I have popped corks and poured, sipped and slurped Champagne on a regular basis since falling in love with the taste at the age of 18 when someone gave me a bottle of Moet et Chandon for my birthday. I’ve drunk it for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, New Year and important occasions. Where ever and when ever there is an event to rejoice, Champagne is the wine of choice, but, there’s something that makes it extra special when you drink Champagne in Champagne.
Everyone knows Reims and Epernay, they are two of the greatest names of Champagne – both the drink and the region but Rilly-la-Montagne, in between the pair of Champagne giants, is just as fabulous in a very different way and offers a chance for you to meet the growers, taste some of the finest Champagnes in the world and buy some at great prices.
Meet the Champagne Growers
Most people drive the route of the main road N51 from Reims to Epernay, it doesn’t take long, it’s only about 15 miles. But there’s a better route, it may take a bit longer but it’s well worth the detour for the beautiful countryside you’ll pass en route through the wine villages of the La Montagne de Reims and for the chance to stop off at the little town of Rilly-La-Montagne.
It’s also easy to do the trip by train from Reims or Epernay train stations to Rilly La Montagne, from either train station it only takes 15 minutes with lovely scenery en route, and the town is very accessible on foot. I took the train from Paris to Reims to quaff Champagne in style in this elegant capital of Champagne, then Rilly-la-Montagne to get a taste of the bubbles where they’re made and then on to Epernay to taste a legend.
Rilly-la-Montagne is a centre of Champagne production but on a much less grand scale than the big towns of Champagne. This is where producers get close to the grapes they grow, their lives revolving around the vines, the harvest, the process of turning bubbles into ecstasy.
What this place has in bucket loads – is accessible growers, accessible to you and me that is and for true Champagne lovers, the chance to really get close to the process is quite irresistible and utterly enticing.
Forty small growers have offices in this town and around half of them are open for tastings and have shops selling direct to the public. There’s no tourist office here so it’s a case of walking around to find who has an office that’s open which isn’t hard as there are signs everywhere to help you (or visit the tourist office in Reims or Epernay and ask for details).
I went to Champagne Vilmart where they’ve been making Champagne since 1890. Decanter magazine really rates this Champagne house saying their Champagne is “rich and juicy”. I visited the cellars and tasted some truly delicious Champagnes with the friendly cellar master Laurent Champs who is passionate about making Champagne; he was only too happy to talk about his lovely bubbles and how to open the bottle the proper way!
In the town are a few shops – the essential boulangerie, pharmacie, banc and café and not much else. There is though a glamorous chateau hotel with a terrific restaurant. The Chateau de Rilly is very pretty and an easy walk from the train station if you fancy an overnight stay. After you’ve visited several Champagne growers and tasted several Champagnes you needn’t spit anything out if you’ve booked a bedroom here first and you’ll love their cosy little Champagne bar!