Tiny Bubbles of the Champagne Sort

Amble down Ave. de Champagne in Epernay, France

Amble down Ave. de Champagne in Epernay, France

I had asked the question, not thinking for a second that I would be inclined to eat my words when the answer came. I asked my good friend and traveling companion, Nikki, where she would like to go on holiday for a change. I should have guessed, it was a place she had wanted to travel to for years. A place that embodied the very substance that Nikki loved with a passion. The substance she had based her career on for years, Fruits of the vine, not wine in this instance but Champagne. Nikki wanted to visit France and in particular the Champagne region of France known as Champagne-Ardenne. I cringed inwardly. Those who know me, know that I am not much of a drinker, in fact I very seldom drink when not on holiday AND out of the country and here was Nikki asking me to base an entire holiday on alcohol. On a drink that I wasn’t very fond of unless it was pink and sweet and anti-acid tablets were on hand near by. To say the least I was a touch skeptical. Anyway, Champagne it was to be…..
Our outbound Air France flight on the amazing A380 aircraft, was made even more fabulous when the flight attendant arrived at 3am with two glasses of French Champagne in beautiful glasses with chocolates from first class to wish Nikki a very happy birthday. Dry champagne at 3am is more than I can stomach and served to add to my champagne holiday fears, but I kept all my thoughts to myself. I didn’t feel so bad when Nikki couldn’t face the champagne at 3am either. We landed in France a little after 6am, We had arrived, it was raining and so began our champagne adventure.

The statue of Dom Perignon outside Moet et Chandon in Epernay

The statue of Dom Perignon outside Moet et Chandon in Epernay

We rented a fabulous little apartment in a town called Epernay, about an hour and a half north of Paris by train. Epernay is to champagne what Table Mountain is to Cape Town, the very beating heart of the champagne industry in France. This little town of approx 25 000 inhabitants is home to more champagne houses than I knew existed (If for one second in my life I had actually given champagne the vaguest thought in the first place). Where London has the Underground snaking around everywhere below ground, Epernay has kilometers of chalk tunnels filled with bottles of champagne busy maturing away. I am not joking when I say kilometers as Mercier had 18kms and Moet has 28kms, any idea how many bottles of bubbly that is? Mercier alone has 15 million bottles underground….did I just rock your world?

It is almost at the tip of my fingers to go all technical on you and start talking about the makings of champagne from appelation to method champenoise to first and second fermentations as well as riddling and disgorging but I would only end up looking like a complete idiot as my knowledge is incredibly basic and is only that which I gathered trundling along next to Nikki listening to her ask all the right questions. I was like a sponge soaking up knowledge about champagne every step we took and it was fascinating. To learn about the terms I have mentioned above I would suggest using http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Champagne. I have read through the information provided there and it is helpful and incredibly informative.
There is in Epernay a street called Avenue de Champagne where many of the champagne houses are represented and one can amble happily down this road from house to house paying the entrance fee and sampling the wares which is exactly what we spent an entire day doing, in the rain no less. Some of the houses, like Mercier and Moet are very slick operations where the marketing machine runs at full steam. One is able to go on guided tours of their facilities. We opted to do the Mercier tour which starts with a brief video of the history of House Mercier, followed by a lift down into the tunnels (Caves) and a train trip underground whilst listening to a hand held gadget giving you the low down in your language of choice. The tour ends with a tasting of one of the Mercier champagnes which neither Nikki nor myself particularly enjoyed. For me it was too dry and too acidic (notice that I am now able to form opinions on the subject!)





There is a fascinating difference in the manner and styles of the different champagne houses and how they handle guest walk ins and tastings. The overall decor of the tasting rooms ranges from over the top classic to home comfort to stylish elegance or in once case, no taste at all. There is a huge amount of snobbery in the industry and it is quite a treat to listen to each house extol the virtues of their product over those of the competition. One point that was made repeatedly was whether the house was using their own grapes or buying in grapes or “must” from other champagne growers. Moet et Chandon and Mercier both produce their own grapes but they also buy in to supplement their production. There are codes on the labels of champagne bottles that indicate if the house is producing their own champagne from start to finish, working as a co-op or buying product in. Fascinating stuff.
Two of the champagne houses in particular stand out in my mind, both for the quality of their product and the manner in which they dealt with us, the public.

