A visit to Moët & Chandon, Épernay, France

In the US, over half of the champagne sold is Moët & Chandon. We see this brand everywhere. So for me, a visit to Champagne would not be complete without a visit to the champagne house in Épernay. Here they produce over 26 million bottles per year, making them the world’s number one champagne producer. But even at this volume, you won’t find a factory production line here. Champagne is one of the most complicated wines to make, and there is still so much done by hand – even at this scale. One of the things I’ve always been fascinated by is the brand image projected in marketing campaigns, versus the experience you get when you actually visit. Luxury brands like champagne are famously known for their slick and sophisticated advertisements, but can my visit live up to these expectations?

Unlike Veuve Clicquot, I didn’t get any special treatment here and booked the regular tour. Because the tours are all booked in advance, and are only small groups of about 16-20 people, you don’t see big crowds here. The experience when you arrive is very professional. Our guide was informative, telling stories of the history, Napoleon’s visits, and the Moët family.

There is one marketing video you will see, which I have to say spoiled it for me a little bit. It wasn’t informative and was clearly designed to show off the brand. Considering we were surrounded by centuries old paintings and history all around us, the marketing clip seemed a bit out of place.

Next we went down to the cellars. They are truly massive with endless winding caverns filled with champagne bottles. This is where the wine is aged in order to have its second fermentation in bottle – essentially what makes it bubbly. When you think about how many places in the world produce sparkling wine, you realize why Épernay and Reims can produce wines of this quality – it’s not only the terroir, but where else can you find this many miles of limestone caves underground? Limestone caves are the ideal temperature and humidity for these wines to become champagne. Moët has 28 kilometers or 18 miles of galleries on three levels, the largest in the champagne region. They are between 10-30 meters underground in chalky soil. Do not lose your group when walking around these cellars! It is dark and they are vast.

In the tour you will learn about the champagne process, the size of Moët’s operation and the history of champagne. I really enjoyed the tasting which was led by Moët’s sommelier in one of their historic rooms. He explained each of the wines, from the Non-Vintage, the Rosé, Demi Sec, right through to some of their vintage wines, ideal wine pairings (yes, champagne is perfect with food) and each of their unique flavor characteristics. The tour of course ends in the boutique, which I have to say is very slick and has a nice array of branded goodies to take home.

Did the luxury brand impress? I would definitely recommend Moët as a first visit to the Champagne region. As it is a big producer, you can expect Moët to be popular with tourists, but given everything is pre-booked it is very seamless and you really don’t see a lot of people. I visited in winter, which is even better for avoiding crowds. There are certainly far more personalized visits you can have with producers in Champagne, but this is a good primer if you are just starting to learn about it, and are also curious to know about a brand you will see on the shelves everywhere.

Here are some interesting facts: • Moët & Chandon is the world’s most popular champagne • In Épernay, Moët employs 1,200 staff, with 400 of them working in the cellars • Moët owns 1,200 hectares of vineyards and works with growers to provide grapes from another 3,000 hectares • During harvest it takes 3,000 people to hand-pick the grapes • A gyropalette takes 10 days to riddle about 500 bottles of wine at a time. This slowly releases the yeast sediment into the neck of the bottle, ready for disgorgement • Dom Pérignon is special vintage champagne, known as a prestige cuvée produced by Moët & Chandon. Compared with 2 million cases produced under the Moët brand, only 200,000 cases of Dom Pérignon are produced each year. Grapes for the Dom Pérignon blend come from vineyards in Hautvillers, north of Épernay, where the Benedictine Monk lived. • Claude Moët, a wine trader in Épernay founded Moët in 1743. When Claude died, his grandson, Jean-Rémy Moët took over the business. When Jean-Rémy retired, he left the company in the hands of his son, Victor and son in law Pierre-Gabriel Chandon de Briailles. The company officially became known as Moët & Chandon in 1832. • Moët is owned by LVMH. LVMH also has ownership of several subsidiary companies in the champagne business including Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Ruinart and Krug.

It’s still remarkable to me to think that a bottle of Moët, or any other champagne bottle we see in the US, once lived for at least 15 months (more likely 3 years) inside a chalk cellar in Champagne. It traveled across the Atlantic on a boat and has now ended up in your fridge or wine store. I find it easy to understand and respect why these wines cost $35 or more.

Visiting Moët You must make an appointment for the tour. If you are traveling in summer definitely make your appointment well in advance. It is easy to do on their website. The tour is on foot and the cellars are cold so wear comfortable shoes and take something warm. Épernay is very easy to get to from Paris by train. It only takes an hour and twenty minutes from Gare de l’Est to Épernay train station. Moët is five minutes walk from the station. Visits start from 16.50 €/person, and there are other options depending on what wines you want to taste at the end of your tour.

Address: Moët & Chandon 20 avenue de Champagne 51200 Épernay France

From January 28 to March 23, from November 12 to December 31: Open from Monday to Friday (closed on weekends and public holidays). From March 24 to November 12: Open daily (from Monday to Sunday, including public holidays)
.  Make an appointment on the Moët site.

 

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