Ruinart Champagne House
Ruinart, established back in 1729, was the first-ever Champagne producing company. Like the Moet story, there was a monk involved. In this case, it was Dom Ruinart who learnt all about the “wine with bubbles” that was becoming popular with the young aristocrats of the time.
It was 20 years after his death that his nephew Nicolas Ruinart founded Maison Ruinart. Before this young Nicolas was in textiles – the family wealth had been built on textiles since the 15th century – but once the King (in 1728) passed a law allowing the sale and transportation of wines in bottles, Nicolas saw the potential and made the switch.
As a tasting and visiting experience, this one was very different to Moet – and also markedly more expensive. More on the cost later. The primary difference here was in the art and the crayeres – ancient tunnels dating back to the Roman times and dug deep into the chalk under the city of Reims.
Ruinart was the first of the champagne houses to utilise these old chalk mines for wine production. There are 8kms of these galleries under Ruinart, with the largest cavern being 40 m underground. Down here it’s a constant 10C.
Aside from wine production, these old mines were a haven for the people of Reims during the 1914 German offensive. Down here the city functioned as it had above ground.
In WWII the French resistance used these tunnels to hide allied airmen and soldiers.
Ruinart and art…
From the start, Ruinart has been close to the art world. The photo above right is from their very first advertising poster – one of France’s first advertising posters. The artist was unknown at the time, but his style became known as Art Nouveau.
Since then Ruinart has worked with artists to promote champagne and the brand. The gallery room was a highlight of the tour, and my favourite was the melted chandelier (above and below) – a chandelier which has spectacularly fallen and “melted” on the table and onto the floor.
Another favourite was the Ruinart fresco (below). This one is cleverly designed to show the wine-making process using balls. If you want to see it animated, check out the website.
Ok, at 70 euros a head this is an expensive 2-hour tour, but both the tour and the tasting are special.
Not only did we taste our chosen cuvee (non-vintage blend) – blanc or rose – but we also had a full glass of the vintage version of choice. It was the first time I’d been able to compare the difference – and yes, there is a difference.
Oh, a note on the bottles. They look different from most champagne bottles and the chardonnay or blanc is in clear bottles – something which makes the wine even more fragile – but is unique to Ruinart.
Aside from Ruinart, other les grandes maisons calling Reims home are Pommery, Taittinger, Mumm, Veuve Cliquot…and the list goes on. Names dahling names.
Reims is another city that has been meticulously restored – after both WWI and WWII – and aside from the champagne houses, the highlight is Cathedrale Notre Dame.
As well as being the third or fourth (seriously, what does it matter?) largest Gothic cathedral in France, it was here that many kings of France were crowned – including Charles VII with Joan of Arc at his side in 1429.
The history is interesting, but it was the windows I was most interested in – in particular, the windows by Marc Chagall. I could have stood in front of them for ages.
Where we ate…
Anna S – La Table Amoureuse in Reims.
Grant had smoked salmon and white asparagus in puff pastry with a lime hollandaise and I had tartare of fish with quinoa. The black lacy thing is squid ink. Hubby also had the dessert tasting plate…I had another glass of bubbles.