Mid-week long read: the pleasure principle

A road trip through France arrives at the quiet town behind the world’s best champagne.

1y ago

The River Marne meanders through a lush green valley; the road winds past well-maintained vineyards and old stone houses in tiny villages that exude a palpable sense of history. The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo, quite the contrast in this untouched landscape, glides almost silently through the leafy central squares and quiet high streets, heading southeast to Épernay.

This modest town in northeastern France, with its population of just 23,000, is home to the finest champagne makers in the world. Their headquarters — including companies like Heidsieck and Perrier-Jouët — line the main road, aptly named Avenue de Champagne. And the most imposing buildings, hewn from a light-coloured local stone and sitting right at the start of the road, belong to none other than Moët & Chandon, founded by Claude Moët way back in 1743.

The air in the cool limestone cellar is damp and slightly musty. On either side of the passageway are shelves filled with countless bottles. Here, deep underground, Moët & Chandon works to develop the perfect sparkling wine with a special focus on the famous secondary fermentation that makes champagne unique — a wine with fruit, structure, and the refreshing addition of carbon dioxide that lends it that very special lightness.

Soon after the company’s founding, the Moët family began supplying its products to the powerful, the wealthy, and the glamorous, both within and far beyond the borders of France. In 1762 the first bottles were sent to Russia, then to the USA, and in the nineteenth century they began to reach as far as Brazil and China.

Today Moët & Chandon is a global symbol of luxury and pleasure, immortalised in Hollywood films like Pretty Woman and The Great Gatsby. It spans popular culture from top to bottom, appearing in songs from Snoop Dogg to Queen. Tennis legend Roger Federer is the company’s official ambassador, meanwhile, and no Formula E victory celebration would be complete without large bottles of Moët & Chandon for the obligatory champagne shower.

Although the French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH — which also owns the Dom Pérignon brand — doesn’t release exact figures, a bottle of Moët is said to be opened somewhere in the world every second, which would mean an annual production of at least thirty-one million. Moët & Chandon itself has more than 1,200 hectares of vineyards, which cover about a quarter of production. The rest is supplied by vintners in the form of primary products: grapes, grape musts, and wine, all of which must meet special quality criteria. These then undergo further processing in Épernay.

Moët’s Cuvée Impérial – created in 1869 to mark the centenary of the birth of loyal customer Napoleon Bonaparte – accounts for 60 per cent of the company’s current product range. Then there are the Grand Vintage, which come primarily from grand cru areas. To give these special champagnes their extra finesse, they are matured for six years, compared to two years for Impérial. “Despite all its complexity, you don’t need any intellectual training to enjoy it,” says Benoît Gouez, who became cellar master here in 2005. “The priority at Moët & Chandon is always pleasure.”

A premium product created with expertise and passion by a devoted family, evolved carefully over generations and now sold all over the world? It’s an easy fit for a lover of Porsche. Although or the first time on this trip, standing before a wall of Impérial cases, the boot of a Panamera Sport Turismo doesn’t look anywhere near big enough.

Text by Christian ARNOLD // Photos by Patrick Gosling, Moët & Chandon, Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Fuel consumption & CO2 emissions (combined): Panamera 4 10 Years Edition: 8.4 l/100 km; 194 - 192 g/km CO2. 911 Carrera S Cabriolet: 9.1 l/100 km; 208 g/km CO2. Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo: 2.9 - 2.8 l/100 km; 66 - 64 g/km CO2; 16.2 - 16.1 kWh/100 km. Panamera 4 Sport Turismo 10 Years Edition: 8.8 - 8.7 l/100 km; 201 - 200 g/km CO2.

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