On my last visit to Paris, I spent the day in the Loire Valley in the midst of wine & castles so this time I wanted to see the Avenue of Champagne in Epernay, more specifically, I wanted to visit for the Moet & Chandon Cellar Tour and experience the champagne. There are two ways to visit Epernay from Paris – one is by guided day tour (expensive – over €200 pp), the other is my do it yourself (DIY) version for under €100 pp.
Moet & Chandon Cellar Tour – Reservations Required
If you want to visit the Moet & Chandon cellar tour in Epernay on your own, you need a reservation in advance. Go to their website to request a date and time. You will receive a reply in a few days (make sure to double-check the date/time as my first confirmation was wrong) with a reservation number. When you arrive you need the reservation number and then you will be asked what type of tasting you want with the tour (each tasting type is a different cost).
The Avenue of Champagne in Epernay
The Moet & Chandon location is easy to find on the Avenue of Champagne across from the Tourism office. From the train station walk straight, crossing the street into the park and then at the exit to the street, the tourism office is on your right while Moet & Chandon is across the road in front of you.
Lining the Avenue of Champagne are many champagne houses, some that you’ve heard of and many others that you haven’t. A few offer tasting rooms or outdoor patio spaces while Perrier Jouet is not open to the public.
It can only be labeled “champagne” if it comes from this region of France. They are quite strict with the name “champagne”. In other countries, their sparkling wine is “Cava” in Spain and “Prosecco” in Italy. All sparkling wines.
The Moet & Chandon Cellar Tour
Arriving at the main entrance there is a guard to check bags in front of the Moet & Chandon store (our last stop on the tour, lest anyone leave without a gift shop stop) and direct you to the reservations desk. Walking up a few stairs into a new building, you are instantly surrounded by what looks and feels like a luxury hotel lobby in white.
Approaching the front desk in the corner to check in, I provided our reservation number and chose our tasting package. The main tour with one tasting is €23, two tastings €28 and the vintage tasting €35. Children under 17 (no sips allowed) are €10 for the tour. Mom isn’t normally a drinker and her champagne exposure has been at a few weddings over the years (and that wasn’t the good stuff) so we picked the regular tasting for her while I chose the vintage option.
Our guide arrived and our small party of ten followed her in the house to see portraits of the men who would start Moet & Chandon, the monk who inspired Dom Perignon label and then led to a room to watch a video presentation (offered in many languages). Once the video ended we would descend the stairs to begin the cellar tour (bring a sweater/cardigan/scarf as it is a bit chilly underground – the guide wore a coat).
We would wander the stone halls (or streets with numbered caves) learning about the labor intensive process for the champagne to mature over many years and how the bottles are stores, stacked, moved and eventually become bottles of Moet & Chandon or Dom Perignon that is sold in stores around the world for people to enjoy and celebrate special occasions.
I’ve visited many wineries and cellars around the world including the Moet & Chandon location in the Yarra Valley of Australia but this cellar in Epernay was so unique because of its history (270 years young) and winding streets of nearly 17 miles of tunnels underground!
Moet & Chandon – Champagne Surprises
One surprising fact is that the bottles are moved by card and loaded by hand. Many modern wineries will have forklifts or other machinery to turn the bottles as I saw in Spain at the Bertha Cava winery. The Moet & Chandon process is quite labor intensive.
Another surprise was finding out that the champagne is made with a variety of grapes grown in the region from producers – M&C don’t own their vines or the grapes. So each year the grapes arrive the folks need to try to replicate a taste that the consumer is familiar with. Think how difficult that must be with the mix of grapes that through the season of nature’s sun and rain produce a different flavor each time. The team at Moet & Chandon Epernay need to get the right blend and ingredients sorted to keep the product consistent. They blend the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes to create their many varieties of Champagne – Imperial, Rose, Ice and others.
Vintage means it is uniquely original and the cellar maker’s interpretation of that year’s harvest. The 2008 Rose that I would taste had been aged for 7 years.
There is a lot of recycling when making wine and champagne. The final bottle you buy is not the same bottle that went through the aging process. So on the tour we walked through a room of glass bottles.
Luxury Champagne Dom Perignon
The monk that has a champagne after himself gets special treatment in the hallway of the cellar. The caves are reserved for quantity of champagne and Dom is produced in small batches which is why it is so expensive. The process to go from grape to Dom takes more than ten years! While most champagnes are ready to drink when purchased, a bottle of Dom Perignon can be stored and enjoyed years after purchase (if you have the willpower to wait).
Moet & Chandon Tasting Room
As dark as the prior room was with the recycled bottles and the tunnels were lowly lit, opening the tasting room door and you are awash in light – bright light – so much light that when your eyes adjust you see that champagne is being poured waiting for your group to taste Moet & Chandon.
The transition from dark to light alerts all of your senses so I think (but don’t scientifically know) it makes the tasting that much tastier. Watching the pour, set the anticipation factor on high with no fanfare, we handed our tickets to exchange for our champagne glass(es).
Our little group kept to themselves so Mom and I toasted our last day in Paris. As Mom rarely drinks alcohol, the Imperial champagne took time to get used to for her (at first – see the Concorde Room Review for more on this). I had no problem with my 2008 Vintage glasses, preferring the rose over the brut. Mom tried both of mine and agreed that the rose was nicer.
Moet & Chandon Gift Shop
Of course, no tour is complete without the gift shop visit except this is Moet & Chandon so the gift shop is a luxury experience, one that almost guaranteed I would be making a purchase. Filled with a variety of champagne in all types and sizes as well as clothing and accessories, temptation abounded.
Since we had to travel the next day on Eurostar to London, we didn’t want to carry large bottles so bought the cute little bottles of the rose champagne to give as gifts. They cost €16 for each mini bottle. We mentioned traveling so each bottle was bubble wrapped and then put into our bag. This was good (easy to pack, safe from breakage) and bad (we couldn’t drink them now).
Final Tasting Notes – Moet & Chandon Cellar Tour
Even if you aren’t quite the champagne fan like Mom (I’d argue it’s because you haven’t been drinking champagne at all), the Moet & Chandon Cellar tour in Epernay is a fun day trip outside of Paris (one hour by train approx. €50 return per person) to experience the uniqueness of this town (which is easily walkable or you can take the little tourist train for a tour). Mom enjoyed learning about the champagne process, seeing the history underground and trying her first glass of Moet & Chandon. The Moet & Chandon cellar tour is a wonderful introduction to champagne and its storied history in France.