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Memories from the 2024 Academicians…

Updated: Jun 18

Prologue - Jan Van Heesvelde

'It’s 10 O’clock somewhere. . . .

All aboard for a week in Champagne, starting with a few bottles to set the mood of the trip.

People travelling from all over the UK and Ireland, to meet at the Gare of Champagne-en-Ardenne.

We’re here let the experience begin, off to the hotel.

Suns out, guns out or should I say MAGS OUT.

Whilst enjoying the view on the Royal Champagne terrace, the champagne is overflowing.

Canapés, sun, magnums and laughter what else do you need… Off to a strong start of the week, can’t wait for what the rest of this week will bring'

Day 1 - Sinead Germaine Smyth

Following on from our fantastic evening at the Royal Champagne hotel we awoke on Monday morning ready to explore the complex region of Champagne.

The day began with a lecture in our hotel on the framework and history of Champagne from Louise  ROSSIGNON,  Cyril DELARUE, Celeste SPANO and Candice ROUSSIA. We learned about the rich background of the region and how this sparkling wine became one of the most desired wines in the world.

Then we paid a visit to the vineyards of Hiedsieck & Co. Monople in Dizy, seeing the Grand Cru Pinot Noir up close and personal with Chef de Cave Louise  ROSSIGNON. Established in 1785 by Florens-Louis Heidsieck in Epernay, Heidsieck & Co. Monopole was one of the original “Grande Marques”. In 1818 the house became official supplier to the Court of King of Prussia and the Emperor of Germany.

After this we had a wonderful picnic in the park while enjoying an array of wines from Hiedsieck &Co Monople including Gold Top, Imperatrice Brut and a rare treat Gold Top 2002. The Impératrice vintage is the prestige vintage of Heidsieck & Co Monopole. Here we could really delve into the signature style of the house and its unique characteristics.

Our next order of the day was a tour at Perrier Jouet Masion Belle Époque, an 18th century house located on the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay. Masion Belle Époque boasts the largest private collection of French Art Nouveau in Europe.

Eugène Gallice, the brother-in-law and business partner of the founders' son Charles Perrier was a keen art lover and began collecting unique pieces. It was fascinating to immerse ourselves in this rich tapestry of artwork and see how it has influenced the style of bottles of the houses Le Belle Époque cuvée and inspired them to continue curating artwork for the masion. The masion neighbours Château Perrier where we had an engaging tasting of the Perrier Jouet range, comparing non-vintage to vintage cuvées.

Our final stop of the day was to Äy to visit Bollinger. Here we explored the cellars and Clos Saint-Jacques, a vineyard located a stones throw away from the Masion.

After our tour we were welcomed into the family home by Cyril Delarue, 6th generation of the family, with a glass of PN AYC18. Next we sat down to a delicious meal with Cyrile where our meal kicked off with La Grande Année 2015 served with seabas and wild asparagus, foraged by the chef.

The next Champagne we enjoyed was La Grande Année Rosé 2015 paired either Beal and foie gras. In 1967, Madame Lily Bollinger created a special-release vintage of recently disgorged (R.D.), and we were privileged to taste RD 2008 during our meal. We enjoyed this with cheese aged specially for Bollinger by the renowned affineur Bernard Anthony.

Our second last wine of the night was a surprise wine, and what a treat it was, La Cote aux Enfants 2013! Husband of Elisabeth Bollinger, Jacques Bollinger purchased 4 hectares that are now La Cote aux Enfants where this single plot produces 100% Pinot Noir.

To round off our whirlwind adventures of our first day we enjoyed Special Cuvée served in a magnum. What a magnificent way to end our first day of the Champagne Academy. Santé to the experiences to come for the rest of the week.

Day 2 - Katherine Fisher

Following a pesky exam, Day Two started with a tour and tasting at the delightful Pol Roger. While this might be the smallest house in the Champagne Academy its proprietor, the charming, indefatigable Hubert de Billy, is larger than life, with tales about life in Epernay that leave you chuckling.

