Reims is a beautiful and historic city, but many visitors come here for one thing: tasting the bubbly at one of the world’s major Champagne houses in Reims.
So how do you go about visiting the Champagne houses? Many people are daunted by the idea, imagining it to be an elite, rather stuffy thing to do.
In fact, it’s huge fun, educational and very easy to arrange.
Which Champagne house to choose?
With 155 miles of cellars in Reims alone in wonderful and historic Gallo-Roman cellars there are plenty of houses to consider.
To organize a visit to one of the top Champagne houses in Reims, do a bit of research in advance. The process of producing the Champagne is the same whichever cellar you visit; what is different are the surroundings and of course…the amber nectar you taste at the end!
There’s a list of the major Champagne houses at the end of this article, but let me take you on a visit to Champagne Pommery, one of the grandest, and largest, of the houses.
Pommery does produce Champagne here in Reims from the 25 hectares of vines it owns.
A short history of Pommery
Founded by Narcisse Greno in 1836, the company merged in 1856 with Louis Alexandre Pommery. Like so many Champagne houses, it was a woman, Louise Pommery, the widow of Louis who shook up the business.
When the Pommery chef de caves, Victor Lambert, developed a brut Champagne in 1874, Louise decided to produce it in quantities enough to satisfy the English taste, which preferred a lighter, dryer taste.
Louise Pommery ran the business incredibly successfully, built the buildings you see today and linked the 120 Gallo-roman cellars with 11 miles of passages. Her daughter, Louise along with her husband, Prince Guy de Polignac, took over equally effectively.
Pommery passed through various companies, included Danone who sold it to the LVMH group in 1991. In 2002, LVMH sold it to Vranken though they kept the 741 acres of vineyards which included sites in seven grand crus villages.
Visit the Pommery cellars
Various buildings make up the complex and while they’re impressive, my initial reaction at seeing them was one of surprise. There’s something Disney-like about the brightly colored buildings which embrace three architectural styles: neoclassical, medieval Gothic and high Victorian.
The main hall is dominated by a huge 75,000 litre Grand Foudre Pommery cask made by Emile Gallé in 1903. Take a closer look; the carving on the front symbolizes friendship between France and America.
The woman seen from the back in a vineyard is France, offering a glass of Pommery Champagne to America. She sits astride a sphinx with the head of a Native American. On the top tier another female figure sits beside the Statue of Liberty. Below is the city of Reims. The barrel was last used in 1973.
When your tour gets called, you walk down into the cellars via a narrow stairway of 116 steps carved into the rock.
120 quarries store between 23 and 25 million bottles, but don’t worry you don’t see all of them. In the different vast rock chambers you’re told how Champagne is produced, how it’s riddled, and see the old wooden barrels which are no longer used to produce the bubbly.
Today commercial considerations have taken over the whole wine-producing industry and it’s steel vats that are used. But don’t get too nostalgic; it’s generally led to more good wine at cheaper prices.
What is astonishing at Pommery is both the annual changing art shows down here, and the images carved into the rock, dating from 1878. Walking through this vast underground semi-dark art gallery furnished with millions of euros of Champagne is a pretty surreal experience.
Back in the real world, it’s time for the Champagne tasting and this depends on what price you’ve paid. At Vranken-Pommery it’s 33€ or 30€. If you can afford it, take the more expensive tour; you’ll get to taste the best.
You can take a 90-minute tour to incorporate a visit to a lovely turn-of-the-century villa. Villa Demoiselle was built by Louis Sorel in 1904. It’s part Art Nouveau and part Art Deco and has been beautifully restored.
Feeling like a privileged guest in a particularly beautiful private home, you can taste the special Demoiselle and Diamant champagnes.
Take warm clothes; it’s 10 degrees C down there.
Get there 15 minutes before your tour.
5 place du Général-Gouraud
Tel: +33 (0)3 26 61 62 55
To book on the day tel: +33 (0)3 26 61 62 56
Open daily Monday to Friday: 10am-1pm & 2pm-6pm
Saturday: 10am-7pm; Sunday 10am-5pm & Jan 1 to March 1
Closed Dec 25 & Jan 1-3
Tours last 1 hour.
Cost: 22€, 30€
You can also book a 90-minute tour of the Clos Pompadour, with a tour of some of the vineyards included.
More Champagne Houses
Many of the top Champagne houses run tours of their extensive cellars. Many of them ask you to book in advance, but you can always try just turning up, particularly off season when they will probably be able to accommodate you.
Charles de Cazanove
Founded in 1811 Charles de Cazanove supplied many of the crowned heads of Europe: Prince Metternich of Austria, Third Republic French presidents and Edward VII in 1902 before the entente cordiale was signed. He had it imported with his own personal label. The brand supports Reims theatre and the Reims jazz festival.
Charles de Cazenove
Place de la République
Tel: +33 (0)3 26 88 53 86
Daily 10am-1pm & 2pm-7pm
Tours last 1 hour
Lanson was founded in 1760 and remains family owned.
