All the top Champagne producers offer tours of their extensive cellars. Many of them ask you to book in advance, but it’s always worth turning up, particularly offseason, as they will accommodate you if they can.
Champagne is divided into two main wine-producing regions: around Reims and Epernay in the north in the Marne, and around Troyes, the capital of the Aube region and the Cote des Bar to the south.
In Reims, the most impressive cellars are clustered together near the Abbaye St-Remi, on top of the chalky quarries dug out by the Romans. Over 250 kilometers (155 miles) of champagne cellars lie beneath Reims, holding around 200 million bottles.
Champagne Pommery in Reims
Pommery is one of the largest champagne houses in Reims, and the most stunning. You start in the enormous entrance hall, then with a guide make your way down the 101 steps carved into the rock to the Gallo-Roman caves. There are 120 quarries here, storing between 23 and 25 million bottles.
You’re taken through the whole champagne process though you don’t see where most of the champagne is made. Like many champagne houses, this is now a high-tech procedure in stainless steel vats working in more modern surroundings.
But you do understand the age-old process, why wooden barrels were originally used, and how the champagne bottles were turned by hand. You walk through these extraordinary quarries hewn out of the rock, past millions of euros worth of champagne. You also see some of the vintage cellars, with the dates marked stretching back into the last century. Then you get to taste and appreciate the results of the long and laborious process.
One of the great things about Pommery and what makes it stand out is the art that occupies the cellars. Each year there’s a different exhibition with objects, videos, and installations taking over whole spaces. It’s impressive in the flickering light. You also see the permanent works of art, splendid huge reliefs carved out of the rock in the late 19th century, celebrating the famous house of Pommery and the family characters who made it great.
The Story of Pommery
The house was founded in 1856 by Louis Alexandre Pommery and Narcisse Greno but only became dedicated to champagne making when it was taken over by the redoubtable Jeanne, Alexandre’s widow. She built up the business and commissioned the present art nouveau buildings. After she died the business was run by her daughter, the equally redoubtable Louise, with her husband, Prince Guy de Polignac. Pommery then passed through various hands, including the LVMH group who sold it to the present owners, Vranken.
In 1874 the Pommery chef de caves, Victor Lambert, created the first vintage ‘brut’ (dry) in the history of Champagne. He was backed by Louise, who had realized in her travels that the English (the biggest consumers of champagne) preferred a lighter, less sweet wine than the early heavy Champagnes. Today 95% of the production is of Brut Champagne and Pommery produces 500,000 cases a year.
5 pl du General-Gouraud
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 61 62 55
Open April to October 9.30 a.m. -7 p.m.
Mid-Nov to March 10 a.m. -6 p.m.
Book an English speaking guide
Other Champagne Houses
11 rue Goïot
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 05 13
66 rue de Courlancy
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 78 50 50
34 rue du Champ-de-Mars
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 49 59 70
- G.H.Martel & Co.
17 rue des Créneaux
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 82 70 67
9 place St-Nicaise
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 85 45 35
4 rue des Crayères
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 77 51 51
- Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin
1 place des Droits-de-l’Homme
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 89 53 90
Reims is one of France's 20 top cities for international visitors.
Epernay is a one-industry town, totally given over to Champagne making and Champagne houses. It's a pretty town, dominated by the avenue de Champagne which is often the venue for events associated with the famous drink, particularly in November and December.
- Moët et Chandon
Probably the most famous of the champagne houses, and known also for creating the great Dom Perignon label, today it’s owned by the LVHM group (Louis Vuitton, Moët and Hennessy), which also owns Mercier, Veuve Clicquot, Dior, and many other luxury brands.
20 ave de Champagne
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 51 20 20
Founded in 1858, Mercier is one of the less expensive houses. The house has one of the largest barrels in the world, created in 1889 to hold 200,000 bottles for the Paris Exhibition. It’s on display at the main entrance.
70 av de Champagne
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 51 22 23
You get a good view of the workings of champagne production here. Castellane began producing in 1895, building the present extraordinary building with a tower in 1904. There’s a small museum as well, and a great view from the top of the tower.
