Updated: Jun 19
Prologue - Steffan Griffiths
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present with glee, The Champagne Academy, class of ‘23,
Day 1 (or day zero? It’s not quite clear),
Either way the drink this week certainly wasn’t beer,
With corks a’poppin’ 8am in Kings Cross,
This week the fizz would clearly be boss,
The stalwart students to Champagne were bound,
Through flights in the air, or trains underground,
A sampling of cuvées before reaching French shores,
Was nothing compared to what we had in store,
‘A quiet first day’ said Paul, chuckling with joy,
Whilst considering the Champagnes that night we’d enjoy,
Dressed in our finery: suits, ties and heels,
To Hotel Royal Champagne we went for evening meals,
An enviable view of the lay of the land,
Was a wonderful match to the glass in hand,
And for what’s in the glass? Oh I almost lose track,
Pol, Moët, Monopole, more! A vinous attack,
And no half measures, these people mean business,
It’s only in magnum whilst we survey Hautvillers,
Charles, PJ, Bolly and Laurent P,
And finally Taittinger to close the menagerie,
All will be visited, all insight to seek,
As the class of ‘23 descends for the week,
16 students from across the U.K.,
Thirsty for knowledge, (and the occasional cuvée),
We’re here, we’re ready, we say allons-y!
We’re the 67th class of Champagne Academy.
Day 1 - Rosie Williams
We woke up in the hotel in Dizy and 4 of us went for a ‘light run’ which ended up with Rosti dragging us up the VERY steep hill to Hautvilliers… but it was worth the view.
We then had our first lecture led by Pierre-Hubert which was a great start to the course. An over view of the Champagne world and it’s history.
We went to Bouzy with Heidsieck Monopole to look at their vines and then went to the Heidsieck Monopole Winery and had a beautiful lunch outside in the grounds in a park created for the Owners anniversary, Mr Vranken. The sun was shining and in 29 degrees heat, we drank through their range. A favourite of ours was the 2002 gold top which was divine and a lovely surprise.
We then transferred to Perrier Jouet where we had a wonderful tasting with Severine Frerson of their Blanc de Blancs and their Belle Epoque range and then we explored their cellars. We had a quick coffee and then headed to Bollinger where we had a tour of Clos Saint-Jaques, the cellars and then were lucky enough to have dinner with Cyril Delarue at Lily Bollinger’s house where we had dinner paired with beautiful wines. At the end of the night we discussed our favourite wine of the evening and the majority went for La Grand Annee 2014 Rosé which was paired with veal with morels which was certainly a highlight.
Day 2 - Luma Monteiro
Our second day was absolutely incredible from start to finish! It was jam-packed with memorable moments and delightful experiences that left us wanting more.
We kicked off the day with our first exam, and let me tell you, we were all a bit nervous. We gathered outside the Moet Chandon headquarters, frantically cramming our studies, unsure of what to expect. All good at the end of course!
The lecture of the day was on Vineyards and Harvests, led by the amazing Caroline Caparros, was a real treat. But what made it even better were the lively and hilarious stories shared by the legendary Hubert de Billy. We couldn’t help but laugh and learn at the same time.
Next, we made our way to the lovely garden of Laurent Perrier, where we indulged in a tasting of their remarkable Grand Siecle. The vintage 2012 and LP brut followed suit, guided by the talented Lucie Pereyre de Nonancourt. To top it off, we enjoyed a beautiful, pink, and floral lunch in the enchanting outdoor setting. The atmosphere was so cheerful and enjoyable, we couldn’t help but have a great time.
Then came the time to hear more of Hubert’s wonderful stories at Pol Roger. I swear, we’ve never laughed so much or had such a blast exploring the cellars with him. It was an unforgettable afternoon filled with jokes and laughter echoing through Pol Roger’s six kilometers of underground cellars.
To end the afternoon on a high note, we were treated to a supposedly “prohibited” visit to the bottling line, thanks to Hubert’. And of course, we couldn’t resist sipping on the generous pour of Winston Churchill 2015. As if that wasn’t enough, we also discovered that Hubert is the president of Avenue de Champagne, leaving us in awe (but not surprised at all).
After a refreshing break, we all dressed up elegantly (because why not?) and made our way to the luxurious La Residence de Trianon. There, we delighted in glasses of Moet Chandon, basking in the small luxuries of life. The Moet sign became a hit, resulting in countless pictures from all of us that I’ve lost count of. Under the guidance of the delightful Marie-Christine Osselin, Moet’s winemaker, we sipped on rosé from magnum while she explained the six pillars of food and champagne pairing created by Moet Chandon.
Then came the moment we had been waiting for—the dining room. It took our breath away. Pure luxury in French style, with intricate golden details on the ceiling and stunning candlelight. The four-course dining setting perfectly set the mood for the unforgettable food and champagne pairing experience that awaited us.