66 rue de Courlancy
Tel: 00 33 (0)3 26 78 50 50
Open Jan 1 to Aug 31 & Nov 1 to Dec 31: Monday to Friday 8.30am-12.30pm & 1.30pm-6pm
Sept 1 to Oct 31: Monday to Saturday 8.30am-12.30pm & 1.30pm-6pm
Tours 90 minutes
Cost 30€ & 40€
G.H. Martel & Co
The tour of Martel takes in its historic cellars, its Champagne eco museum and 18th century buildings.
G.H. Martel & Co
17 rue des Créneaux
Tel: 00 33 (0)3 26 82 70 67
Open daily 10am-1pm and 2pm-7pm
Tours 60 minutes
Cost 13€ & 15€
G. H. Mumm
Maison Mumm was founded by Georges Hermann Mumm in 1827. Today they are one of the biggest producers of champagne and supply the British royal family. It’s owned by Pernod Ricard and prides itself on innovation. How about its latest: Grand Cordon Mumm Stellar is designed for space travel, and the ultimate tourists.
G. H. Mumm
34 rue du Champ-de-Mars
Tel: +33 (0)3 26 49 59 70
Open Jan 2 to Feb 28 & Nov 1 to Dec 30: Wed to Sat 10am-1pm & 2pm-5.30pm; Mar 1 to Oct 31: Daily 9.30am-1pm & 2pm-6pm
Tours 75 minutes
Cost 23€, 29€, 42€
Ruinart is the oldest Maison de Champagne, founded in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart. His uncle, Dom Thierry Ruinart (1657-1709) was a French Benedictine monk and scholar and a good friend of Dom Pérignon (1638-1715) who, as you’ll see a little further down the page, did not invent Champagne.
4 rue des Crayères
Tel: +33 (0)3 26 77 51 51
Open March 12 to November 12: Tues-Sat 9.30am-6.15pm
Tours 75 minutes
Still family owned, Taittinger has 288 hectares of vineyards making it one of the large producers. It runs its vineyards using environmentally friendly techniques.
9 place St-Niçaise
Tel: +33 (0)3 26 85 45 35
Open Mar 30 to Nov 19: Daily 9.30am-5.30pm
Tours 75 minutes
Cost 21€, 33€, 43€ and 60€
Philippe Clicquot came from a family of bankers and textile traders but broke free and established the Clicquot name in 1772. In 1805 his widow, aged just 27, took over. She made the first vintage in 1810 and in 1814 followed her late husband’s aim to ‘cross the borders’. She shipped 10,550 bottles to St Petersburg, defying the Napoleonic embargo.
1, rue Albert Thomas
Tel: +33 (0)3 26 89 53 90
Open March 6 to December 29: Tues-Sat 9.30am-12.30pm & 1.30pm-5.30pm
Tours 60 minutes
Cost 28€, 40€, 55€, 128€
The Origins of Champagne
It isn’t known who invented Champagne. Contrary to popular myth, it wasn’t Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638–1715), the famous monk and cellar master at the Benedictine abbey in Hautvillers. In fact originally he was asked to do the opposite and was set the task of preventing that second fermentation in the bottle which produces the bubbles as too many bottles were exploding in the process.
But he certainly was a great innovator of winemaking techniques, such as blending wines, introducing corks instead of wood and fastening those corks to bottles with hemp string soaked in oil, using thicker glass bottle imported from England and advancing the Champagne making process.
The first Dom Pérignon vintage was produced in 1921 by Champagne Mercier who then gave the line to Moët in 1927 for the wedding between the two families.
The original vintage wasn’t released for sale until 1936 when it sailed to New York on the liner Normandie.
Today Dom Pérignon is part of LVMH. It’s probably the most celebrated of champagnes as it is always a vintage champagne.
It’s not made in weak years and all the grapes (50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay) used in making the wine must be grown on Grand Cru areas (there are only 17 out of nearly 300 growing spaces so designated) and harvested in the same year. They must be aged for a minimum of 7 years and there can only be 6 vintages in 10 years.
So this is the one to choose for that special celebration as many have done before you.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer chose it for their wedding in 1981 for instance, though whether you think that is a good or a bad omen is up to you.
I’ve found a Dom Pérignon for 1959 quoted at $42,350, so a 1985 Dom Pérignon, valued at $385 a bottle, must be a bargain!
Moët et Chandon is in Epernay
More on visiting the Champagne houses in Reims
If you plan some time sightseeing in Reims, and also visiting a champagne cellar or two, it’s worth considering the Reims City Pass.
Buy it online here.
1 day – 24 hours = 22€; 2 days 48 hours = 32€; 3 days, 72 hours = 42€. It will give you unlimited public transport, a free City Tour, free guided tours free entry to many of the buildings and discounts on other attractions and a glass of champagne at certain restaurants.
Reims Tourist Office
4 rue Rockefeller
Tel: +33 (0)3 26 77 45 00
Champagne-Ardennes Tourist Office will give you more information on tours of champagne country outside the main cities.
Nearby Epernay is a city entirely devoted to champagne making. It’s just 16 miles south of Reims. It’s at its best in December when for three days the town celebrates the Habits de Lumière festival.
Again there are many top Champagne houses to visit here. Check with the local tourist office.
7 Avenue de Champagne
Tel: +33 (0)3 26 53 33 00