Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It might take reams....

We continue to follow, week by week "Paris to the Past: Travelling Through French History by Train" by Ina Caro. So, today at 8:30am we launched off on the 4th leg of our journey to see the great French Gothic cathedrals: so we went to Reims which is NE of Paris about 100 miles. Reims was flattened in both World Wars but it saved and/or restored virtually everything from the 9th century western entrance into the cathedral (behind us in the photo) to the 1st century Roman gate (see photo) which - together with three others which still stand - were part of the Roman wall around the city, which had a different name then.  The Roman name meant "the wine of life" in Latin because - for over 2,000 years - this area has produced some of the world's best wines. The trip in led us through literally hundreds of thousands of acres of vineyards.  Winemaking - like everything else in France - is highly regulated; and they seem to get it all right. No more than 13,000 kilos of grapes can be harvested per hectare - any surplus gets thrown on the ground. And it takes a kilo of grapes to make a bottle of wine. This area produces 1 billion bottles of champagne every year, of which Martel produces 4 million. Only 5% goes to the US - and under a different brand ( the US has a similar name - 2 L's - trademarked).  Only certain maisons are permitted to blend champagne, which is a blend of from 3 to 50 different grapes.  The process - vastly summarized - is they harvest and press the grapes; they let them naturally ferment for 3 months. Then they bottle the wine, adding a small amount of yeast. When the yeast dies they invert the bottles, freeze the necks in brine at -25C, remove the cap and the sludge, add a bit of wine and recap, and then store for a minimum of 15 months by law. 

We eschewed the 45 minute, 195 mph, bullet train to Reims in favor of the two hour Paris to Epernay then Epernay to Reims less expensive train. [We made the same choice on the return: the trip is very smooth, quiet - great for sightseeing and resting on this beautiful, mostly sunny day, windless and about 60 degrees.]

We then walked the 1 km to the cathedral, arriving at 11am only to discover that the only English tour of our choice of winery (our second reason for coming) began 2km away at 11:30 am!  So we hoofed it over there, only stopping quickly for an almond chocolate croissant each.  We arrived at GH Martel & Co - champaigniers since 1869. Emanuele - a guy - gave us the 1 hour tour of the 20m deep caves built in the 9th century to extract limestone for construction.  Only 800 years later were they first used for wine, when a monk named Dom Perignon figured out how to make rudimentary champaign. After the tour and Champagne 101, we tasted 3 excellent examples before walking back to the Cathedral - stopping only to eat at a Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese buffet. 

The Cathedral. More personal than Notre Dame d Paris. More ornate and remote than Laon .  Cold - very cold - inside. As if the bitter cold days of last week came to this Cathedral to slumber.  All of the doors were open but the blasts of frigid air at the entrance did not seem to warm the interior by their exit.  The 13th century stained glass, and some 20th century replacements, added solemnity to a place which already has plenty.

We hopped on the return train and wrote and napped our way back to Gare d West in Paris, arriving just before 6p

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