By Gerry Barker
Photos by Gerry Barker
Anyone who knows Pam knows she loves her champagne. They also know her champagne of choice is Veuve Clicquot.
Bearing the trademark yellow label that was first used in 1876, the story of Veuve Clicquot’s rise from its modest beginnings in 1772 to one of the world’s leading luxury brands, shipping 20 million bottles a year, is the stuff of legend. At the center of the story is a woman — the Widow Clicquot (veuve is French for “widow”), the recognized Grand Dame of champagne, whose business acumen and innovations helped create a global industry. If you don’t know her remarkable story, check out Tilar Mazzeo’s book, “The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled it.”
The headquarters for Veuve Clicquot is in Reims in the Champagne region, about one hour east by train from Paris. On our recent trip there, we decided making the trek to the “Mothership,” as Pam calls it, was a must. “Two tickets to Reims, s’il te plaît.”
The train leaves from the Gare de l’Est station (which we read in 1883, saw the first departure of the Orient Express — history is everywhere in Paris). Once in Reims, we summoned an Uber and headed for Veuve Clicquot’s headquarters straightaway. As you can imagine, Pam was uber-excited. Once in the vicinity, there’s no mistaking the entrance: Their familiar yellow signs were all around.
Our first stop was the Visitor Center, where guests can arrange to take one of a half-dozen tours of the winery. You can visit their cellars, have tastings, learn more about Madame Clicquot and even arrange for a picnic, priced from 35 Euros to 250 Euros, and more, a person. Travel tip: If you know what day you want to visit — the winery is open Tuesday-Saturday — buy your tour tickets in advance on their website.
Even though all the tours for that day were already booked, we were able to browse the Visitor Center, an outdoor cafe and, most importantly for Pam, the Gift Shop. While relatively compact, the facilities are every bit as elegant as their champagne.
Our next stop was the Cafe Clicquot, with its yellow tables and chairs and yellow-and-white-striped umbrellas. We ordered a tasting — you can choose three from their champagne list — as well as a cheese and fruit charcuterie. For champagne, we chose the Demi-Sec, Vintage 2015 and La Grande Dame.
The La Grande Dame is a special vintage that honors Madame Clicquot. But what’s so special about the Vintage 2015, you ask? Probably best if I let them explain it:
“In 2015, Veuve Clicquot declared the 67th vintage of the Maison. Veuve Clicquot’s Vintage collection is unique for its use of wines vinified and aged in large oak casks (10%), which adds strength and aromatic intensity.”
While the champagne was special, it was really all about the moment: Sipping bubbly and eating cheese at a table under a beautiful French sky near the vines where all the magic starts. It was one of those “pinch me” moments for Pam.
Next stop, the Gift Shop, where Pam was on the hunt for one specific item: The Ice Box. Veuve Clicquot is known for their specialty packaging and mechandise, which Pam has amassed a small collection of over the years. New this year is the Ice Box, a gift box that transforms into a portable ice bucket. You “unfurl its foiled panels, add ice and chill the bottle inside.” The design is watertight, and we were told it can be reused a dozen times. She was keen to get it because it’s not available in Palm Beach.
Another popular item is the metal “arrow” box, which features the name of a city and the distance from that city to Reims. We already own three of them, but this was a chance to have one custom-made. Of course, she asked the city to be “Palm Beach,” which turns out is 7,389 kilometers (4,591 miles) from Reims.
There’s almost everything else you can think with a Veuve Clicquot label available, including a surfboard and a retro TV cooler, but those items are for the hard-core fan with lots of room on their credit cards.
Afterwards, two giant, yellow Clicquot bags in hand, we lingered in the courtyard, soaking it all in before summoning an Uber to take us back to the train station and on to Paris. For Pam, it was a dream come true. For me, I was already thinking how we were going to fit our new purchases into our already almost-overweight luggage when we return home.
In times like this, I just fall back on my personal mantra: “It’s a mystery, but it all works out.”