French wine and Champagne is generally more expensive in the UK compared to when purchased in France, and many smaller French producers simply do not export. It’s far more fun to combine a short holiday in France with a wine buying expedition and come back with something wonderfully different to the usual supermarket labels.
For a Champagne adventure, fly or take the Eurostar to Paris and the Champagne towns of Reims and Epernay are under two hours away by train. What could be simpler? When you visit one of the small Champagne houses in the area you will probably be personally greeted by the owners themselves, or at least one of the family, as I was when I visited one such house a few years ago. Actually, to be more precise, I was first greeted by the owners’ dog, who then padded off to find Madame and brought her out to see me.
I was there to purchase Champagne for my parents’ wedding anniversary party a few months later, and Madame could not have been more helpful in showing me around, pouring me samples of the various champagnes to try and generally making me feel very welcome to her family’s business. I learned all about the way the famous sparkling wine was produced, the varieties of grapes and how they were blended and the length of time the mix was left in the various stages to create the different wines. Madame told me that her husband was at that very moment in the vineyards, supervising cultivation of the precious vines. Her daughter was at college studying marketing and business administration so that she could help out with the business, while her son had gone to work in California, at one of the great Napa Valley wineries, to learn the trade the American way. No danger of this house dying out just yet, it seemed.
After a couple of very pleasant hours, I duly bought a mixed case of a dozen bottles of the house’s various wines, and carted them back to England to present to my parents on their anniversary. None of the bottles lasted very long, as they don’t when you’re pouring wine for around 30 people, and the conversation focused how unusual it was to have gone to France, bought wine there and shipped it back, rather than simply ordering a crate from one of the online retailers or the local supermarket.
I would thoroughly recommend a trip to France to buy wine or Champagne at source. I would suggest a trip to any of the great wine-producing regions. The big houses and caves have a slick tourist patter, but the real charm lies in seeking out the small family-owned vineyards, talking directly to the vintners and vignerons to discover a personal view of the ancient craft of wine making, and of course, trying new wines that most others will not have found.
For a small suggestion list of smaller Champagne producers check out this article by the Guardian: Champagne wine route: top 10 guide
Have you been to any small Champagne or wine houses that you would recommend?