My second tour on my recent trip to Champagne was with LVMH’s Veuve Clicquot; a world famous house in Reims.
Founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot, the house’s proud widow (“Veuve” in french) that it is synonymous for is actually his daughter in law; Barbe-Nicole. She inherited the business on the untimely death of her husband during a period where most women could not maintain financial assets or run businesses – with widows being an exception to these laws.
The maison is stylishly modern, with plenty of Pantone 137C yellow splashed about the place. There is plenty of the house’s marketing on show; from ad campaign posters to even an Airstream caravan (one of two) used for major brand events.
Similar to other houses there are several types of tour available – with the variance being the champagne you drink at the end.
A yellow label only tour will set you back €28 and grants you a nice glass of the base NV champagne at tours end. You can pay more for an extra glass filled with the rosé – a VCP invention (€40), or more again for the vintage La Grand Dame (€55). Regardless of your choice, the actual tour is the same.
Returning to the Veuve tour itself; we are led by a very knowledgeable guide (complete with VCP yellow bow tie) down into the depth of the chalk pit cellars where we are informed of the long history of Veuve with most content based around Madame Clicquot herself. She is a very intriguing and pioneering figure in champagne history – one who created a lot of innovations and was a very clever business person. Her story is compelling and well heard echoing off the walls of the centuries old gallo-roman produced crayéres.
After this, a number of technical points in the creation and storage of champagne are discussed, in line with the racks and racks of stored bottles seen all about in the dark depths. Our guide is very capable and able to answer most questions put his way with aplomb.
Walking about the now interconnected chalk pits is intriguing in itself; the scour marks left from the roman digging tools pattern the stone walls off the cellars, and the soft orange glow of the sodium lights help highlight their textures.
It is also interesting to witness some of the original riddling table designs (a Veuve invention) about the cellars too. Most bottles in this space are vintages, requiring hand-turning by the houses manual riddling team at the rate of up to 50,000 bottles per riddler per day; a tiny amount compared to the actual total of bottles stored by Veuve (around 40 million).
After around a hour underground, the tour concludes and the group returns to the surface via the stair of vintages – with steps marked with years that were used to create a vintage (for the record, there are almost no steps left to mark).
From there you enter the tasting room, where your pre-booked tasting is served and you can now sit and sip at a leisure.
The last port of call is a must for any VCP fan (of which there are many); the shop. Not only will you find the full range of VCP wines for purchase, but also a comprehensive range of champagne related accessories, homewares and VCP branded fashion accessories such as jackets, umbrellas, bags and even socks.
Of course I had to buy something…
Overall, I think the VCP tour is a must do for fans of the brand. It is very centric to the Madame herself and the important influence she had on champagne as both a wine and a region, and this is what differentiates it from the other houses surrounding it. The cellars are a lovely example of the UNESCO world heritage listed chalk pits about Reims. There are no access to vineyards or wine production facilities at VCP Reims, so if you seek that part of champagne production you will need look elsewhere.
Lastly; the VCP tours – like the brand itself – are VERY popular. The tours are usually filled, so a pre-booking is essential and not something you do last minute. You can find the tour booking here.