The very first house we visited was Collard-Picard. The set up was pure class, all white and the young lady that we dealt with was passionate about her subject. Her English was excellent and she was an absolute pleasure to deal with. This was unfortunate for everyone who followed in fact, as she definitely set the standard by which we measured everyone else. The champagne was dry, crisp and delicious.





The next stop was Champagne Michel Gonet where the set up was completely different but incredibly welcoming. The lady who handled the tastings was also incredibly knowledgeable about her products and her English was decent enough for us. The tasting room was a comfortable lounge where we encountered an Australian wine farmer and his wife which added to the relaxed tasting experience and made it far more entertaining.

Champagne Michel Gonet

Champagne Michel Gonet



Ave de Champagne is a kilometer long road with many champagne houses represented along the way. Not all are open to the public, some are only open by appointment and those that are open generally close from 12h00 to 14h00 for lunch. We walked the entire length of the road, most of the time in a light drizzle. It is unfortunately impossible to taste everything, well maybe that is rather more fortunate than unfortunate, because each house gives you a full glass of each kind to taste. It is also, with the exchange rate, a very expensive exercise so we limited what and where we tasted to just a few of the houses but we took pictures of everyone we passed or popped into (just to prove we had been there of course)












The absolute highlight of the champagne adventure was a visit to a little village, home to just 200 people and RC Lemaire, an award winning bubbly of exceptional quality. A family business for generations, we were introduced to the champagne maker and his wife, a lovely couple who spoke absolutely no English but their son Sebastian gave us a really grand tour around their facility in a lovely melange of French and English. Sebastian talked us through the entire production process from the time the grapes are harvested to the very point when the champagne is ready for distribution to various parts of the world. This farm produces 120 000 bottles a year from the first press and the balance of the must from the second press is sold off to the bigger houses that don’t produce enough of their own grapes to service their massive production. They are one of the few houses that produce their own product from start to finish and have only just signed a global distribution contract with an American company to take their product to the world at large. Such a great pity we were just too late to tie them up for the African sole agency! Their Rosé is made by the traditional Champagne method of using Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier grapes and not by adding red wine, as do so many other producers, this is self evident by looking at the colour of the RC Lemaire Rosé de Saignée which is a more pink pink than a salmon pink. Have a look at the pictures below to get a better understanding of what I mean.Of all the bubbly that I tasted their rose was my absolute best personal even with it being dry! It was delicious! Whilst the family broke for lunch we trundled down to the little village restaurant and had lunch with the local workmen and whilst they had red wine with their repast we finished off the bottle of bubbly that Sebastian had very kindly given us. We finished off the tour by spending as much money as possible in the little boutique. Unfortunately we didn’t purchase any champagne as we still had two international flights to go and we couldn’t be carrying the bottles on the planes!
We took a taxi back to our apartment and finished off the last day of our champagne adventure with whatever scraps there were in the fridge, two bottles of champagne and 12 delicious incredibly brightly coloured macarons; An adventure to remember










The best of the Roses!

The best of the Roses!

Pictures from the delightful visit to RC Lemaire

Pictures from the delightful visit to RC Lemaire


Please bear in mind when you read this post that I am an absolute amateur when it comes to champagne and all the information contained above has been dredged from my memories of the holiday and I had been drinking………..a whole bunch of the time, so there may well be some factual discrepancies. Please try not to hold these against me too much

Love ‘n Lollipops








A Few Champagne Facts:

MAYbe I will & MAYbe I won’t 2012

Hello, Hello, Hello Everybody!! (My Redi Thlabi impersonation)…………and welcome to my show!

How is that post-Easter egg binge diet coming on? I had an interesting Easter, in fact I didn’t even know it was Easter because I celebrated it in Israel which is not a Christian country, so no Easter eggs. However mum got me a couple of cute ones to come home to, so craving sorted and ermmm, the diet thing sort of back in place!