A tour of their spacious cellars shows how stainless steel fermentation rules supreme, giving this maison’s champagnes their tell tale purity and finesse. There was momentary panic that we we were stuck in the Pol Roger lift as it descended Epernay’s chalky cellars, but thanks to a bit of elbow grease from London’s most reputable sommelier we were saved and very eager to celebrate our narrow escape with a glass of Pol. A fabulous tasting and lunch in Pol’s impressive new tasting room left us grinning ear to ear as we piled on the bus, in the direction of Tours sur Marne to visit our friends at Laurent Perrier.

Chardonnay is King at Laurent Perrier. As we walked through the Chardonnay vignoble Les Plaisances just next to the maison, we bumped into Laurent Perrier’s viticulturalist on the job, resulting in an impromptu but hugely formative lesson in all things rootstocks and how best to prune. Tasting through a flight of their current releases confirmed the iconic Laurent Perrier style, which is like walking along a pebble beach, enjoying the fresh sea air.

A deep dive into the Moët et Chandon wines with the house’s hugely knowledgeable oenologist Marie-Christine Osselin rounded off our day of tastings. Bright fruitiness and elegant maturity are the watchwords here, and with a staggering array of base wines to play with, Marie-Christine and chef de cave Benoît Gouez have all the tools at their disposal to make commendably consistent, high quality Champagnes and have some fun while they do it. We were spoiled with a lavish dinner in the Residence de Trianon, built by Jean-Remy Moët in the 1800s. As mayor of Epernay, Jean-Remy built the residence to host French high society with esteemed guests including Napoleon Bonaparte (and the 2024 intake at the Champagne Academy). An impeccable meal paired with some Grand Vintage Moet, including a 2006 and a 1999 meant that not even a snap French election could distract us…

Day 3 - Louis Lee Jones

After a fantastic day 3, the resounding theme comes down to balance - as epitomised by the full size, taxidermy elephant perfectly poised on its trunk in the main hall of Le Musée Pommery.

Starting in the fields of Ruinart at Taissy, we got valuable insights to their ambitious vitiforestry project, where they are pioneering innovative practices to foster ecology. They are doing all this while continuing to produce one of the most sought-after ranges in the region as Champagne's oldest house, founded in 1729.

Our next stop was at Charles Heidsieck to tour their cellars. With several visits in the bag, it's true that we had already seen a few cellars. Nonetheless, this was something special. Crayères are deep chalk pits, excavated for their chalky deposits by the Romans and the Gauls some 2000 years ago. The crayères were remarkable in their scale but it was the reserve room that blew me away personally. Surrounded by historic vintages, two half-moon tables were set in the middle of the room, the sides made from riddling racks and the top from marble. It was a minimalistic masterpiece.

To cap it all off, we arrived at Pommery where the inflatable fruit tree and garden sculptures subtly indicated we might be in for an alternative experience. Florence and her team certainly delivered, captivating us in the story and magic of this house. Finally, Baptiste from their wine-making team treated us to an exhibit of their house range and stimulated engaging discussions throughout the evening.

That wraps up an amazing 3rd day and we continue to be overjoyed to share this experience together, engaged in a journey of discovery through the story of Champagne.

Day 4 - Seoridh Fraser

Having transferred to the Hotel de la Paix in Reims on Wednesday, we awoke in the heart of the capital of Champagne - though Epernay may well dispute that title - and post breakfast were taken to the first of the Grand Marques of the day to host us, Piper Heidsieck where we would meet and be guided by the engaging Marine GEORGELET

Piper is home to the youngest wine makers of the Grand Marques, Emilien Boutillat, and as a house show consistently fresh wines, across a range of styles and generally favor Pinot Noir as their dominant varietal. I was particularly taken with the sinewy, salinous mineral streak that wound its way through each wine, giving the house a well defined voice amongst its peers and across their range, very much producing “wines that smile''.

After stopping for a photo op on the bridge that spans the impressive and modern winery, inaugurated in 1995, we were back on the bus and off to the Hotel du Marc as guests of Veuve Clicquot.

Hotel du Marc stands in appealing contrast to Pipers’ Modern facility. The house is classic Reims - old but timeless - and very Veuve once you get past the front doors: elegant, but full of surprises. It would be here, guided by Lison BLANCHEMANCHE that we (certainly I) would try vin clair for the first time. Rippingly acidic, but profound in its expression of varietal, the lessons learnt sampling vin clair were an invaluable lesson during our week in Champagne.

