24 Hours in Champagne
Updated: May 1, 2019
So, what do you do when you only have 24 hours in Champagne? Do you hit up L’Avenue de Champagne in Épernay and hop around? Do you choose one village to make all your appointments in? Do you only visit the big houses with your limited time? The answer is…there is no wrong answer. But if you’re gong to ask me, I’ll tell you…stick with the “small guys.”
Our train pulled into Épernay from Paris around 9:46am on a Friday. We were with a bunch of other wine friends from our wine tasting group, the @chelseawinesociety, but we all had different plans for the day. Our plan was to visit a grower Champagne house first and then visit one of the “big guys” in Reims afterwords. The grower we chose to visit wasn’t just any producer. We were introduced to Henriet-Bazin Champagne at Corkbuzz in Union Sq. and ever since that first bottle of Blanc de Noirs, we were hooked. There was something different about this wine…you could feel love and finesse with each rising bubble.
We were picked up by Nicolas, a man of all trades. Geologist, farmer, grower, builder, host with the most…the list goes on. During the 25-minute car ride to Villers-Marmery (a Premier Cru village southeast of Verzy), Nicolas spoke of the land; where rivers once flowed, the effects of the forests, and the soils of the slopes. We pulled into the tasting room which was coincidentally also connected to Nicolas’ and Mary-Nöelle’s home. Mary-Nöelle is the winemaker and wife of Nicolas, along with being the great-granddaughter of Gaston Henriet.
Their story goes back to 1890 when all the grapes were starting to be bought by the big houses. Gaston Henriet and a few other winemaking friends in Verzenay decided they were going to keep their crop and start their own winemaking. In 1930 the brand started to receive some traction when Mary-Nöelle's grandfather took over. He was able to maximize exposure by presenting the wines at fairs in Paris and attaining loyal clients. The union of the name, “Henriet-Bazin” happened in 1968 when Mary-Nöelle's father married Mademoiselle Micheline Bazin, a winegrower in the Premier Cru village of Villers-Marmery. Today Henriet-Bazin owns hectares of both Premier Cru and Grand Cru vines in places like Verzenay, Verzy, Faverolles, Coëmy and of course Villers-Marmery.
The first stop we wanted to make was the cellar, and it was as quaint and dreamy as one would assume. To get there, we hopped in a car and drove about 2 minutes down the road until we got to another residential building. In the garage was the press, and upon walking into the house we were greeted by none other than Mary-Nöelle's father (makes sense considering we found out it was his house). In the cellar there was a mix of old enamel vats from the sixties, some small stainless-steel vats and two 225-litre barriques. Because the team at Henriet-Bazin believes that wine is a direct product of its terroir, their barriques were made from wood of the local forests- 1 from Villers-Marmery and 1 from Verzy. What goes together grows together, right?
Onto the vineyards! We hopped back into the car and drove through the different plots of vines. Nicolas explained in precise detail how glaciers once occupied the land many moons ago leaving a mixture of different subsoils (mainly chalk) and how they affected the layout of the slopes. The area almost looked like the waves of the ocean, but hills. As we drove through, I couldn’t help but notice some plots looked black and gloomy while other plots looked alive and colorful. Nicolas explained this was due to the use of herbicides which was honestly very uneasy to see. Not Henriet-Bazin’s plots however, they were vibrant…almost smiling. We were to find out later that Nicolas practices biodynamic farming. For those of you not familiar, Wine Folly describes biodynamic viticulture by saying, “everything in the universe is interconnected and gives off a resonance or ‘vibe.’ The interconnectivity of everything even includes celestial bodies like the moon, plants and starts. Biodynamic viticulture the practice of balancing this resonance between vine, man, earth and stars.”
The car started slowing down as we approached this small shed amongst the vines. Nicolas and team member, Anaïs, hopped out of the car and into the shed almost to set it up for something. Surprise! It was our private tasting room! I was in honest and complete shock. Never in my life did I think I’d have the opportunity to taste Champagne in the middle of the magic. We tasted through 7 gorgeous Champagnes (including 3 vintage bottles) all expressing their own unique character. Have you ever had a Champagne made of 100% Pinot Meunier? I definitely never did before that Friday!
I could go on for another thousand words breaking down each wine and give you my tasting notes, but the moral of my story is that it’s not JUST about the wine in its physical state. Of course, they checked every box of the WSET 3’s “BLIC” requirements (balance, length, intensity, complexity), but more importantly my experience with Henriet-Bazin left me feeling connected to the wine in a way that goes beyond a flavor profile. It was an energy…a total vibe.
After my experience with a grower, it was hard to visit a big house. Things felt more static and rehearsed. The passion was missing, and every word sounded a bit scripted. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of things I loved about it…the grand cellars, the artwork, and of course the world-class Champagne. I felt like an absolute “Champagne Queen” in our private tasting room with ceilings that felt as tall as Grand Central Station. But where is the connection? Is wine not more than just its name?
If you only have 24 hours in Champagne, you should spend it how YOU want. If you have a bucket list house you want to see…see it. But I’m going to leave you with this: are you visiting a place only because of the name/reputation and all the "glitz & glamour," or because when you sipped the wine and it truly tugged at your heartstrings?