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

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

VIP Welcome – part 2

The visit of the Mercier winery in Epernay in 1985 was very interesting and well commented by the guide. At some point the train pulled into a large cavern. In the middle of it, there was nicely sculptured barrel with a diameter of well over three metres. It had been manufactured in the 19th century at the occasion of some important exhibition, after which it had been dismantled in order to put it on display in the subterranean corridors of the Mercier winery.

A view of the Champagne vineyard in the summer of 2006.

We saw a lot of bottles, empty and filled, old an new, as well as the special racks in which they are stocked upside down at a special angle during the fermentation process. It was our first visit to a winery and everything was new and exciting to us.

Some 45 minutes later we were back at our starting point, where the next tour group was waiting. Our hostess was there too, as promised, and she diligently whisked us through the waiting crowd and the other tourists who were getting off the train. We rode up in the same private elevator that had taken us down.

On the ground floor, we saw how the group was directed into a side room in which long tables where set up in rows. When we wanted to follow them, the lady gently steered us away towards the door from which she had appeared earlier that morning. Behind it lay a long corridor. She opened one of the doors and showed us in. It was a 'salon' with comfortable leather chairs, bookcases and an antique coffee table on which a bottle of chilled Champagne and three glasses were waiting. On the floor was an ankle deep white carpet and the curtains were made of high quality velvet. “Please do sit down. Mr. Augustin will be with you in a minute,” she said and then she disappeared closing the door behind her.

We sat there, completely flabbergasted. “This must be a case of mistaken identity”, my friend said. “They probably think that we are some Champagne importers from Belgium and that we will buy several hundreds of bottles.” A little while later, the door opened and a smartly dressed man walked into room. “I’m Mr. Augustin. I’m Mercier’s Marketing Manager.” We stood up to shake hands and then he said “My assistant tells me that you are staying at the Royal Champagne Hotel in Bellevue. May I offer you a glass of Champagne?”

It turned out that the hotel manager, after handing us the leaflet, had called the winery – which belonged to the same commercial group, remember – asking them to give us a VIP welcome. Hence the personalized reception. While the other tourists were sipping a tiny glass of Champagne seated at one of the long rows of tables in the other room, we were having a whole bottle to ourselves. Mr. Augustin was a great host, who made us feel very welcome indeed. We chatted about everything and nothing and had a really good time.

It was almost noon when we left the winery, feeling slightly tipsy. Although it all happened 25 years ago, we’ve never forgotten this little anecdote as it remains one of the highlights of our travels to France.

Have you ever received a surprise VIP Welcome in France or elsewhere? Oh, and by the way, we didn't pay a cent!



Carolyn said...

Martine, this is such a nice story and an example of why your blog is so entertaining.

By the way, apropos of an earlier post of yours, Leslie Caron is speaking tonight in Paris (I can't remember where), so you have one more chance to meet her in person. If you still want to!

Nadege said...

Lovely story Martine!
I got a big surprise once when I left France the first time to come to the US. Air France put me not in business class but FIRST CLASS. It was very nice! Business class at least is the only way to travel on international flights. I wish I could afford it.

ladybird said...

Carolyn, It was great fun and writing about it brought back nice memories.

I still want to meet Leslie Caron, although I'm nolonger into dancing, except the occasional 'slow' now and then. And it's a bit late now to hop on a HST train to take me to Paris, especially as the trains are experiencing technical problems - and long delays - because of the extremely cold weather we are having. But thanks for information anyway.

Nadege, So you've travelled 'in style'. Good for you. Maybe it will happen again one day! Who knows!