A thousand year old cellar and the biggest bottle of Champagne in the world, now that’s got to be a big pop when that cork goes! Welcome to Champagne Drappier…
Champagne Drappier in the village of Urville, Aube, Champagne is one of the biggest Champagne houses in the area producing some two million bottles of bubbly a year. The cellars are huge and one of them dates back to 1152, built by St Bernard, a monk who also founded the nearby Abbey Clairvaux. The Abbey is open to the public and is one of the oddest tours I’ve ever taken since it is also a maximum security prison!
As old as it is, the Drappier cellar is young when you consider the vines were first planted here by the Romans a thousand years before it was dug out. I toured the underground wine vaults with Philippe Verrier from the Champagne house, an incredible experience to see all the bottles ranging from a half bottle upwards that are made here. I saw with my own eyes a Melchizedekis – the largest bottle of Champagne in the world! Uniquely Drappier make around 30 of them a year. 400 glasses can be poured from one of these enormous bottles, presumably very carefully and with several helping hands. What I wouldn’t give to hear the cork pop on that bottle!
The ancient history and the sheer magnificence of this place are amazing, they’ve been making Champagne here since 1808 and, even to this day, the bigger and most expensive bottles of Champagne are all hand turned to clear them of sediment.
After the tour we sat on the eye-catching pink and gilt chaise longue in the tasting room and quaffed several different types of Champagne including President Charles de Gaulle’s favourite, now named in his honour. Michel Drappier, the charming head of production joined us briefly before nipping off to judge a Champagne contest but not before telling us a story about Champagne.
“How many bubbles in a normal bottle of Champagne?” he quizzed. We all took guesses ranging from 9,000 to 250,000. “Non” he said emphatically “You are all wrong. Scientists have worked out from the size of a bubble and the amount of carbon-dioxide that can be produced, there are around 60 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne”. Then he departed smiling and leaving us all wondering if he was being serious. Actually, when I checked, some scientists claim there are even more bubbles – possibly as many as 250 million in a standard bottle of Champagne.
Michel’s father, André Drappier, affectionately known as Drappier Père joined our tasting. At 80 years old he is as sparkling and effervescent as the Champagne the company produces and drives from his home in the village, down the hill and into the office every day to keep an eye on things. He told us how his beloved late wife would take a phone call from the wife of de Gaulle who would order her husband’s favourite Champagne and the two women would meet at a local market. Madame Drappier would transfer the bottles from her 2CV to the 2CV of Madame de Gaulle. Although Monsieur Drappier met the President once or twice, “he was not a man to be friends with” he says drily (read Discovering President de Gaulle).
I leave regretting only that I can neither afford, nor carry one of those record breaking giant bottles of Champagne that are almost as tall as me. I did manage to cram a couple of standard size bottles in my suitcase and later, at home, sharing them with friends and family I vowed to return to buy more, it is utterly delicious Champagne.
More things to see in Aube: