According to Judy

by Judy Schultz


With good friends, we went to France to celebrate a special anniversary. It was a Champagne occasion.

Champagne is the world’s most romantic wine. It once caused the straight-laced cleric, Dom Perignon, to announce, “I am drinking stars!” (Or so we’re told.) And then there was John Maynard Keynes, who apparently muttered with his dying breath, “I should have drunk more Champagne.”
La Belle France has had its problems lately. Wine consumption is down. A new study insists that half the food served in its restaurants is prepared off- site, and more than 80 per cent is frozen or dehydrated. Worse news: the once vilified golden arches of Ronald You-Know-Who have become wildly successful.

I’d have put all this down to sketchy reporting and sour grapes, except that on our second night in Paris, within sight of the Eiffel Tower, I was served a bowl of over- priced, powder-based soup. Some food assassin in the kitchen had taken the time to scorch it before he cooled it to tepid. Then, like Elvis, he left the building.

Oh, well. The French still make beautiful Champagne, so we headed for Reims, and the house of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.

During a previous visit I’d been enchanted with the story of Madame Clicquot, my all-time favourite feminist. Back in the 1700’s, Mme. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin married a winemaker, Francois Clicquot. Seven years later he died, leaving the wine business in her young hands.

Suitors flocked around, only too eager to take over her company and run it for her. She said thank you very much, but no, she was quite capable of running a wine company herself. The French thought she’d lost her marbles. A woman! Quel scandale!

A second scandal took place in her dining room, the sanctum sanctorum of every true Frenchman. (Okay, that would be the bedroom, but the dining room runs a close second.) Assisted by her cellar master, Mme. Clicquot drilled several large holes in her dining room table! She upended a Champagne bottle in each hole, and gave it a quarter-turn every day so the yeasty sediment settled in the neck of the bottle. Voila, the riddling table had been invented and the degorgement simplified.

Doubtless her bewildered workers figured Madame had drunk too much of her own wine. What next?

“Next, mes enfants? Whip out ze cork, remove ze guck, replace eet weeth ze dosage, and into ze cellar eet goes,” replied Madame. I think. Or something like that.

At least, that was the story during my first visit, and some of it is true. I lapped it up.

But on this visit to Reims, I’d been in town about five minutes before I did a spectacular face plant on a marble floor, causing considerable damage to knees and elbows.

It happened just before we were to visit Veuve Clicquot, where 24 kilometres of underground tunnelsconnect the soaring Roman-built chalk caves. To see the best of these unusual cellars, to feel the cool breath of history and smell the wine of centuries, (the oldest bottle these days dates from 1904) you must walk. Briskly.

Walk briskly? I could barely hobble. Our host kindly shortened our route by roughly 23.5 kilometres. Hobbling was replaced with
drinking. Champagne, of course. We sat in a sunny garden, sipping the 2004 Grand Dame. Ripe pear, toast, almond…enchanting!

Later, just to be sure, we drank another bottle.

Judy Schultz loves those bubbles.