Recently I had my first trip to Reims, Champagne and it certainly won’t be my last!
While there I made the most of my two and a half days and visited as many house tours as I could fit in.
My first stop was Lanson. Founded in 1760, the house is situated across the canal from the centre of town in Courlancy, the house is an easy 15 minute tram trip and walk from the Reims Cathedral.
When you arrive you are greeted by a large red brick house which fronts the entire Lanson facility. Inside, you are greeted by a team of welcoming staff and a lovely lounge area where you can peruse the whole champagne range as well as some Lanson merchandise such as ice buckets, glassware and other champagne specific paraphernalia which are available to buy (I grabbed a Lanson umbrella to help deal with future miserable weather).
There are several types of tour available – but the only variance is the champagne you drink at the end. A Black Label tour for instance is the entry level tour at €20 which grants you a nice glass of the base NV champagne at tours end. You can pay more for an extra glass of the rosé (€30) or more again for the vintage (€40); its up to you, however the actual tour is the same regardless.
You can reduce the cost of the tour by around 10% using a Reims City Pass, which will set you back $35 for one day (with access to certain tours in Reims and free public transport access), $55 for two days or $70 for three. I bought the two day pass.
Back to the tour itself; our lovely guide first takes us through the long history of Lanson, starting with of course François Delamotte and coming all the way to today’s ownership by Boizel-Chanoine Group (BCC). This also covers the regions where Lanson sources grapes to make it’s champagnes.
Next stop is a very unique experience in the Reims based houses; a vineyard tour of Clos Lanson; a single hectare of vines used to make the houses premium Champagne offering. It sits smack bang on a hill in the middle of Reims. All staff members of the house tend to its harvest each season.
This element gives Lanson a unique tour offering when compared to the other houses in town as it covers all of Champagne production from the vineyard, fermentation, bottling, cellaring and final disgorgement processes.
After leaving Clos Lanson, you are shown about the vinification areas; where all champagnes from Black Label up are produced. Lanson uses predominantly stainless steel, however in the reserve wines room Oak is used. Oak is also used for the development of the Clos Lanson champagnes.
Next port of call on the tour are the houses cellars.
As Lanson is located on the base of a hill, its cellars actually sit on street level to the frontage, with the production facility and Clos Lanson vineyard situated above. They still manage all the ideals for storing champagne. That is; 12 degrees C, 90% humidity and darkness. The lights are sodium based so don’t produce damaging UV light.
The cellar is home to around 16 million bottles of champagne – Lanson makes 4.2 million per year and stores Black Label NV for at least three years. The cellar itself is an eclectic mix of mechanically and hand riddled bottles; depending on the vintage.
The nature of the Lanson cellars means there are none of the famous interconnected ancient roman chalk pits (Crayères) that many of the houses over in the middle of town have, but then again; none of those houses cover the whole process of champagne production as well as Lanson, so there is the trade-off.
During World War I, most of the locals moved into the cellars of the champagne houses to avoid the heavy bombing and shelling that flattened around 80% of Reims. Lanson was one such house to host the townsfolk, with part of its cellars used as a church. Evidence of this place of worship is still located within the darkness.
Also located down in the cellars is Lanson’s Vinothèque; a collection (library) of the many vintages that haven’t been damaged or stolen over the many years of the houses existence.
Leaving the cellars concludes the tour, and you are returned to the lounge to enjoy your champagne (or two). Local laws prevent a house from serving more than two glasses due to licencing, so best to not push your luck asking for three.
The Lanson tour is fantastic as it is the only house in the middle of Reims that covers the whole wine making process in an hour and a half. It also has a great history, being one of the oldest grand champagne houses in existence. I do recommend visiting it for the holistic approach to champagne.
Sure, it may not have glamorous crayères of the houses closer to the middle of town, but as a start to champagne tours in Reims it is hard to beat and worth jumping on a tram for.
I strongly recommend doing at least two tours on your visit to Reims, with Lanson being your first and a crayères based house being your second to get a wide appreciation for champagne production.