch-Winemaker, Proprietor-Helioterra
Laura Cusick-Winemaker-Craft Wine Co. (Orgin & Minimus)

Left Coast Estate’s Winemaker (who was not able to attend) Joe Wright joined the team in 2011. “He was drawn to the diversity of Left Coast Cellar’s 356 acre estate and is now devoted to carefully producing exclusively estate-grown wines that reflect the special characters of their sites.”

Left Coast Proprietors, Robert and Suzanne Pfaff, Emily and her husband, CEO of Left Coast Estate, Taylor Pfaff
This wonderful family welcomed us into their winery and gave us a seat at their tables with open arms and their generous hospitality was greatly appreciated.

Visiting the Pfaff family and beautiful Estate of Left Coast was definitely a highlight of my WWET Willamette Valley trip. I truly can’t wait to return and spend more time exploring the vineyards, gardens and grounds, as well as try more of their remarkable Oregon Wines.

Left Coast Estate is located at 4225 N Pacific Hwy W, Rickreall, OR and the tasting room is open daily from 12-5 and Friday form 12-8. You can learn more about Left Coast on their website.

Prior to my visit to Left Coast Estate I spent the summer enjoying some of their wines.

Left Coast Estate White Pinot Noir is now a wine that I look forward to getting the new vintage each year. The 2018 is made from 93% Pinot Noir and 7% Pinot Blanc, It was fermented and aged for five months in 100% stainless steel.
This almost clear white wine draws you in with aromas of peach, citrus, and a grassy wildflower meadow. With the first sip you get notes of fruits from an orchard, pear, cherry and stone fruit with a lovely silky honey and mineral finish. I hope that Left Coast continues to make this perfect Summer sipping wine.
The 2018 Rosé is a drier wine made from 76% Pinot Noir and 24% Pinot Meunier. What makes this Rosé stand out is that it was barrel fermented and aged in 100% French Oak for six months. The nose is laden with strawberry and earth mixed with lovely vanilla citrus aromatics. Each sip of this unique Rosé exhibits the same flavors apparent in the aroma with the addition of a richer earthiness and well balanced tannins. This is not your typical Rosé and perhaps not everyone’s style of pink, but it is a wine that everyone should try at least once. I personally loved it.
This first vintage of Suzanne’s Reserve Estate Chardonnay, is a heavily oaked Chardonnay (22 months in French Oak) and is filled with buttery and nutty flavor. I loved the spiced honey notes that floated on top of a sweet pear aroma. Perfectly balanced with just the right amount of acidity and salty mineral hints on the finish. I have a second bottle of this wine tucked away to enjoy this Fall with a hot bowl of homemade soup and fresh baked bread.

Sample wines reviewed in this blog post were supplied by Left Coast but the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Have you visited Left Coast Estate in the Willamette Valley or had the opportunity to taste their wines? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comment section.

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.