Heading to France is like heading home. It’s relaxing and easy.
Sometimes France gets a bad rap, but for us, France is heavenly. The people are amazingly friendly and helpful (when you make an effort to know them), the food is incredible, aesthetics are polished and the vistas are gorgeous. Not to mention the wine. And, perhaps most importantly, we can be there in 2 hours from London’s St. Pancras station…
Last weekend, we headed out to the Champagne Region for the extended bank holiday weekend. We stayed in a little town called Reuilly near the center of it all at an adorable little B&B run by owners Bill & Meredith. Both Americans, they were very kind and helped coach us along to have a great getaway… helping us set out our plans for each day, inviting us for champagne toasts at the inn and making our reservations for dinners out. Bill makes incredible breads and they are both lively conversationalists. And they have impeccable taste in art. They were amazing hosts. And we admired them both very much for the lives they’ve lived.
Though the little town of Reuilly is literally just a cow path crossing, there was a Michelin star restaurant across the way at the ‘Auberge le Relais’. We had our monthly nice meal out there… with champagne, of course. In fact, people in Champagne drink it like most have beer. And the quality from even the smallest independents is incredible.
During the day, we headed out in search of a few open independents for a ‘degustation’. We weren’t particular about which wines to taste, so we let luck run its course and being ‘ouvert’ (French for open) would make us stop. Of course, being in France on a weekend, this was a severe limiting tactic.
Tasting Champagne was an interesting change. Being slow season (June is peak) and a weekend, owners would happily open a bottle for you to try a wine. But the wine will go flat between their visitors. If you buy, the tasting’s free. So it became a bit of a game. The wine maker wanted to provide you with more and more from the bottle (in hopes that you would buy more and more and with nothing to lose as the opened bottle would go flat). But, alas, we were driving and had to be good. Of course we bought wine at each.
First up, we ventured to a fun little shop just outside of Dormans. The lively owner’s son had just returned from being a foreign exchange student in Richmond (VA!). So it was fun to chat about his son (and to meet him). He also gave us a tour of his operation. They make about 40k bottles per year and do it all in-house. About an hour in, a nice Belgian couple and their son and daughter-in-law dropped in. He had made a special bottle of champagne for their village dinner and they had dropped down to pick up the lot. We stayed about an hour more and had a great conversation with them about our recent trip to Israel and Jordan. They, too, are well traveled and it was really fun trading notes.
We tried a variety of vineyards and all were fun. A couple were small with no English speakers. But we spoke enough French to get a taste and to buy a couple bottles at each. And our last independent’s (and our favorite wine of the trip) owner was younger than the others. The vineyard had been in the family for many generations and the time had come for her to take on the family yoke. In 2008, she moved back to Champagne to the family farm (near the Marne River) after living in Paris. She spoke passionately about her wines, but also spoke candidly about the new responsibility on her shoulders. Not married, she seemed a bit disappointed with the change in lifestyle and the depth of stress being so close to the family. She gave us a window in to the love and respect for tradition that make the French so uniquely different. Despite the consequences, she would never have dreamed of letting down the family by not returning.
While in Champagne, we also visited one of the big outfits—Pommery. The facilities are impressive as they have 18 kilometers of caves for wine storage carved from the old chalk underground. It’s clear that Pommery don’t take themselves too seriously (in a positive way) as they currently have an intriguing and bizarre art installation (live birds, lots of seed and guitars…amongst inflatable tanks, bizarre aliens, etc.). But the wine itself isn’t impressive as compared to its independent competitors (in our opinion)…especially in terms of value. Its price matches the big name.
The vistas in Champagne were restful and beautiful. Bright yellow rapeseed fields were everywhere in mass. Add the green, green grass and a blue sky every now and again and the scenes were astonishingly beautiful. But, as with every season, there were tradeoffs. Being early May, the green fields of June were generally chalky brown with a tinge of green.
We had an incredible weekend away. But returned to a mad, mad week in London. As is always the case in advertising — it’s feast or famine. Luckily or unluckily, K returned to the feasting madness that ensued upon our return from Israel in late April. For us, it’s nice to get away as otherwise our time together is very limited, indeed.
This weekend has also been a good one. We’ve had lovely weather. K received a present from her client yesterday… and as luck would have it, the present was a posh picnic kit (whose client sends them present—her client is a dream, indeed). So yesterday, we headed to the hill with a bottle of bubbly and our yummy picnic treats. And today was also spent outdoors.
On another front, while G ran a marathon in April, K’s been diligent about going to the gym. But she decided to push things a bit harder (than her usual walking/elliptical/steamroom workout J). The trainer at the gym suggested running as a nice summertime activity, so we headed out to have her fitted for running shoes today. She’s been challenged by a friend to run a half marathon next March (in Bath followed by a spa visit, of course). And by the trainer to run a 5k by the end of July. She’ll need lots of encouragement along the way…