Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

VIP Welcome – part 1

During our 1985 visit of the Champagne region we stayed at the ‘Royal Champagne’ hotel in the hamlet of Bellevue. The hotel is situated in the middle of the vineyards and overlooks the town of Epernay. It’s a former coach inn, and said to be one of Napoleon’s favourite stopovers. But then again, if you are to believe all the stories about the places where the man supposedly slept, you could ask yourself when he found time to do battle … as he must have slept an awful lot!

Today the hotel belongs to the prestigious Italian ‘Baglioni Hotels’ group. They have turned the inn into a rococo palace that doesn’t even remotely look like the original place. In the eighties, however, Royal Champagne was part of the French LVMH group, which owns luxury brands such as Moet & Chandon (Champagne), Hennessey (Brandy), Dior (Perfumes and cosmetics), Louis Vuitton (leather), etc. We didn’t know that at the time, and to us it was just another hotel.

View from the terrasse of our room at the hotel 'Royal Champagne',
with in the valley the town of Epernay

You can’t stay in the Champagne region without visiting at least one of the larger wineries. Most of them are located along Epernay’s Avenue de Champagne. Not knowing which one to pick, we called in the help of the hotel manager. He recommended we’d visit the winery of Mercier. Like Ruinart, Mercier was taken over by Moët & Chandon in the seventies. He explained that the visit included a train ride through the long underground corridors of the winery, followed by a tasting session on the ground floor. He handed us a hotel leaflet on which he wrote that we were staying at the hotel and that the visit had been recommended by him personally.

So we set out to Epernay and the Mercier winery. We arrived just in time to take the ten o’clock guided tour. When we handed the leaflet to the receptionist, she picked up the phone and asked if ‘Mister Augustin or his assistant’ were available. Five minutes later a smart young woman appeared from behind one of the doors leading into the main hallway. In the meantime a coach of tourists had arrived and we assumed that we would be taking the guided tour with them.

To our surprise the young woman took us apart and led us to a private elevator, while the people in the group were queuing at the stairs led by the tour guide. At the foot of the elevator a little train was waiting. Our private guide showed us to the first carriage, immediately behind the driver. “Enjoy your visit. I’ll come back to pick you up after the tour.” She said before returning to the elevator. We sat there patiently waiting for what was going to happen next. A few minutes later the driver, the tour guide and the other visitors arrived and we were ready to go.

(to be continued)



Ken Broadhurst said...

Hi Martine, Walt and I took that Mercier tour several years ago but we didn't get the VIP treatment! Good for you. It was very interesting. By the way, Mercier champagne is not exported to the U.S., as far as I know.

Nadege said...

Is that you on the picture Martine?
Very nice!

chm said...

Last year you said you didn't have too much to tell in you newly born blog. What a big liar you were! LOL

All your posts are interesting for one reason or another. As I said before, keep up the good work!

ladybird said...

Hi Ken, You can't even find Mercier in Belgium. At the time we were told that Moët & Chandon reserves the brand for the French market. We've seen some on wine lists in French restaurants but never in a supermarket.

Nadege, Yes, that's me. I had hoped that everybody would we looking at the vineyard in the background without noticing the person sitting on the ledge :))

Chm, Thank you. But you have to admit that I'm 'digging' very deep now, going back in time to 1985. But there is still a lot more to explore there ;)

NickL said...

Hi Martine, we also did the Mercier tour a few years ago - great fun - and fortunately by then had worked out that the big Houses all offer 2 prices for their visits....the standard includes a taste of their regular "cooking" champagne, but if you spend an extra couple of euros on the Special Tour, you get the same visit as everyone else but with two or three glasses of their special reserve or vintage or pink champagne at the end. You can guess which one we went for:-))

Funny but we found we couldn't manage more than a couple of tours per day.......


ladybird said...

NickL, Sometimes a little extra investment can do wonders. However, I don't think we could have managed a second visit that same day ... Tomorrow, you will learn why!