Taittinger Champagne Cellar Tour in Champagne, Reims (Grand Est - France)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali
  
ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO VISIT
CHAMPAGNE HILLSIDES, HOUSES, AND CELLARS
ONE OF THE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN FRANCE

Did you know there's a region called Champagne in France? It was one of those things that surprised me when I came to know of it, like the town of Schengen in Luxembourg after which the Schengen Visa got its name.

Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger


Champagne Hillsides UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France
Pic Courtesy: Fab5669, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

ALL ABOUT CHAMPAGNE - THE REGION

DAY TRIP TO CHAMPAGNE FROM PARIS
My recent trip to Paris was purely to use it as a base for various day trips. After going on a day trip from Paris to Fontainebleau and a day trip from Paris to Provins. On my 3rd day, I went on a day trip to Reims, a part of the Champagne region. 
It is easy to go to Champagne from Paris by train. There's a direct high-speed train that connects Paris Est to Reims Central and there are local buses in the town (which weirdly Google doesn't show; more details under Taittinger Champagne below)! There's also a direct train from Paris to Epernay as well as from Reims to Epernay. However, we visited only Reims on our trip and skipped Epernay, because we not only wanted to see the Champagne region, but also visit the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi, and Palace of Tau on our day trip from Paris to Champagne. 

HOW TO VISIT THE CHAMPAGNE UNESCO SITE?
There are 3 aspects of Champagne's UNESCO World Heritage Site - the vineyards on the historic hillsides, the production sites (with their underground cellars), and the sales and distribution centers (the Champagne Houses). 
This is in 3 distinct areas - the historic vineyards of Hautvillers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ (close to Epernay), Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, and the Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Epernay. To explore all these places, you have to visit the town of Reims, and also the town of Epernay which is located about 30km from Reims. 
How to visit the Champagne Cellars? At Reims are the Saint-Nicaise Hills which is the production site of the Champagne where the wine bottles are aged in the cellars, which is what we visited. Reims is directly connected to Paris by Highspeed TER train. 
How to visit the Champagne Hillsides? Epernay has a railway station and is directly connected from Paris as well as from Reims by TER Highspeed trains. To visit the vineyards on the historic hillsides, if you don't have a car or private transport, the best option would be to hire a bike from Epernay Railway Station and bike through the vineyards. 
Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol are located just 1km from Epernay Railway Station. While Avenue de Champagne is more of a shopping area to buy Champagne and Fort Chabrol cannot be visited & can only be seen from outside.

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

ALL ABOUT CHAMPAGNE - THE WINE

WHAT IS CHAMPAGNE? HOW IS CHAMPAGNE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SPARKLING WHITE WINES?
Unlike other sparkling white wines, Champagne has to be manufactured only in the region of Champagne (Reims, Epernay, and surrounding areas). The 282.37 km² of vineyards in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France mainly produce Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay and Champagne can be manufactured only with the grape varieties cultivated right here. Technically, all Champagne is sparkling white wine but not all sparkling white wine is Champagne. Even before it was protected by UNESCO, Champagne has been protected by the Geographical Indication mark (Appellation of Origin) since 1967. 

WHY IS CHAMPAGNE WINE A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE?
The whole process of Champagne winemaking not only involves carrying forward the traditional knowledge from the times of Benedictine Monks in 13th C, but also involves various stages of the process right from cultivation to sales within the region. This means, right from town planning (cultivation in the hillsides) to knowledge transmission (manufacture & aging of wines (secondary fermentation in a bottle) in the cellars) to architecture (Champagne houses), everything has to come together and everyone has to work together. An artisan activity that began centuries ago is now an agro-industrial enterprise that symbolizes the region which is why Champagne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

