The caves in Reims are 40 meters below the ground, maintain a near-constant temperature year round, and have the wonderful smell of moss. We are hurried down the dark alleys to one small corner of the production, the jeroboam bottles. These bottles are larger than magnums, and they get special treatment: they’re hand riddled and hand labeled, and they have their own small alleyway in the caves. Instead of the stacked and caged bottles of Champagne outside, the jeroboam bottles that we see sit in the riddling racks, freestanding and alone. The bottles are aged three years, then the yeast cap is dispelled, and then more Champagne is added (to make up for the loss during freeing the yeast), and aging continues for another six months before the bottles are ready for labeling. These are the bottles of the Formula 1 podium, a Champagne celebration tradition that dates back to 1966, and has been under the purview of Mumm sponsorship for the past 15 years.
In the labeling and distribution plant, a workstation has been set up for our arrival to demonstrate how the podium-specific Formula 1 jeroboam bottles are hand labeled. At the volume of production and with the size of the bottle, hand labeling is the preferable method, and it adds a quaint touch to the story of the Champagne. It also allows for more stickers, including the distinctive winner’s “1” and laurels of victory on the neck of the bottle. Workers use sponges to clean bottles, hold small rulers to measure where the labels should be applied, and press out any small bubbles. Then the bottle is ready to be passed on to the podium (or to the many who will celebrate the winner’s victory).
Langoustine bretonne (lobster), gnocchis vin jaune (gnocchi) and chocolat praliné (chocolate praline) are paired with Blanc de Blancs, Cordon Rougue and Le Rosé.
At l’Assiette Champenoise, a three-star Michelin restaurant in the outskirts of Reims, we have a picnic lunch
on the back patio. The Champagne is paired with 10 courses from chef Arnaud Lallement. Between the third and fourth courses, I sit and chat with the cellar master, Didier Mariotti, who from first glance seems too clean cut and well heeled and scarfed to be a cellar master. When asked about the wine, he speaks earnestly of his craft. “When I make a Champagne”, he says, “I don’t think of the victory. I’m not thinking of the brand platform or what marketing they’re expecting. What’s important for me is that when you want to drink some Champagne, you want to bring emotions, enjoyment, pleasure. My role is to bring these emotions. And then you can say, ‘Okay, I want to celebrate something and Champagne is the best drink to do it.’ And it will bring this emotion at the same time.” Champagne, to Mariotti, is always a drink of celebration.
And in a setting of refinement and with this heavily nuanced food, it seems a subtle, quiet celebration. So, I am curious to see how he sees his Champagne pairs with the brash and emotive celebration at the podium of the Grand Prix. “I don’t want to be restrictive in the way that you enjoy Champagne”, he says. “For me, the most important thing is to give you the key to open different doors. And it’s your personal choice to select the door you want to open to enjoy this moment. I would not spray Champagne. That’s not the way I want to enjoy it. But I don’t want to have very strict rules. It has to be a very personal choice.” Our personal choice, at the time, is to have another glass and enjoy another course.
On a yacht in the harbor of Monaco, Mark Ronson pops the cork on the first connected bottle — meaning that the bottle has a special collar, a slightly thick red rubber ribbon that connects, via radio frequency, to the A/V system of a location. This happens after the day of qualifying, Saturday, in front of a crowd of people that includes both celebrities recognized the world over (Cara and Poppy Delevingne) and those that are not (our group of journalists). When the cork is popped, a sensor in the cork notifies the electronic collar, which notifies, via RFID, the A/V system, and something — based on how the club or organization has the system set up — happens. In this case, Ronson pops the bottle and the large screen overlooking the race course changes to a live broadcast of Ronson on the yacht’s stage, holding the Champagne, a bit befuddled but proud. This is what the bottle does — to the tune of 10,000 Euros (so initial reports say). It is all very pompous and narcissistic and unsubtle and loud, a far cry from the grassy lawns of l’Assiette Champenoise or the mossy and quiet caves of Reims.