In Champagne de Venoge’s Cellar
Wednesday - June 20, 2007
Champagne de Venoge
So what is it like to visit a Champagne house as a wine professional? Well, I’ll be the first to tell you that it is a real treat. On a recent visit I got the red-carpet treatment from some of our friends at Champagne de Venoge.
We met at their offices and cellars on the appropriately named Avenue de Champagne in Epernay. We were greeted by a handsome young man, Eric Maillot, the assistant director of exports, who speaks fluent English. He introduced us to the story of the house founded by Swiss-born entrepreneur Henri Marc de Venoge in 1837 - all while standing around a marble bust of the late founder.
He led us up a staircase whose walls displayed many of the earlier labels of de Venoge. In fact, de Venoge as a label maker was the progenitor of many of the wine labels used by many of the large houses today, including the “yellow” color and the comet symbol used by Veuve Clicquot, as well as the Dom Perignon moniker used by Moet et Chandon, which was actually a gift from a member of the family to his daughter’s husband on their wedding day. They still have books filled with label samples dating back to the founding, including anomalies like Chateau Petrus and d’Yquem labels, and a de Venoge Champagne label made in New York around the turn of the century.
To show even more history, they still have record books dating from its founding, all handwritten with customer’s names like Sandra Bernhardt, places like Calcutta, and quantities sold. It was a step back in time.
We then took a few steps downward into the cellar, approximately 30 feet below, where the temperature drops and the light is artificial only. We were led down a labyrinth of caves, where millions of bottles of Champagne age each year in the undisturbed dark. He showed
us the pupitre or riddling racks that are rarely used now except for tours since the gyropallette machine has all but eradicated hand riddling in Champagne.
He then led us to a very old portion of the cellar where they hold the “library” selections. Lined down the wall were neatly stacked bottles pointing downward with no labels but a metal card with chalk-written codes to mark their identity. Interestingly, all the bottles still had the crown cap (like beer) on them, meaning that the wines were still on their lees waiting to be disgorged.
I noticed Eric had brought a tool with him to the cellar, and he announced that we were going to taste a wine that he was about to disgorge. He explained just how he was supposed to do it, and proceeded to disgorge the bottle right in front of us by hand. It was the first time I had seen it done firsthand.
After we congratulated him on his skill, he poured the wine for us to taste and guess the vintage with just one hint. He said it was almost as old as he is. I guessed it was ‘79 (I thought Eric was older) but it was the ‘83 (he was born in 1980) without dosage, obviously. It was miraculously fresh and vibrant with exotically rich fruit and complexity. The wine was consumed down to the last drop.
From there we returned to the office, where we tasted a stellar lineup of their current releases, including their brand new prestige cuvee, the 1995 Louis XV, named after the king who loved Champagne and who was the first to declare its authenticity from the Champagne region.
I must say that I wanted to share this with you not to show off, but to show you how much I enjoy what I do and why I do it.
By the way, we followed our visit with lunch at a local Michelin one-star restaurant called La Briqueterie, which was fabulous. And we drank de Venoge Champagne.
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