After dinner, we gathered at the equally luxurious lounge for petit fours and more glasses of the delicious Moet Chandon Grand Collection 1999. And maybe, just maybe, some of us may have indulged in smoking Cuban cigars while enjoying the view of the lovely garden.
It was truly a spectacular and remarkable second day. We didn’t want this week to end at all. The experiences and memories we’re creating are simply unforgettable.
Day 3 - Ashley Clarke
Happy Hump Day it’s Day 3!
Cracking good Charles, Radiant Ruinart and Perfect Pommery.
Our early start saw us all taking our second exam at Le Pavillon Charles Heidsieck on the previous days lecture followed swiftly by the lecture on “From Picking to Blending”.
Afterwards we had the Charles Heidsieck tasting experience! And wow…. It’s safe to say this was a brilliant line up of cuvées presented by winemaker Elise Losfelt. The Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 2007 was utterly stunning!
Before we knew what was happening we were taken to Atelier de Luca in Reims, where we prepared and ate our own lunch. Sounds hard work but it was a fantastic experience….. some of us were preparing the John Dory fish, some were preparing vegetables…. I had a go at the most complex, difficult, anxiety inducing task….. of slicing some spring onions! The food was delicious and it was served along side Ruinart Blanc de Blancs from magnum and Dom Ruinart 2010, Delicious!
Next up we we went to visit the Ruinart cellars, the craftsman ship and grand scale of these cellars were unbelievable. Champagne, History and Art….what more could one want?
We then took a short walk to the Pommery Winery where we took in the grandeur of the architecture. We took the museum tour (soaking it up like a sponge, soaked in champagne) and cellars which were vast, 10 miles vast! Afterwards we were shown the Pommery Apanage range and the elegant 2005 Cuvee Louise by winemaker Clement Pierlot. It was amazing to be able to enjoy a glass (or two) of Pommery Les Clos Pompadour 2004 in the Clos Pompadour vineyards.
The evening was spent outside on the Pommery Terrace enjoying the beautiful weather and amazing food matched to more special bottles of Pommery including the Cuvee Louise 2004 from magnum.
All that was left to do was to recharge the batteries after such a BIG day but we wanted to see Reims at night and after further celebrations it ended with the creation of the Pommer-Groni (all credit to a Mr Whitten!).
Day 4 - Donald Edward's
A study in pleasure.
For an academician Thursday morning marks the point where one finally looks back and realised the half way point is passed. It’s time to take stock and contemplate what has passed and how what follows must follow in the knowledge of what has already passed.
Thursday morning also marked the moment we visited the house of Krug.
Speaking personally Krug has been a wine that has grown on me. Love from a thousand sips. I don’t think there was any single moment where I realised that I coveted the wines of the house, they just inveigled their way into my heart one taste at a time.
It was with this in mind that I found myself catching my breath as the gate opened. Would my expectations be matched? Who are we kidding, of course they would be.
The most precise and focused tasting I think we’ll ever have, Vintage 2008 followed by the edition 164 based on the 08. A lesson in a house staying true to their founding dream of releasing the most generous expression of every vintage that Champagne can provide. The 08 being all brooding snarl and youthful tension. The edition 164 providing a game of spot the base whilst demonstrating the inherent brilliance of the Krug house style.
We were then treated to one of the most casual demonstrations of hospitality excellence I think we’ll ever witness. Jeroboams of Krug rosé, check. A surprise visit from Olivier Krug, check. A succession of some of the most memorable dishes we’re likely to be served on a wine trip, check. I’ll leave to others to elaborate so as not to belabour the point but the house of Krug really did put on a stunning morning.
A slight change of pace post lunch saw us at Piper. Less choreographed waiters and more cold eyed realism. 4000 hectolitre steel blending tanks gleamed at the centre of their immaculate winery. Personally their rosé sauvage was the highlight, but we tasted through a brilliantly stylish range of wines.
Onto the evening where it was hospitality courtesy of LVMH.
A tutored tasting of the constituent parts of Veuve Cliquot rosé. Bouzy providing us with our first look at traditionally vinified Pinot Noir and segueing into the three Veuve rosés.
A night of close to perfect weather was complimented by a steady drip of glorious canapés and more Jeroboams of the rest of the Veuve range, the evening sky slowly bleeding purple and orange as the day slipped languorously away while we enjoyed the breathtakingly elegant terrace of the Hotel du Marc.
Day 5 - Rostislav Petrov
The day started with a relatively successful test (so we were told!). Nothing to do with late night the day before, in Reims behind the Curt'N of course!
One of the most engaging masterclasses followed after covering Export figures of champagne that for the first time crossed the 6 billion euro mark.
The G.H. Mumm team organised "scientific" tasting for the candidates, nothing like we have done before. The same champagne was tasted in the different colour/weight/shape glassware which made the same wine taste different.
