Thursday, June 17, 2010

FIVE GUYS & ME - Reims, France

In Champagne County

 Reims, France

That drive from Germany to France took about three - four hours without “practicing” or any other driving incident… though hilltop castles whizzing by while going 90 mph on the autobaun never let me forget that we were not on the 405 in Los Angeles. However, by the time we reached the city of Reims, we re-entered our “practicing” mode and had to retrace our driving steps around what seemed like a million round-abouts.

(one of the million round-abouts)

Never one to be deterred from his goal (in this case keeping us calm while trying to find our hotel), Barry dipped into his bag of explanations and came up with: “We aren’t lost… I just wanted us to all share the experience of being in this beautiful city from both sides of the streets.” Consequently we arrived late at the “inn” and only had time for a quick meal in the hotel restaurant. Though Europeans are accustomed to eating dinner after ten o’clock, I’m not, and I didn’t want to eat anything too heavy before going to bed. I ordered a shrimp salad. By the time the salad reached my table I had downed two glasses of wine so I didn’t care that the black, beady eyes of the shrimp stared up from the plate as if pleading for a stay of execution. I was hungry and, since they’d already been boiled and chilled, I ignored their pleas, plucked out their eyes and scarfed them down.

At 6:00 am sharp the next day we were at Ruinart, the oldest champagne house in the world...

founded by a monk just before a “rival” monk established Dom Perignon.

Guy (not to be confused with one of “my guys” as his name is pronounced “gee” with a hard ‘g’) DeRivoire, a senior executive at the winery, was our tall and elegant host.

He introduced us to Ruinart’s cellar master, whose nose and taste buds make him one of, if not the most important person at the champagne house. It is the cellar master who chooses the blend of grapes that make up the champagne.

After shooting a demonstration of the master at work...

Guy took us down into the cruyeres (“caves”) where literally millions of bottles of champagne are stored.

(original cave entrance - we took an elevator)

Ruinart uses these cruyeres because the temperature is consistently cool, thus preserving the wine. So cool, in fact, we needed sweaters and jackets. These spectacular caves, one as deep at 150 feet, are actually ancient chalk quarries the Romans had dug and mined in 200AD to use for constructing roads and buildings. It was down there where we met the riddler. Not the “Batman” Riddler, but a man whose sole job is to turn the champagne bottles an eighth to a quarter of an inch each time so that the sediment from the wine’s second fermentation slowly makes its way to the neck of the bottle.

There it’s “disgorged” by de-corking the bottle and expelling the sediment. The bottle is then re-corked and stored till it’s ready for the consumer. A good riddler can turn as many as 40,000 bottles a day. Talk about a job made for carpel-tunnel syndrome.

As the guys videotaped the riddler riddling and the disgorger disgorging ...

 I explored the caves and discovered a tunnel lined with thousands of bottles of champagne, then another tunnel and then another.

However, away from the crew’s lights, the cold air was seeping through my jean jacket so I returned to watch the remainder of the shoot and bask in the warmth of the camera’s lights.

When the guys were finished, Guy took us to lunch at Flor Brasserie, a sunny bistro where we had oysters, baked shrimp casseroles, fresh sautéed fish, faux grois, cheeses (Jason basically stuck w/ the cheese and eyeless shrimp) and champagne…very good, very expensive Ruinart champagne.

We started with the rouge, a slightly pink champagne the color of which comes from the skins of the pinot noir grape. The juice is clear, however, and part of the champagne blend. This champagne was delicious and way up the ladder from any pink champagne you might have had before. After the rouge, we moved to the Ruinart non-vintage champagne. A non-vintage champagne, I learned, is the winery’s “house blend” and is consistent in its taste from year to year. The cellar master is totally responsible for this consistency. Ruinart’s non-vintage champagne is truly delicious. Its vintage champagne (which we got to taste the next day) is spectacular. A champagne is ‘vintage’ when grapes from only a certain year are used. This is where the cellar master can be creative, as it has nothing to do with the winery’s “house blend.” He can blend the grapes anyway he sees fit to get the taste he wants. One bottle on display in the tasting room was a $2,000 vintage champagne in a clear glass bottle to highlight the amber color of the wine encased in a spider web of silver designed by Kristof.

After lunch the guys shot a bumper w/ two lovely French girls welcoming the TV audience to France...

 then we off to shoot a champagne vineyard...


 and discovered a magical little town just outside Reims

Champagne fact: All grapes for all French champagne come only from the Champagne district in France. And, according to Guy, champagne made with grapes from anywhere else, be it Italy, Germany or Napa Valley, is not champagne, but sparkling wine.

On our last day in Reims we toured the city shooting B roll...


and I found a new job as part of the crew: the “sit in the van guarding the equipment reading a trash novel” job. Actually, it wasn’t really a ‘trash’ novel, but the latest paperback alphabet mystery by Sue Grafton. So for a couple of hours I was back in California with Kinsey Millhone. Finally, Charlie knocked on the van window. I was relieved of my duties and could now wonder around and see some of the city’s sights. Reims is filled with stone archways where gilded coaches led by black stallions and driven by velvet clad coachmen once rode through as they entered the cobbled stone plazas.


But the city’s real claim to history is a breathtaking cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Reims) finished in 1211 and considered one of the most beautiful in the world...

with stained glasses windows designed by Marc Chagall during its restoration some years ago.

According to the church’s literature, every king in France had been crowned in that cathedral.

As was fast becoming our tradition, we had to celebrate the end of our second shoot and decided to go back to Flo Brasserie for dinner. Jason was in the mood for beef, but was afraid it would still be mooing on his plate if he ordered it. However, he threw caution to the wind (he was a world traveler now) and ordered chateaubriand--- well-done. Of course, it was still walking and talking when he got it, but we convinced him to send it back. He did and when it was served to him again, it only seemed rarer. Afraid the chef would come out and de-bone him, Jason bravely carved himself a bite, but we stopped him from eating it and again convinced him to send it back. This time the steak returned medium-well and he was a happy guy. If only he could have tasted it as it should be… Oh well, we still had a couple of more weeks to convince him.

Back in our hotel sated and happy, we packed for our morning departure and our next culinary adventure... Beaune, in Dijon, the mustard capital of the world.


Rchard said...

Sparkling! I want to go back...

Stu said...

Loved this piece—and its photographs. I want to go to that bistro in Rheims.