The highlight for me at Veuve - outwith the delicious lunch and real melding of our cohort as a harmonious group - was the 2012 Rose Brut. Veuve can lay claim to being the originators of the modern rose expression of Champagne in 1818 and the intervening 194 years, they have lost none of the craft and guile when it comes to making Pinot Noir driven wines, rich with fresh fruit and refreshing spice. Class in a glass, no?

Finally we were treated to an immersive experience at Krug where Stephane GROSS took us through a unique and musical approach to engaging with their wines. The house's generosity seemingly knows no limits and Krug flowed like water all evening, including during a luxurious multi course tasting menu cooked by the team from Assiette Champenoise. Another tremendous experience in a week of tremendous experiences. Thank you to all of our hosts, the Houses and my fellow Candidates for an unforgettable week.

Day 5 - Vanessa Pearson

And so to Day 5! A bittersweet feeling as our week was drawing to a close however another exciting day with the final four maisons ahead of us

To kick off, we arrived early at Champagne Lanson but before we could begin we had the exam on the previous day's lecture on second fermentation, aging and labelling.  Exam finished, we moved onto today's lecture where the focus was on the commercial strategy and exports of the region, uncovering interesting facts such as the UK is the 2nd largest export market at 25m million bottles a year and that Belgium consumes the most champagne per capita! The team at Lanson then shared with us Clos Lanson, a one-hectare plot in the heart of Reims which produces a yearly vintage of Clos Lanson Blanc de Blanc, aged in french oak barrels, which we tasted shortly afterward in the cellars, alongside the NV Blanc de Blanc and then finishing with the 2004 Noble, the maisons top Cuvee.

All that tasting was thirsty work so we headed off to Maison Mumm for lunch and a brilliant workshop on food and wine pairing - a delicious BBQ spread with the sun coming out for us, alongside the full Mumm and RSRV ranges, we learned more about what makes a great pairing for different foods - the prime rib and RSRV Blanc de Noir was the standout pairing for me.  A tour of the cellars followed, finding out more about the history behind the famous Cordon Rouge and the brand's more recent innovation with the first champagne ready for space exploration.

After a lovely sunny walk back to the hotel for a quick freshen-up, we headed out to visit Louis Roederer with an informative tour seeing the legendary Cristal cuvee in the famous clear bottle sleeping in the cellars, followed by a tasting of 3 cuvees of the latest releases - Vintage 2015, Collection Edition 244 and a real treat for everyone, Cristal 2015 itself, needless to say everyone agreed how special that was.

Taittinger was the perfect host for our last dinner at Boulevard Lundy, the previous home of the Taittinger family and a beautiful oasis of green in the city - a stunning dinner accompanied with a flight of the Rose collection,  Prestige Rose en magnum, the top cuvee of Comte de Champagne Rose 2011 and Nocturne Rose, our first sec of the trip providing a sweet finish while in the background Louis and Sinead dueted on the grand piano.

After a week of the most memorable and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, we closed the day at the Basilica St Remi with a moving sound and light show.  A very fortunate 16 candidates headed back, full of anticipation for the next day hoping to graduate after the final exams in the morning.....

Final Day - Callum McCann

And just like that Champagne Academy 2024 has come to a close.

I didn’t ever plan on getting so invested in my little side project, but as my fellow academicians slowly heard about what I was doing; I made it my mission to corner our hosts at the end of each visit, and ask them to sumize their illustrious house and wines, with centuries of history down to just one word. This is what they had to say;

Heidsieck Monopole – Yellow

Certainly true, yellow being the main colour of the Maison. We had our picnic adorned with straw fedoras highlighted with yellow ribbons. But it extends to more than just the label. The 2002 Gold Top a deep gold, living up to expectations.

Perrier-Jouet – Chardonnay

Beautiful times were had at Perrier-Jouet. This one is a little more obvious. Such an elegant house, so often showcasing the most elegant grape. Chardonnay really is the signature grape of the house.

Bollinger – Authenticity

A slightly more unique word. But hard to argue that our experience at Bollinger was not authentic. Hosted by a member of the family dynasty, in one of the old family maison’s and treated to a wonderful authentic dinner, with plenty beautiful bubbles flowing.

