There has never been a better time to visit Champagne. The region’s hotels, restaurants and visitor experiences are finally catching up to the reputation of the wines themselves.
There’s plenty to see around Reims and Épernay, both possible as day trips from Paris on the train, although it’s certainly worth getting out into the villages to escape the tour groups.
Top tips for visiting Champagne producers
Book in advance, preferably by at least two weeks, and make sure to call if you’re going to be more than a few minutes late. Bear in mind that the roads can be deceptively slow when the tractors are out during the summer months!
Lunch closures are sacred (including for car hire companies in Reims and Épernay), and don’t forget to check for when the numerous public holidays might fall.
Smaller producers are often more reluctant to take visitors during peak times of vineyard work (late June, July and around harvest), and all but the largest houses effectively shut down in August.
If you have the chance to do a little research into the house before you visit you’ll be rewarded. It’s always worth remembering that many smaller producers do not have dedicated staff for greeting guests and doing tours so are taking time out of busy days to share their work. Many smaller growers will not be able to sell you wine because their stocks are fully allocated, although Reims and Épernay have some excellent bottle shops where you might be able to find the wines. Despite this, fees for visits are generally reasonable compared to many other wine regions.
The top Champagne houses to visit:
Seeing the Gallo-Roman crayères of Reims is essential. Many of the finest of these ancient chalk mines, repurposed for Champagne storage during the 18th and 19th centuries, lie under a hill to the south of the city, so take a taxi or public transport from the centre (or walk for about 40 minutes from the train station). Ruinart, one of the oldest houses in the region, is one of the most atmospheric to visit, with its beautifully maintained house and garden. Its carefully curated tours end with tastings of the house’s supremely elegant Chardonnay-focused cuvées.
Cellar tours £65/€75 per person, with a tasting of two cuvées.
Champagne brunch £70/€80 per person, weekends only by reservation.
4 Rue des Crayères, 51100 Reims, France
+33 3 26 77 51 52
GH Mumm, Reims
For a more accessible introduction to Champagne in Reims, head to Mumm’s historic house for a popular tour of its extensive cellars as well of some of its quirkier projects (such as the first bottle of Champagne in space). It’s worth booking on the Grand Cru Experience to make sure you get a taste of the fine and elegant RSRV range, showcasing some of this important house’s renewed efforts with wines from grand cru villages and lengthy lees ageing. During the summer months Mumm also offers a series of unique experiences at weekends, including the thought-provoking sensory tasting and Champagne and cheese pairing.
Discovery Experience £30/€35 per person
Grand Cru Experience £43/€50 per person
Taste Encounters £65/€75 per person
34 Rue du Champ de Mars, 51100 Reims, France
Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, Cuis
Visiting independent growers is an essential part of any Champagne itinerary. Many of them work very small, localised parcels of vineyards, but at Gimmonet (one of the larger growers in the region) you can get to know a whole sub-region of Champagne: the northern Côte des Blancs, home of some of Champagne’s greatest Chardonnay. These are impeccably crisp, pure wines which present a vivid picture of the chalky slopes between Cuis and Oger. It’s best to book a visit in advance, although this is one of the rare growers that has published opening hours. After your visit, head down into the Côte des Blancs to find warm welcomes from producers such as Champagnes Lancelot-Pienne, Diebolt-Vallois, Delamotte, Franck Bonville, Doyard and Larmandier-Bernier.
1 Rue de la République, 51530 Cuis, France
+33 3 26 59 78 70
Moussé Fils, Cuisles
Heading west from Épernay, the Marne Valley is home to some of Champagne’s most charming landscapes. Gently folding hills and woodland replace the uniform carpets of vineyards found around the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs, and the Pinot Meunier grape is king. There is none of Champagne’s famous chalk near the surface here – the Pinot Meunier grape thrives on the argile verte or green clay of the local area. With its impeccable vineyard work and an off-grid, sustainable winery full of unique innovations, Cedric Moussé’s family domaine in Cuisles is a top place to explore. You may even get to meet Moussé’s chickens or flock of vineyard sheep.
3 Rue de Jonquery, 51700 Cuisles, France
+33 3 26 58 10 80
Most visitors to Champagne arrive from Paris or the north of France, and miss out on the Côte des Bar region, 90 minutes drive south of Reims. From the stunning medieval town of Troyes (and nearby Chardonnay village Montgueux) to the rolling landscapes which are more naturalistic than the north, with farmland, woodland and pasture all cohabiting, the Côte des Bar is a now a hotbed of independent Champagne producers, many of which have moved on from selling their Pinot Noir grapes to the larger houses. Family-run Drappier is the key Champagne house of the south, with a lineup of naturally expressive, gastronomic Champagnes that champion Pinot Noir on the Kimmeridgian limestone that’s also found in Chablis.
Visit and tasting £18/€20, by appointment.
Rue des Vignes, 10200 Urville, France
+ 33 (0)3 25 27 40 15
Aÿ is one of Champagne’s most important grand cru villages, sitting opposite Épernay in the Grande Vallée de la Marne. Its Pinot Noir has been renowned for centuries, although the house of Ayala (sister house of better-known Aÿ stalwart Bollinger) works increasingly with Chardonnay to create attractively delicate, refreshing Champagnes. Sitting at the top of the village, the property boasts a terrace with superb views, so make sure to book a Prestige Visit (€40). Deeply atmospheric and beautifully lit cellars lie beneath the house, and the lineup of wines is increasingly impressive, especially the Blanc de Blancs and Perle d’Ayala.
Prestige Visit £35/€40
1 Rue Edmond de Ayala, 51160 Aÿ, France
+33 (0)3 26 55 15 44
Épernay’s grand Avenue de Champagne is the region’s most famous street, but aside from Moët & Chandon and Perrier-Jouët, it is not furnished with as many top-notch visitor experiences as one might expect. Gosset, one of Champagne’s oldest houses based in Aÿ, now owns a fine property in the south of the town, set in a two-hectare park. Book a guided tasting of the house’s invigoratingly dry, taut Champagnes together with a visit into the chalk cellars beneath the domaine. There’s also a bar and terrace for an informal drink. If you’re on a day trip without a car it’s about a 30 minute walk to the picturesque vineyards of Pierry and Moussy. Alternatively, head to Champagne Alfred Gratien in the town centre for a contrast in Champagne styles.
+33 3 26 56 99 56
12 Rue Godart Roger, 51200 Épernay, France