The third tour on my recent trip to Champagne was with LVMH’s Ruinart; another esteemed house based in Reims.
The oldest champagne house (others produced still wines first) was founded in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart, after his uncle Dom Thierry Ruinart convinced the family that the bubbly wine was the future. Ruinart was also a pioneer of making champagne fashionable through commissioning artists for advertising, and it up-keeps this tradition by supporting arts inspired by its products and facilities. This connection forms a prominent feature in its tour.
The actual Maison you visit is a reboot after World War I effectively levelled all things on the surface of Reims. However, what lays underneath has remained the same since Roman times. Ruinart is renown for its impressive Crayéres, amongst the largest in the area and the only ones listed as a French national monument.
The tour starts in a cosy visitors lounge. An icebreaker is helpful here as the groups are only around 10-15 people.
A brief history of the house is provided before commencing the tour. First port of call is to view some of the recent artistic creations. Every year, Ruinart commissions a global artist to come to the house and explore, then use it as inspiration and ultimately create something. Ruinart embraces the many differing forms; previous art includes sculpture, photography and painted mediums. Last years artist was Lui Bolin, who’s mind-bending camouflaged photography is showcased proudly about the house and cellars.
There is only one type of tour available to the public – with a distinct variance at the end. You get to choose either the blanc-de-blanc or rosé champagnes, and are served the NV and a vintage of each at the tours end.
The tour is one of the most expensive in Reims and will set you back €70.
Back to the tour itself. After the art showcase, the group is led down into the cellars below. Our tour guide today is Maho who is an oracle of Ruinart (trust me I asked the more complicated questions). After a detailed explanation of the production process, we descend into Ruinarts amazing chalk pits. In fact, we often encounter production staff on this trip, who are very cheerful and always say hello (or Bonjour, we are in France after all).
Ruinarts cellars are expansive; around 8km long in total, set on two levels. All of the house’s maturing champagne is located down here. During World War II, the entire place was cleaned out by the Nazi regime that occupied Reims.
The tour begins on the first level before eventually descending further down into the bottom of the cellar. The size of the Gallo-Roman chalk excavations is incredible; some pits are just shy of 40m deep – all dug by hand. At this point, you can see where digging teams made ledges in which to hide from rock-falls.
Within the cellars you will find even more art from previous years; the subterranean tour nears its end with both a large modern sculpture filling most of a Crayére, and a heat sensitive array of LED filled bottles that mirrors guests bodies that close within 5 metres of it – a popular feature.
Back on the surface the tour ends in the lounge, having an intimate champagne tasting with your tour group. I have rated Ruinart’s champagnes quite highly – some of the best near $100 AUD – and the 2007 vintage I am poured is at another level again.
In mainstream circles not everyone knows the Ruinart brand. It’s not typically within everyone’s price point, nor is it positioned to compete with it’s LVMH stablemate Dom Perignon at the premium end of champagnes. The benefit of this: the tour groups are much smaller (and one could argue this is also a product of the tours price).
So, if you would like to avoid the crowds and have a more intimate and immersive champagne experience; and witness arguably the best of the chalk cellars then the Ruinart tour is very much worth the spend. The champagnes offered for tasting are an added bonus.
Also of note; there was no notable store to speak of. A wine order book in the form of an iPad is offered around the lounge during tastings. Sadly, being from Australia and with a 3 bottle limit (which I took care of on my first day in Reims) before tax levies are applied, I couldn’t really use the opportunity to stock up.