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“Champagne for Four”

Some more navel-gazing, some years back …

In life’s greatest celebrations, one must drink champagne. Not only does its company imply a heightened sense of importance for the given moment, it creates an air of camaraderie. When you raise a glass to make that toast, it’s definitely serious business.

What did we do, you ask? Our motley group of four traveled the infamous Autobahn in Germany to Champagne, France, to get up close and personal with the champagne production process. It’s not every day that common folk get the chance to delve deep into the interesting world of wine and champagne.

The first stop was at a French camping site disguised as a rest stop with a wretched bathroom. We chose the first available picnic table—in the woods, with the bugs, hold the sugar—for an early lunch spot. I snacked on some salami sticks and my lady’s dry (but made with love) ham sandwiches while the others selected their quick fixes. Our driver/champagne enthusiast introduced me to Bifis, otherwise known as plastic wrapped wieners, which promptly stirred up haunting memories of my college roommate’s junk food binges. Danke aber nein danke (thanks but no thanks). The spicy bag of chips, as far as I was concerned, was the more logical choice.

It was time to get moving again or else we’d morph into human vending machines. Cruising at a high of 200 km/h, we had our sights set on champagne and France. We soon arrived at our proud two-star hotel that back-dropped a McDonalds, a gas station, and a small overgrown field. Security was tight for such an off-the-beaten-path kind of place. But it’s better to feel safe as a tourist in France than to risk being susceptible to a potential threat from a long-faced thug carrying a fresh baguette. I browsed through some sightseeing brochures while a couple of my cohorts tested their French language skills at the reception desk. As soon as things were bon, we decided that the Reims region needed to meet three Germans and one American.

Stop number one along the champagne trail was at the Pommery champagne house, its alluring grounds and castle creating an aesthetically gothic appeal. We were undoubtedly primed and ready for a smooth introduction to the underground champagne world, so we gaily strutted through the main entrance and in front of a fast-talking little Frenchman who quickly commanded our attention. In a matter of minutes, he ushered us into a small media room where we watched a brief documentary on the Pommery brand. Fortunately, our group was part of the English tour, which ended up being somewhat of a misnomer since our tour guide talked a mile a minute in Frenglish. Our little friend, who apparently moonlit as a stand-up comedian, stole the show with his one-liners, zingers, and his overused punch line, “Hey, I’m only a tour guide.” Understandably, much of my attention was focused on his quirky personality than on the Pommery brand information he was delivering. However, I did manage to learn a bit about the formidable Madame Pommery and her revolutionary contribution to sparkling champagne. She was quite the female force, which I’m sure made our two gals proud.

The underground champagne tunnels felt like a giant chilly weather maze, with vast quantities of stored champagne and a few interesting art exhibits thrown in the mix. We snapped lots of photos and had secret thoughts of starting our own champagne businesses (this may or may not have had something to do with the cold temperature effect on our brains). Afterwards, we retreated back to the main floor where our champagne samples awaited us.

I ended up in line behind all of the folks in our group, who were whores for their free/included-in-the-price champagne. While waiting, I managed to get in some personal time with our little French friend. Much to my surprise, he gushed about being a big Red Sox fan and a lover of Beantown. A French champagne house tour guide who's a sucker for Boston and the Red Sox? This made our exclusive and special toast among four all the more meaningful.

My favorite of our champagne voyages in Reims was the prestigious Moet house. A prissy tour guide with a British accent—he was also a walking champagne encyclopedia—gave us a very pleasing educational tour of the Moet facilities, not to mention imploring us to get comfortable in some stuffy room for a cool, artsy, commercial-like documentary beforehand. I learned a lot from our proper pal. Besides Moet being the king whopper, the largest producer, of champagne in the region, their bottle rotater guy is able to rotate the entire side of a champagne rack with his hands in forty seconds (that’s sixty bottles!). The Moet cellar is almost eighteen kilometers, which is quite a bit of storage space for some fine bubbly. And, Napoleon Bonaparte not only used to visit the Moet house before battles but also after, often times celebrating a bloody victory over champagne. But perhaps the most useful general quick-fact that I can stuff in someone’s face at any time: French law requires that all grapes be handpicked. You never know when you’ll need to throw that in to display superior knowledge when things get personal during a debate.

Ah, vintage Moet in the champagne room. Not their Dom Perignon, but its aristocratic qualities were just fine for four kids on a champagne ride. Cheers, Prost, Salute, whatever you prefer. Life is good when you’re drinking champagne.


"I am only a tour guide" seems like a really good line to keep on a card, one can whip it out of one's back pocket at the darnedest times.

In fact, perhaps the next apocalyptic work of fiction, should use that as a title.
Well I've never liked Champagne, and today cannot touch alcohol, but give be a cup of nice tea and I'll toast with you! ;)
Sounds like a nice trip; picturesque... well maybe not some parts, and informative.
You write a lot about Europe. Are all your writings from one trip, or many over the years?

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