HOW IS CHAMPAGNE MADE?
To begin with, I never knew that fermentation could happen in bottles! I assumed that it always has to be in barrels and once bottled, fermentation doesn't happen anymore. But guess what, Champagne is manufactured by the bottle-fermentation method.
First of all, after harvesting the grapes, regular wine is made, then it is left to mature for the next few years. If the quality is not exceptional, it is blended with others to make high-quality champagne. But if the quality is excellent it is declared as vintage and directly goes through 2nd fermentation, a process by which the wine becomes champagne! 
During the 2nd fermentation process, the wine is rebottled (either by itself if it is vintage and if not, it is blended) along with yeast & sugar. This is then corked and left to mature in these cellars for at least 18 months (but more often it is left to mature for 2-3 years, sometimes even 10 years! During this time, yeast devours the sugar in the wine and releases carbon-di-oxide which is what makes Champagne bubbly. Throughout this time, when it is left to be matured, it is continuously rotated and tilted at regular intervals to let the sedimented yeast collect at the next of the bottle. Finally, the neck of the bottle is frozen and the cork is opened to let the yeast slide out and it is re-corked. That's it, it now hits the shelves to be sold, bought, and celebrated! It is this second-fermentation in the bottle that makes Champagne so bubbly & so special!

TYPES OF CHAMPAGNE BY SWEETNESS / SUGAR CONTENT 
Even after the yeast feasts on the sugar, there's always a bit of sugar that's still left, not consumed by the yeast. The champagne varies from Extra Brut to Sweet depending on the residual sugar per litre of champagne.  
  • Extra Brut (<6 grams) 
  • Brut (6-12 grams) 
  • Extra dry (12-17 grams) 
  • Dry (17-32 grams) 
  • Semi-dry (32-50 grams) 
  • Sweet (>50 grams)

TYPES OF CHAMPAGNE BY BOTTLE SIZE
The usual champagne bottle that we see is 750ml, but did you know Champagne is available in many other bottle sizes too and each of those sizes has a special name?! In fact, the most commonly purchased one, among youngsters is the small 375ml called Demi-Bottle which they could take on picnics, or dates. After the Standard size is the Magnum (1.5l), followed by Jéroboam (3l), Methuselah (6l), Salmanazar (9l), Balthazar (12l), and finally, Nebuchadnezzar (15l). Upon very special occasions, a 30l Champagne bottle can also be made to order. From the 6l bottle onwards, after the 2nd fermentation, the Champagne is rebottled in the large bottle, unlike the smaller bottles where the 2nd fermentation happens in the bottle in which it is sold, directly! 

UNESCO Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Tour

Best Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger

Best Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger

Best Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger

Best Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger

ALL ABOUT TAITTINGER CHAMPAGNE

HISTORY OF TAITTINGER CHAMPAGNE
In the 13th C, on this spot, stood the Saint-Nicaise Abbey, built by Benedictine monks to venerate the 11th Bishop of Reims. In the underground cellars of the Abbey were chalk quarries that date back to the Gallo Romain era. However, this Abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution, but the cellars survived.
Taittinger became the 3rd ever Champagne House set up in Reims in 1734 founded by Jacques Fourneaux. He learned the art of making sparkling wine from the Benedictine Monks whose Abbey was right here. Much later, in 1932, Pierre Taittinger bought the Château de la Marquetterie from the wine house of Forest-Fourneaux which today stands as House Taittinger. It changed hands to a USA-based firm for a few years but then it was bought back by the Taittinger family. Since 2007, his grandson Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and his daughter Vitalie Taittinger head the Taittinger Champagne House.

