Friday, 14 August 2009

Inspirations from the Champagne region

Well, we just got back from our road trip to France in a VW campervan. Not recommended for the faint hearted, with two small children, but what an experience! We travelled down through the Champagne region staying in Troyes, then on to Burgundy and back through Nancy, Brussels and Bruges. It was so amazing to see the regional differences, all united by a common language. From a medieval timber city, through dusty French villages and grand gothic cathedrals to the tidy topiarised landscape of Belgium, there were a lot of contrasts.

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One of the most interesting parts of the journey was travelling through the Champagne region. Before the introduction of the 'method champenoise' the local wines were apparently not renowned for quality at all. It seems that over the years a huge mystique has been created around the wine in Champagne, which is more to do with the skill of the wine makers, blenders and marketeers than any inherent quality of the climate or soil. Within the region, you can buy for 95p a bottle of sparkling wine that tastes very similar to anything coming out of the grand Champagne houses.

You have to admire them for it, but as we have a similar soil and climate here on the chalk hills of Surrey, I felt a tinge of envy at their ingenuity, mixed with the extremely tantilising prospect of making our own sparkling white. Denbies vineyard near Dorking have based their enterprise on the similarity of the soil and climate to the Champagne region. We have already started planting vines at the Warren, so watch this space....

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The plants in the photo above aren't actually our vines, but the ones at Fanny's Farm Shop in Merstham. Having said that, with many local producers like these starting to emerge in this area, who knows, one day Surrey vintages could be just as famous as Champagne?

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