Visit to Lanson and following by the lunch was a memorable experience. One of the very few estates that doesn't practice malolactic fermentation (until recently).
Lanson Noble is potentially the last prestige cuvee to be released from 2004 vintage. Wine of fine maturity and complexity, both Blanc de Blancs and Brut were amazing wines. However the special surprise bottle stole the show. The birthday boy to blame ( or to say thank you!) - we were treated to a very special magnum of 1979 Lanson Collection. Disgourged in 2020, the wine was fresh as a daisy, complex and intellectual. One to remember!
Visit to Taittinger was quick yet productive where the team enjoyed Prelude, Grand Cru Cuvee, as well as the latest 2015 Millesime.
We finished the day with a truly memorable dinner at the house of Louis Roederer. There nothing like a 30 years "young" Magnum of Cristal to finish the very busy day and a week for that matter. Arguably the most elegant prestige cuvee of them all, real treat from the Roederer team.
Marc de Champagne was a perfect closing drink of the day just after fabulous sound and light show on the Basilica St Remi in Reims. The big exam the next day...
Day 6 -Philip Dunne
(Class of 2023 Silver Bucket Champion)
We made it. Day 6 and the final hours beckon of the 2023 Champagne Academy. A culmination of fascinating lectures and tours and tastings galore with the Grand Marques houses during the week, it all comes down now to our final exam in both theory and a blind tasting this morning.
We return to the elegant Charles Heidsieck Pavillon first thing in the morning to put pen to paper for our exam one last time. Before we start however, we're treated to one final technical tasting of 'Vin Clairs' with the newly appointed chef de caves of Charles Heidsieck, Elise Losfelt.
Before we know it, our blind tasting exam starts. Four covered up Champagnes are poured for us. Some nerves now in the air. As part of the tasting exam, we're judged for each Champagne to identify blindly the lead grape variety, if it's vintage or non-vintage (and if vintage, what vintage it is), and of course the name of the Champagne and the house we think it's from. After our palates have been put to the test, we then move to a separate room to complete our theory exam, based around marketing and business in region of Champagne. If truth be told, this for me was my toughest exam of the week. Some others say the same too.
As we wrap up, deep breaths from all the candidates. We're rewarded with a gorgeous, chilled glass of Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve by Sophie Kutten of the house, which in truth didn't last long.
Off we depart for our closing ceremony in lunch. The venue is one-star Michelin restaurant Le Grand Cerf, based in Villers-Allerand. Greeting us as we arrive were all the faces from the houses we had met during the week. As Bollinger is this year's presidential house, we're welcomed in also by Charles-Armand de Belenet, director of the maison. Both he and Paul Walker, chairman of the Champagne Academy share a speech to all, emphasising the importance of the academy to both the region itself, and the trade of Champagne in both UK and Ireland in being a force for education of its members.
The prize giving ceremony shortly commences with Paul presiding over. Fortunately, he shouts out to all "everyone has passed". Sighs of relief fill the garden we're in at the restaurant. Awards are then given out individually to each candidate who passed, followed by those who placed exceptionally with their overall exam marks during the week, including the exams taken that morning. Reality sets in that my own name hasn't been called out yet, which means I've made the top three. Paul proceeds to call out the name of the 3rd place candidate, Matthew Whitten, followed a few minutes later by Luma Monteiro who places second. I'm in genuine shock at this point. My name gets called out as the winner of the Champagne Academy 2023. Paul and Charles hand me the historical prize of the 'Silver Bucket' which has been the symbolic trophy for the winner since the foundation of the academy in 1956. A special moment that I don't think I'll ever forget.
As a closing note to this piece, I'd like to thank on behalf of all 16 candidates who took this wonderful course this week in June 2023 a sincere gratitude to the sixteen Grand Marques Houses who made this week so special for all. A further mention also to Bollinger, this year's presidential house who presided over all this week with great success. Finally, a huge thank you from us all to the committee of the Champagne Academy, including this year's Chariman Paul Walker who worked tirelessly to ensure again the 2023 edition was again excellent for all involved.
Epilogue - Steffan Griffiths
Massive thanks to Stefan Griffiths that summarised
the week in the below poem
After a week of debauchery, balanced by the aim of the academy,
16 people reached a new level, In champagne they did revel,
Friends and family, they no doubt thought, what a ridiculous week, which money could not have bought,
Little did they know, the level of detail, that every visit and tasting and lecture would entail,
How to market champagne? Here’s the background, mere hours after exploring the cellars underground,
But as we all know, with this supreme wine, there’s always one word which dominates time,
People. the sellers, the makers, the thirsty consumer, all of us work to promote the producer,
And quite right - their history, knowledge and art, s unrivalled, and inspires the heart,
So here we are, academicians all, champagne now our passion, which never shall fall,
After the most magnificent trip, let us all pay tribute to Dom Philip,
My friends, my dear friends, let there be no more test, we’re all family now, and Champagne is the best!