TAITTINGER CHAMPAGNE CELLAR TOUR
The tour of Taittinger Champagne Cellars begins with a small movie about the Champagne region and about the history of Taittinger. The language of the movie is English or French depending on the tour you select. Then we headed down to the cellars. As with any tour that goes underground (like Grottes de Han or Provence), the temperature underground is always constant at around 12-14°C. Since it was a hot summer day when we went, we had to wear an extra layer of clothing, just so that we are not too cold! A tour guide heads the group and she speaks either French or English, again, depending on the tour you select.
The first pit stop is at an inscription & re-created stained glass image that depicts Peter I, a Tsar of Russia who visited here on April 27, 1717 and he's holding a bottle of Champagne, a design which later became the shape of the best of the best wines that Taittinger makes - Comtes de Champagne. Today, the flagship wines of the house are the Comtes de Champagne (composed of 100% Chardonnay) and Comtes de Champagne Rosé (70% Pinot noir and 30% Chardonnay).
The tour continues through the vaulted cellars which were filled with several thousands of wine bottles, kept at various levels of incline according to their age, as mentioned in the process of how Champagne is made along with a board on the wall that mentions what wine those are. Soon we came to this spot which has 20,000 wine bottles stored in a horizontal position, the first step of the 2nd fermentation in the bottle, after which the bottles are turned 180° several times and then the inclination starts. Literally, this is one of the most instagrammable locations inside the underground galleries of Taittinger Champagne, however, your phone/camera must be good enough to get the shot in the lowlight area.
Right here is also a series of bottles - one each of the various sizes as mentioned earlier from Demi to Nebuchadnezzar! From here, we move on to the newer galleries, excavated in recent years to expand the storage area for the wine bottles! On the way are these historic doors from the historic  Saint-Nicaise abbey that once stood here!
The tour ends at the tasting room which also showcases some of the unique bottles designed by various artists & designers in collaboration with Taittinger Champagne. The first ever design was by the Hungarian artist Vasarely. Further on, many artists including André Masson, Roy Lichtenstein, and Rauschenberg have created for Taittinger. Finally, the tour wraps with a tasting session with 1-3 champagnes. Of course, the outlet is also right here, to buy a bottle of Champagne from Champagne! 

TAITTINGER CHAMPAGNE CELLAR TOUR TICKETS
The tours are either in French or English and there are 20 people per tour. The tours should be ideally pre-booked, esp if you're visiting during weekends or holidays. On weekdays, it might be ok to drop-in. However, it is always better to pre-book. Normally there are 5 tours per day in English. A tour lasts about 1 hour and ends with a tasting session. You can take your time to enjoy your 3 glasses of champagne! 
Taittinger Champagne Cellar tour tickets: €27-€57 (depending on 1 or 2 wine tastings)
Buy your Taittinger Champagne Cellar tour tickets online: via the official website of Taittinger incl. tour language & timings

Where is Taittinger Champagne Cellars in Reims (on Google maps)Champagne Taittinger
How to reach Taittinger Champagne Cellars in Reims: Nearest bus stop is Pl. Saint-Timothée. It is connected by Citura Bus Route 4 from Reims Central Railway Station. From the Notre Dame Reims Cathedral & Reims Tourism Office Citura Bus Route 5 also heads to Pl. Saint-Timothée. Each trip costs €1.80 per person on the Citura Bus, but it is included in the Reims City Pass. You can find the bus schedule on the official website of Citura.

Best Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Caves Tour

Best Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Caves Tour

Best Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Caves Tour

Best Champagne Houses in Reims Taittinger Cellar Caves Tour

Champagne Hillsides UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France
Pic Courtesy: Fab5669, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons  

HOW TO VISIT CHAMPAGNE?

The easiest way to visit the Champagne-Ardenne region is by car! If you don't drive, the next best option is to opt for an organized coach tour or a private tour. If neither is possible, it is possible to visit the Champagne-Ardenne region by public transport, but planning is necessary since long-distance high-speed trains aren't frequent and the ticket prices are dynamic.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO VISIT CHAMPAGNE REGION (BOTH REIMS & EPERNAY) BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT ON A DAY TRIP FROM PARIS?
Yes! Take the morning TER train from Paris Est to Reims at 8:27AM which reaches Reims at 9:14AM. Take the underground cellar tour at Taittinger at 9:45AM or 10:45AM. The tour lasts for 1 hour which means it would get over by 10:45AM or 11:45AM. Get the afternoon train from Reims to Epernay. There are trains almost once every hour but the timings change on weekdays & weekends. If you take the 12:44 PM or 1:14PM train from Reims to Epernay, it would reach Epernay at 1:23PM or 1:53PM. Hire a bike and go through the hillsides to see the Champagne vineyards. Finally, wrap up with a quick look at Fort Chabrol and go shopping at the Avenue de Champagne. Catch the train to return back to Paris Est in the evening (at 6:29PM or 7:49PM on weekdays; 6:07PM or 8:07PM on Saturdays; 6:48PM or 7:48PM on Sundays).
Do keep in mind, that this would be a purely Champagne tour from Paris and you may not have time to visit any of the other attractions in Reims or Epernay like the other UNESCO Sites in Reims - Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi, and Palace of Tau, etc. To visit them all on your Champagne region trip, make it a weekend trip to the Champagne region with an overnight at Reims or Epernay or even Paris! 
Also, keep in mind that the TER Trains tickets of Paris <=> Reims, Reims <=> Eperney, Eperney <=>Paris should all be booked as early as possible because the train tickets have dynamic pricing.

