After our big French wedding celebration, my sweet father in law scheduled a tour of the Ruinart Champagne cellars for us and a few of our guests. Ruinart is the oldest established champagne house in the world, exclusively producing champagne since 1729.
On September 1st, 1729, in Reims (the heart of the Champagne region) Nicolas Ruinart drafted the founding charter of Maison Ruinart, thus creating the world's first ever champagne-production company. This gave rise to the most prominent champagne enterprise that continues to grow nearly three hundred years later.
In the mid-18th century, Ruinart acquired its ancient crayères dug underneath the city of Reims to store his champagne bottles. Ruinart's cellars are amongst the largest in the region. Like most Champagne cellars, they are the product of ancient chalk mining, and extend 125 feet below the ground and are 5 miles long. The chalk helps to keep the cellars at a constant 52 degrees Fahrenheit with a perfect level of humidity, no movement, and ambient darkness offering the best ageing conditions for the wine. The Ruinart taste is greatly dependent on the aging in crayères: 3 to 4 years for non-vintages, and 9 to 10 years on average for a Dom Ruinart. The crayères were classified as a historic French monument in 1931.
If you’re like my mom (a non-wine drinker), you may just think of grapes as colors, but really there are seven different kinds which make up various wines and champagnes. Among the seven grape varieties used in champagne production, the Chardonnay grape has been made the emblematic grape variety of Maison Ruinart. This Chardonnay grape is harvested mainly from the terroirs of Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims. The soil contains a high chalk content which offers ideal conditions for the vines to thrive. The Chardonnay grape forms part of all Ruinart cuvées. This process has led to only twenty-three vintages being produced since the first Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs vintage appeared in 1959.
Once the grapes are harvested and go through the fermentation process, they are bottled and sent down to the crayères. In the crayères, bottles from the Dom Ruinart cuvées are arranged on wooden boards following the original technique known as entreillage, or stacking. There they will develop their aromatic richness during a slow ageing process of at least eight years for a Dom Ruinart and several additional years for a Dom Ruinart La Réserve, followed by a further perfection process over a number of years. After the visual assessment of the wines begins the mechanical process of "riddling", which slowly turns the bottles from horizontal to vertical, leading the sediment to collect in the bottle's neck. This step is carried out using gyropalettes, an extension of man's influence, which reproduce the ancestral movements, all the while guaranteeing a constant and perfect level of quality. The artisanal approach continues as the bottles are disgorged by hand in a process to remove sediment. For most cuvées, this is carried out with great precision via the use of a mechanical circuit.
After the tour, we were taken to a private room for a tasting. And in pure American fashion, I brought myself some purse snacks (a common theme in my life) in the form of a box of Ladurée macrons to munch on while the others sipped away. Apparently, Marie Antoinette had it wrong and macarons and champagne are not the best combo as the group was cheekily told to have a bite after they finished their flutes. After the tasting, we sauntered off into the sunshine to enjoy the rest of our day. We had the best time touring the cellars and highly recommend arranging a tour if you ever find yourself in Reims.