Pol Roger – Elegance

Whilst elegance isn’t the first word I would have used for Pol Roger, greeted by the dominating production house and the infectious laughs and jokes of Hubert de Milly. But it when it comes to the wine, there probably isn’t much more of a better word. Churchill had good tastes!

Laurent Perrier – Freshness

Even with MLF (Malolactic Fermentation), the Laurent Perrier wines were certainly the freshest so far. Bright, zippy and structured. As we ducked inside, to avoid a small rain shower, the added freshness or LP was welcomed by many at this stage!

Moët et Chandon – France

The Goliath amongst Goliaths. What an unbelievably French evening we had at Moët et Chandons Trianon, which hosted Napoleon, and the Duke of Wellington (sans traffic cone). The golden dining room, the classic cooking and the very fashion chic Marie-Christine, all combining to perfection. Vive la Franc.

Ruinart – Climate

Another Chardonnay dominated house, but we spent the morning at Ruinart in the vineyard discussing the challenges of the changing climate. Then inside, to try 2 releases of Blanc de Blanc Singulier, designed to showcase the nuances of each year.

Charles Heidsieck- Profoundness

I think as everyone walked through the small chalk opening into the first Crayeres of the visit, there was an extreme profoundess of where we were. Meters underground in a huge chalk cavern mind by Gaul-Romans. To add to the occasion, once we climbed the many, many steps to get back outside, a glass of 1983 Rosé was waiting for us.

Pommery – Minerality

There are so many words I think you could use to describe Pommery. Fun, artistic, innovative. But winemaker Baptiste settled on minerality; he’s not wrong with a slight wet chalk note running throughout the wines. And when asked why not the previous descriptors, “We like to have fun, but when it comes to the wine, let’s be serious.”

Piper-Heidsieck – Vibrant

A very rare thing is Piper-Heidsieck, for it is a house that uses a far larger proportion of Meunier. As early as our day 1 lecture we learned that Meunier provides fruitiness and vibrancy. Out of the 6 wines that we tasted, I can say they all lived up to the style and vibrancy that they were hoping for.

Veuve Clicquot – Transmission

A difficult word to define in this sense. But here is my take; Veuve Clicquot gets the message across. And I don’t just mean with the wine. Sitting with Lison later at dinner, I bombarded her with questions. Some of which she did not know the answer to. But, after the ceremony on our last day, she came to tell me she researched and got the answers for me. Transmission of style, of heritage and of knowledge.

Krug – Generosity

Generous the were. Dinner at Krug’s house. Dining on a menu to celebrate 10 years of their single ingredient program. But the wines, the wines themselves had so much to give. The depth, the body, the structure. I don’t think this surprised anybody, but the experience and generosity we experienced, from every house, was truly once in a lifetime!

Lanson – Crisp

A house that limits MLF. These wines, as we joked, were electric. Lanson is a house known for the black grape varietials, but we were treated to super fresh Banc de Blancs from 2004 and 2008.

G.H Mumm – Innovation

You felt like we were walking back through time at Mumm. Past the no longer used barrels, the innovative concrete tanks and then through their museum. At the end of the corridor the G.H. Mumm, Stellaris. The first bottle of champagne designed to be enjoyed in space. (Though it is only a half bottle!)

Louis Roederer – Tradition

A house steeped in both tradition and modernity. Roederer grows their own grapes that accounts for 70% of their own needs. They are hands on in their vineyards, they wait for plots to reach 20 years before using them in prestige cuvees, and they are still bottle fermenting large formats up to Mathusalem.

Tattinger – Love

Love for all things champagne. Tattinger was the perfect way to end. Hosted at the Maison by Kevin, who’s love for Tattinger and champagne is evident to all. The sparkling wine from this small region of France is truly something that you cannot fall out of love with. And after all, it is why we were all here!

Most of us started off the week strangers and as we leave it is like we are family. The memories and the experiences; the breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The study groups and the pints. Champagne is made by families, for families and capable of creating families.


'But for me. If I had to sum up the Champagne Academy of 2024 in one word?'


Callum McCann

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