ONE-DAY ITINERARY AT (DAY TRIP TO) CHAMPAGNE
Option 1 - Purely Champagne 
As above - only possible if you can bike or hike through the Epernay Champagne hillsides.
Option 2 - One day in Reims 
Morning: Taittinger Champagne Cellars guided tour
Afternoon: Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi, and Palace of Tau

TWO-DAYS ITINERARY AT (WEEKEND TRIP TO) CHAMPAGNE
Day 1 - All day in Reims including Taittinger Champagne Cellars. 
Stay overnight at Reims or Epernay (or return to Paris & go to Epernay next day)
Day 2 - Hike/Bike through the Champagne hillsides at Epernay

Champagne making process Vineyards to Cellars to Bottles Taittinger Champagne Cellars Cave Tour Reims

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of June 2022. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands

10 comments:

  1. I never realized how protected the "champagne" name was until I was in Spain and heard the story of how cava was once called champagne until France took up the issue! I was also unclear on what the difference types of champagne were before reading your article. I can usually find Brut and Sweet at my local liquor store, but would love to try the different variations between. Taittinger Champagne Cellars looks like just the place to do so! The glowing space set in the hillside would be an enchanting experience in itself. Can't wait to visit when I go to France. What a cool experience and fascinating details!

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  2. Your post comes just in time as we are planning a visit to Reims and the champagne cellars there. We think about spending a few days and doing several tours. I love the Taittinger champagne - so visiting the cellars is a must. However, I was not aware that there is such a thing a sweet champagne!

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  3. I heard about Champagne, but I didn't know that champagne can be only produced from there. Walking along thousands of bottles of champagne sounds interesting and it's good to know about the cool temperature down there. I wonder what's the story behind the champagne's names from Taittinger.

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  4. Oh! Oops I missed mentioning that. All those bottle names are biblical names! Let me add that detail now...

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  5. What a fun and fascinating tour of the Champagne region, it really makes sense that this is a Unesco World Heritage designation with the history, culture and processes involved to making these amazing champagnes. I loved learning about all the different facets you shared here to the making, production and types of champagnes, even to the different sizes and sugar content. Very educational and fun.

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  6. We missed halting at Champagne, instead we went to Reims and then to Luxembourg, but glad I could visit the place through your post. Interesting info on Champagne making and that the traditional knowledge has passed down from the times of Benedictine Monks in 13th C. Who knew 2nd fermentation, a process by which the wine becomes champagne!!! Interesting details. The sugar quantity scares me a bit... ha.. ha.

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  7. As a champagne lover, I wholly endorse this tour! Tattinger is also one of my favorite champagnes, so this would be an authentic experience. Champagne looks like a lovely town too, nice to know it can be a day trip from Paris too.

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  8. What luck! I am planning to spend 2 nights in Reims during a trip to Paris next month and I have on my list to explore a tour and the countryside. Good tip on renting a bike to see the Epernay countryside. I did want to get there and hadn't looked into how exactly.

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  9. Fascinating, you would not except there is a place with this name, Champagne. I mean from the name people can guess what it is all about. It sounds like you have fun in the place.

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  10. Wow! It would be cool to visit and see the Champagne Cellars. I have no idea that there are many types of champagne. So happy to read your post. This is so informative. Thank you for sharing.

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