63 ave de Champagne
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 51 19 19
Troyes, the capital of the Aube region, is a delightful town and makes a good base for seeing the nearby vineyards. Start at Urville just south of Bar-sur-Aube, at the Domaine of Drappier Champagne, right in the Cote des Bars.
You begin in a grand drawing room, complete with open fireplace, for a short introduction. The visit then takes you through every process and through the cellars, originally part of a Cistercian monastery. The talk takes in anecdotes about the family and history. There’s an extraordinary, and unique, egg-shaped barrel (called the ovum), made specifically for them and the only one in Champagne though there is one in Bordeaux and one in Australia. The shape is linked to bio-dynamic theories; the internal measurements are perfect for fermentation with every bubble hitting the side.
Drappier is an interesting house, describing itself as the ‘largest among the smallest’, producing 1.3 million bottles a year as compared to the 30 million bottles produced by Moet.
The family founded the business in 1808 and it's in the same family, with the present head, Michel, being the 7th generation (and he has two sons and one daughter to take over).
Drappier uses traditional three champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, but they've also introduced 2% of different, historic grapes: Petit Meslier, Blanc Vrai, and the extremely rare Arbane.
Drappier also specializes in large bottles which include the whole range: Magnum (1.5 litres, 2 bottles); Jeroboam (3 litres, 4 bottles); Methusalem (6 litres, 8 bottles); Balthasar (12 litres, 16 bottles); Nebuchadnezzar (15 litres, 20 bottles), and Saloman (18 litres, 24 bottles).
But Drappier has gone further, and produced the mighty Prima (27 liters, 36 bottles), and at the request of one of their customers, the whopping Melchizedek (30 liters, 40 bottles), called after the King of Babylon.
Rue des Vignes
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 25 27 40 15
More Champagne Houses
- Champagne Marcel Vézien
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 25 38 50 22
Location: South East of Troyes just off the D671 from Troyes to Chatillon-sur-Seine
- Champagne Richard Cheurlin
16 rue des Huguenots
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 25 38 55 04
Location: Southeast of Troyes on D67 (off D671)
Map of location
- Champagne Rene Jolly
10 rue de la Gare
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 25 38 50 51
Location: Southeast of Troyes, just a little further along the D67 from Celles-sour-Ource
Outside Reims and Epernay
All of the following houses speak good English and welcome visitors.
- Champagne Etienne Lefevre
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 97 96 99
Location: Northeast of Epernay just off the A6 towards Chalons-en-Champagne
- Champagne Tribaut
88 rue d'Eguisheim
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 59 40 57
Location: 5 kilometers north of Epernay on the D386 (off the D951)
- Champagne Vilmart
Tel.: 00 33 03 26 03 40 01
Location: Northeast of Epernay on the D26 (off the D951)
- Champagne Charlier
4 Rue des Pervenches
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 26 58 35 18
Location: Northwest of Epernay near the village of Chatillon-sur-Marne, on the D23 (off the D3)
The Champagne-Ardenne Tourist Office in conjunction with the online travel agency Via-Voyages offers a special Champagne Pass (l’ OenoPass Champagne) which enables you to visit various champagne sites at a discount. You can buy 5 or 10 visits As the pass is valid for one year from purchase it means you don't have to do all the discounted sites at one go.
The participating sites are
- Champagne Pommery or the Villa Demoiselle, Reims
- Champagne G.H. Mumm, Reims
- The wine museum at the Lighthouse of Verzenay
- Champagne De Castellane, Epernay
- Champagne J. de Telmont, Damery
- Champagne Bonnaire, Cramant
- Royal Crystal Works and Crystal Museum, Bayel
- Champagne De Barfontarc, Baroville
- Champagne Drappier, Urville
- Champagne Guy de Forez, Les Riceys
More to See
Visit these little known treasures in the Champagne-Ardennes Region; you'll be delightfully surprised by them like the chateau where the writer Voltaire lived with his lover, Emilie du Châtelet.
Special Bespoke Tours
For a special bespoke tour, organized for individuals and small groups, contact the experts at Exclusive France Tours. The founder, Marie Tesson, knows her terroirs, and vineyards and can arrange a tour which takes in visiting Champagne houses that are usually closed to the public, private tours of the big names and the chance to taste champagnes with the owner.
Exclusive France Tours: Tel.: +33 493 218 119..