A birthday weekend in Champagne

After a morose couple of days it was time to lighten up and head into Champagne for Simon’s birthday weekend. We headed to a France Passion stop to allow us to stay with a local champagne maker and discover first-hand the methods of a small independent vigneron.

The parking at Champagne Leclerc-Massard was impressively practical and we topped up with clean fresh water and plugged into electricity before being grumpily dispatched from the door of the host with an offer to return for a tasting at 6pm.

A birthday treat

After several hours of writing and blogging (and having prepared an all-day beef curry) we steeled ourselves for a trying visit to the cellar but in fact had a wonderful evening of conversation over champagne with a very convivial Monsieur Leclerc.

Serious and passionate about his independence from the main champagne houses he was cheekily humorous about local politics amongst wine makers and full of information and advice for our visit.

The bubbles helpfully loosened our French tongues and lengthened Monsieur’s patience so we parted on happy terms with a box of three of his best brut. A charming evening! We returned to Bertha and her strong aromas of Brick Lane.

Waving farewell the next morning we headed up the steep road to the tiny hamlet of Mutigny.  At Monsieur Leclerc’s suggestion we spent a day cycling the ‘sentier de vin’ up and down the slopes of the vineyards under a hot sun.

It was tough going at times but at every stop we were rewarded with panoramic views of the famous region and, under clear skies, could see across to the Champagne powerhouses of Reims and Epernay.

The acres of undulating and autumnal vineyards were quiet as they had just been harvested for their bounty of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.

Back at the aire, our departing Belgian neighbours gifted us a tank of fresh water (with their remaining credit on the services tap) so we could shower and wash down the bikes which, like us, had become caked in mud and dust. The cadac bbq came out for a final evening’s cooking outside and we popped open another local fizz to the sunset.

We spent a fitful night as were woken by new and noisy Italian neighbours at midnight. For some reason they spent until 3am unloading and repacking what seemed like endless crates of wine. This was accompanied by loud agitated grumbling before they fell asleep, snoring.

Simon was up early to photograph the red sunrise across the vineyards, vying for space for the best shot with one of the three grumpy Italians before they soon headed off in a creaking and complaining old motorhome. We wished it ‘good luck’ for the return to Italy (surely not across the Alps?) before we ourselves returned to a favourite stop alongside the river at Mareuil-sur-Ay.

Autumn along the Canal de Marne

Autumn along the Canal de Marne


Mareuil-sur-Ay from above

We spent the morning biking along the river and then up into in the vineyards to see Notre Dame de Mareuil, a very sweet statue of Madonna and Child in the middle of the vineyards overlooking the river and towns. Back in time for the ‘French lunch’ we lounged under the trees with a baguette and the last of our German Bockwurst before minds inevitably turned homeward. It was time to make some decisions about returning to work, and the house.

A sudden leak in the sink in Bertha’s bathroom presented an unwelcome annoyance but did not mar an excellent weekend in Champagne. Salut!