It’s my girlfriend Claire’s 30th birthday this month so I decided to take her to Epernay, the heart of the Champagne producing region, to spend the weekend enjoying Champagne and while we’re there, get some bubbles for her birthday party(s)!
One of the smaller Champagne houses, R.C. Lemaire, was recommended by Luiz at the London Foodie. Set in the idyllic French village of Villers-sous-Châtillon, R.C. Lemaire is a family run Champagne house – Now run by the fourth generation of the family.
We arrived to a very noisy house, we thought there was some sort of party and we were at the wrong place! And we were right – we arrived smack bang in the middle of a birthday party in full swing! When the family saw us drive up in an English car they started singing “God Save the Queen!” We knew then, that this was going to be no ordinary tour! Then Sebastien, who runs the house with his father and brother, came bounding out to meet us. “BONJOUR!” – we were met with a massive smile (if not a little tipsy!).
The tour of the facilities soon got underway! Sebastien explained that they “are not for the “show” we don’t need to make it tidy.” They were happy to show us around the production facilities in the “working” state. He said that all of the effort goes into making the Champagne. Sounds good to me!
He showed the old press from 1945, which was bought soon after the end of the 2nd world war. In 1960 it was automated – Before then it was powered by horse!! Now they have a new modern machine which keeps the juice away from the skin more efficiently which apparently is good for the Champers!!!
They make their own brown sugar and add only a little to the champagne – 6g per litre compared to most other Champagne which is 12g per litre. He commented that some houses use sugar to hide bad Champagne! So you have been warned!
R.C. Lemaire is one of the few Champagne houses to label some of the bottles by hand. Here is the machine they use for the half bottles – this machine adds the glue to the labels before they are stuck onto the bottles by hand!
These are the old Champagne Pupitres where the bottles are “riddled” – this is when a “worker grabs the bottom of each bottle, giving it a small shake, an abrupt back and forth twist, and while slightly increasing the tilt, drops it back in the rack” (More info here) – this is to catch the particlesin the neck for removal as part of the production process.
This used to be done manually in these racks, but due to the time it takes, it is now done by machines. Sebastien explained to us that if any Champagne house says that they still do this by hand then it’s a lie!! He laughingly explained that when the “English Tourists” turn up they shout down to the staff to go and act like they are turning the bottles by hand!! Then as soon as you leave, they stop the charade!
95% of Rose Champagne is made from adding a little red wine to the cuvee to give it a Rose colour. The Rose that R.C. Lemaire make is “Rose De Saignee” – Blood Rose. This is when the skins are left in the juice to macerate and give the Rose its colour. This is traditionally how good quality Rose is made, but it takes a skilful Champagne producer to know when to remove the skins so that the Rose has taken its perfect colour and taste from the skins.
The day we visited just happened to be Sebastien’s father’s 55th Birthday and the close family were around to celebrate the day with him. Sebastien and his family welcomed us into their home like we were family!
When they found out Claire’s 30th was coming up as well, we were invited straight past the usual tasting area and straight into the living room with the rest of the family. Then we all sang happy birthday to Claire!!
We were given some Pear Williams that the father had produced in 1988 – It had a whole pear in the bottle! They also fed us with some of their Fois Gras. We were even given some 1990 Chassagne Montrachet – look how old the bottle was!!
After we were full of Champagne and Fois Gras we bought some of their Champagne for Claire’s birthday celebrations and headed off from a delightful day!
This champagne house has some of the top awards, but they never need to advertise due to so many returning customers. I feel so lucky to have gotten a proper family tour and not just the “show” as they called it. A big thanks to the whole family for such a warm welcome – Brigitte, Gilles, Guillaume and Sebastien.
If you want to see this part of France and taste some wonderful Champagne I would thoroughly recommend R.C. Lemaire, They have a gite and a B&B in the village and they are more than hospitable! Make sure its R.C. Lemaire and not just “Lemaire” as there are 10 other “Lemaires!”
Oh and the Rose is AMAZING!!!! It’s a beautifully made Rose with a loving strawberry taste that brings the bubbles to life!
Claire didn’t want to leave without this glass! We will have to go back soon!