On Saturday we went on a little day trip to the Champagne. The trip was organized by Science Accueil, the organization that helps incoming foreign researchers in our area. They were also the ones who helped us find an apartment here, and we have been to a few of their other events.
The trip started at 7 in the morning in Orsay, where we got on a very fancy bus on which we could nap until the sun came up.
The first stop was in Reims, where we visited the cathedral. It’s big and gothic and used to be the place where most of the French kings were crowned. It has very colorful windows, some of them by Marc Chagall and other modern artists. That makes for a refreshing contrast with the ancient architecture.
The Champagne is of course the region where the eponymous sparkling wine is produced, so the main attraction was a visit to a wineyard. We visited Pascal Lallement, which not to be confused with Chantal Lallement, Alain Lallement, or Juillet-Lallement. Not sure if there are other family names in the Champagne as well.
They explained to us how champagne is made. It’s made from a blend of different grapes and vintages which are first fermented in steel tanks, then blended and further fermented in the bottles. After a while, the bottles are put into racks (or, nowadays, big metal cages) with the neck pointing downwards so that the sediment from the fermentation collects in the neck. It is then removed in a process called dégorgement: The bottle’s neck is frozen to form a bit of ice enclosing the sediment, then the bottle is opened, and the ice and sediment shoot out due to the pressure that built up in the bottle. A sugary wine solution is added before the bottle is corked again and stored for another few months before sale. Here is a video where you can see a bit of this process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3DOEtgEXSY
After the explanations we got to taste and buy some champagne. We also bought a bottle of ratafia, which is a kind of fortified wine made with leftover grape juice and pomace brandy. It’s supposed to be good as an aperitif; we’ll see.
We then had lunch at the winery. It had been announced as accompanied by traditional folk music. This turned out to be an old man with a keyboard (and a decorative, but unused, accordion). He first played what might be described politely as “easy listening”, and later… erm… French “party hits”. There was dancing by middle-aged French ladies who had had exactly one glass too many. The Science Accueil organizer was very embarrassed. We found that it was rather like family gatherings in the Austrian countryside and concluded that all this was probably authentic, even if “traditional” might make you expect something else.
Finally, we went on a short boat trip on the Marne river. It was uneventful, but we chatted with some nice people, and Verena’s Pokémon Go collected several valuable kilometers.