My mother loved champagne. She smoked cigarettes in an extravagant holder, crossed her long legs (she was proud of those legs!), and ordered first my dad, then after he died, me, to uncork a bottle of “the stars!” (As Dom Pérignon was said to have exclaimed: “Come quickly! I am tasting the stars!”) It’s a tradition I perpetuate: drinking the stars.
And so it should come as no surprise to learn that while Louise and I are here in Paris, we took a quick train ride to Épernay, home to not only the grand monk himself, but also to Moët & Chandon, the winery with license to display “Dom Pérignon” on its labels. (Only select vintages are so labeled; it’s not made in “weak years.”)
Épernay is charming (and the weather was grand)—a veritable Disneyland of Champagne. Quaint cobblestone streets through which tractors towed vineyard equipment, and relieved-looking natives drinking beer (yes, beer) in neighborhood cafés. The tourist season had ended a few weeks earlier, harvest was a month ago, the wine was in vats, and the time had come to celebrate another vintage with good neighbors. It was the perfect time for us to visit.
Moët & Chandon isn’t the only winery in Épernay, as you might suspect, and we were treated to an exclusive tour of the artisanal winery Jean Milan, a fifth-generation family affair, classified among the seventeen Grands Crus of the Champagne district. The three of us—our guide, Maëva, was a native of Épernay with a degree in enology and an antique Peugeot van—frolicked in vineyards, shivered in caves, and drank enough Champagne to require assistance in everyday tasks. (Lord, if I overindulge today, let me overindulge in Champagne!) It was a grand, four-hour excursion, away from the predictable presentations of the big houses, luxuriously leisurely, and liberally washed down with flute upon flute of—as Mom would say—the stars.