Thierry des Ouches
Favorite Champagne Houses to Visit
By Hideaway Report Editor
July 2, 2019
Many of the most famous Champagne houses are open to visitors. However, it is important to make plans well before you arrive, since houses generally require advance internet reservations and there are only a limited number of places on tours. Tourism in the Champagne region got a major boost in 2015 when large swaths of vineyards and many of the Champagne houses and cellars were collectively designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
The two main destinations for cellar visits are Reims and Épernay, which are located 40 minutes apart. In Épernay, the Avenue de Champagne is lined with the headquarters of some of the world’s most famous producers, including Moët & Chandon and Perrier-Jouët.
Here are our favorite Champagne houses to visit. We based our selection on the quality of the guided commentary, the size of the tour group, the hospitality and the final tasting.
Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house, having been founded in 1729. The hospitality here is flawless, and the visit itself is fascinating. The tour begins with a history of the house, followed by a look at Ruinart’s art collection, and it then continues underground in chalk quarries that stretch for 5 miles and have been used as wine cellars for nearly three centuries. The small-group tour concludes with a tasting of two Ruinart Champagnes in a well-appointed tasting room. Highly recommended.
Bring a sweater even on a summer day when you visit the caves of this esteemed producer, since the Gallo-Roman cellars dug into chalk beds are 60 feet underground. Taittinger is renowned for producing some of the finest Blanc de Blanc Champagnes (made only from white grapes, chiefly Chardonnay). The tasting that concludes this well-organized tour is a highlight of the experience.
Veuve Clicquot, Reims
Part of LVMH, the French luxury goods group, Veuve Clicquot takes its name from Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, who became a widow (“veuve,” in French) in 1805 on the death of her husband, François, the son of the house’s founder. Madame Clicquot was the first winemaker to produce rosé Champagne. The tour here includes the labyrinthine quarries used as aging cellars, which served as an infirmary during World War I.
J. de Telmont, Damery
Owned by the same family for four generations, J. de Telmont is one of the most hospitable of all the Champagne cellars. If you come in September during the vendage, you are allowed to walk out into the vineyards for a firsthand look at the harvesting. The house also runs workshops that include a Champagne and cheese tasting.
Billecart-Salmon is a relatively small producer that makes only about 2 million bottles a year using grapes from its own 35 acres of vineyards. Its most exclusive vintage is Le Clos Saint-Hilaire, a wine that takes its name from the patron saint of the local church; only 7,000 bottles are produced annually, and each of them is numbered. In addition to the cellars, there is also a beautiful walled garden. Requests for a visit must be made through the website, as far in advance as possible.
Grower Champagne Houses
To visit the cellars of some of the “grower” (small producer) Champagne houses like De Sousa in Avize, which makes superb Blanc de Blanc Champagnes from biodynamically grown grapes, it is best to seek the help of a local tour company. The Champagne Tour Co. charges 400 Euros for a half-day tour with a guide and driver, which might include a visit to Dom Pérignon’s tomb in the abbey at Hautvillers and a private tour of the Dom Pérignon cellars. Clos Driver has access to an outstanding selection of small producers, including Emmanuel Brochet and Françoise Bedel.
One of the most rewarding experiences of a visit to Champagne is to discover the huge diversity of the wine’s styles in a Champagne bar. This will allow you to compare and contrast in the most agreeable of ways. Two of our favorites are C. Comme in Épernay and Le Wine Bar by Le Vintage in Reims.