Day Four: More Champagne, Can my Liver Survive this Onslaught?
If you don’t have passion, you won’t make very good Champagne.
We arrived back in Epernay with a sense of foreboding a soldier must feel when returning to the scene of a particularly horrendous battle fought only the day before. I had imagined Epernay’s streets haunted by the ghosts of empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses. The bright, relentless sunlight bore a hole through my aching brain.
Grower Producer Champagne
We visited one of the best grower/producers in the region, Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy of Rene Geoffroy, a small house with 14 hectares in the Vallée de la Marne. Jean-Baptiste comes from a grape growing family with roots going back to the seventeenth century. Only in the 1970s, after farming the same ancestral lands for 400 years, did father Rene decide to keep all their grapes and produce Champagne full time. Son Jean-Baptiste is a bit of a renegade who sustainably farms the hillside vineyard in Cumières, eschewing chemical pesticides and herbicides. He is one of the few producers who does no malolactic fermentation and actually makes rosé Champagne the way rosé champagne ought to be made. Saignée is one of two primary methods and means macerating the wine with the grape skins for a short period. Only two percent of rosés are made saignée, the other 98% are made by adding red wine to give color.
Jean-Baptiste started making Champagne in a facility closer to his vineyards, with part of production happening at both his father’s and grandmother’s houses. Life was chaotic, confusing and spread out. Eventually, he found an old building in Epernay, modified it with an ingenious gravity fed winemaking system and moved his full production there.
The enormous size of the building spread out over several floors allowed grapes to be trucked to a higher street where his two huge wine presses sit. The grapes are pressed and the juices snake through a series of pipes that gently wind down one level. Gravity is gentler than pumping and therefore preferred.
Games of my Childhood
We enjoyed a small tasting with Jean-Baptiste before heading back to the Chateau d’Etoges with high hopes of napping. Eating and drinking on a Bacchanalian level takes a heavy toll on one’s energy levels. Please, no tears for our excesses as they were self-inflicted. Unfortunately, Beaumont had other plans. He decided to torture us by forcing us to cart him around the property for a survey of the royal fountains and moat. Beau is going through a phase that renders any water feature to be the center of his curiosities. Even the smallest fountain must be explored and recorded for posterity. I cannot remember the name of the author who wrote “I remember the games of my childhood – the dark and golden park we peopled with gods; the limitless Kingdom we made of this square mile never thoroughly explored, never thoroughly charted. We created a secret civilization where footfalls had meaning and things a savor known in no other world.” The quote popped into my head as I watched Beau explore his kingdom. Even in my dehydrated state, it filled my heart with childlike wonder as I watched through an adult portal the mind of a small child at work.
The Chateau was originally built in the 12th and 13th century and received many notable members of the French royalty, including both Louis the XIII and Louis the XVI. Parts of the castle crumbled with time and some, such as the original bridge, crumbled under the weight of royal carriages.
Dinner brought us back to the heart of Epernay and onto what seems to be the only street we eat and drink on. We arrived promptly at 7:30 for our reservation at Caves du Champagne to dine on a bit of local cuisine and drink more Champagne. The tiny storefront restaurant was packed with the guests looking decidedly unhappy to see a 15-month-old boy enter. Thank god Beau did not let the crowd down. He gave a rare performance that hurled this tiny gourmand into the annals of French dining terror.
Times like this make me want to crawl under the table and curl up in fetal position sobbing incoherently. As a parent, you quickly realize who has children and who hasn’t. Other parents will look at you with sympathy, kindness, and understanding. Non-parents shoot visual death daggers at you. We ate three delicious courses and drank a bottle of Champagne quicker than you can say “ah”. Lisa started with a terrine of foie gras accompanied by ratafina gelee, a jelly made from a local sweet aperitif. I inhaled six oysters gratinee so quickly I didn’t notice they scorched my mouth and throat till later that night. For our main courses, Lisa had a wonderful magret of duckling with green grapes and I had sautéed sweetbreads with girolle mushrooms.
Christians 0, Lions 1
Beaumont stopped screaming while spinning his head around Exorcist-style long enough to eat most of my sweetbreads before continuing. As a parent, you learn to give whatever petit Satan wants just to quiet him long enough to attempt to recoup. Both courses were very, very good and complimented the champagne well. The small amount of sweetbreads Beau let me eat really brought out the crisp green apple flavors of our R. Pouillon Cuvee de Reserve.
We enjoyed a slight intermission before Beaumont’s second act began. Somewhere during dessert, Lisa tossed Beau at me and fled under the table seeking shelter from the storm. Everything was fine till he grabbed a small water glass, said a small prayer then doused me with holy water exorcizing the demons from both of us. This actually brought the Chef owner out of the kitchen who clearly was not a parent. Lisa feverishly tried to speak French and integrate herself with the table nearest to us, pretending neither Beau nor myself was related. I fled the dining room with petit Satan amid howls of discontent and escaped to the relative safety of our parked Peugeot. Lisa came out a few minutes later with the worried look of a royal fleeing Versailles amidst the revolution.
For those keeping score, I believe it is Christians 0, Lions 1…