At the end of this post I have put in a number of images from my stay in Israel. A whole bunch of them are food……….I wonder why. Israel is a beautiful country. It is shown to the world in a harsh light, its policies appear to be harsh but its very survival depends on some of those policies. It is a tough nation that survives and prospers surrounded on all sides by enemies. I take my hat off to the the Israelis amongst whom the majority of my family reside. Shalom, a greeting and the word for peace all wrapped up in one beautiful word.

I went to the Jeffrey Archer book launch at Skoobs, Monte Casino and it was fabulous. Wonderful to meet the man himself. He is a bit of a whack job but that is okay, he was in good company! Hahahaha (Apologies for the fuzzy image at the top!)

His books are a runaway success, the man is a success story in the extreme and a raconteur of note but I have to admit (to you and no one else, so keep it quiet) that I haven’t actually read a Jeffrey Archer book since I was about 15; one or two years ago! Of course I bought the latest one not realizing until the talk was well underway that it is book two in a series of 5. Boy am I in trouble now  if you get my meaning!

We have public holidays in abundance coming up shortly so I want to get the April/May newsletter out as early as possible. Our first exciting event being on the 1st of May! Yes, I know it is a Tuesday and I know it is a public holiday. That is the exact reason it is on May Day…………..because some of us ARE working!

What’s happening you are wondering? (well, I hope you are!)

Calendar May 2012

1st SKA talk by Cecilia Van Der Merwe @ 10am

12th AuthorTalk by Sandile Memela

13th Mother’s Day…………..am cooking for mum at home, sorry but you’re not invited

26th Bubbles for Blanket drive @ 2pm

@Indulgence May 2012

SKA Talk with Cecilia Van Der Merwe 

If you haven’t been asleep for the past 6 months or so you will have all the talk of the Square Kilometer Array, a radio telescope, that South Africa is bidding against Australia to host. On the 1st of May at 10am we are having a talk by Cecilia Van Der Merwe, the one person in SA, in my humble opinion, who is totally clued up on the SKA and all that it involves. So come and join us. The talk is no charge, you don’t need to bring anything along except yourselves and it promises to be a fascinating experience. The added advantage being you will walk away knowing a whole lot more that you did before you arrived

Who is Cecilia Van Der Merwe you are thinking, here is a brief bio written by herself:

I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Pretoria, graduated in 2005. Joined the SKA South Africa team in 2009 and was put into the “Site Bid” team. From 2009 to end 2011 I worked on South Africa’s proposal to host the SKA telescope – I was responsible for and wrote the chapter on “Provision of Electrical Power for the SKA telescope” in South Africa’s bid documents. Once South Africa’s bid was in, I joined the “MeerKAT Infrastructure” team. We’re now building the infrastructure required by MeerKAT, and I’m involved in all the various electrical power infrastructure work that is going on.
Outside of office hours you can find me working on my master’s degree in renewable energy or terrorizing my two kittens. I live in Parktown with my fiancé.
short and sweet! So if you are interested please join us. The full menu will be available on the day. We will also run a coffee/tea and scone special at R30. Can’t think of a better way to finish off the long weekend and head back into the working week!

For the FB event http://www.facebook.com/events/221387324636919/


May’s AuthorTalk on the 12th  is by Sandile Memela, author of His Master’s Voice, published in October of 2011. The AuthorTalk will begin at 2pm. Please remember to bring along your two books, one to swap and one to donate. We have some nice boxes of books already so I am quite impressed!

“Controversial Department of Arts and Culture mandarin Sandile Memela has produced a scathing attack on South Africa’s black writers, accusing the likes of Zakes Mda, Moeletsi Mbeki, William Gumede, Jacob Dlamini and others of pandering to white interests and holding back South Africa’s development into a truly just society with views that are “far too reactionary, simple and predictable – especially from blacks with PhDs””               Books Live

The author, Sandile Memela – journalist, novelist, cultural critic and polemicist – is one of South Africa’s well-known journalists and intellectually provocative writers.

At present, Memela is a civil servant in the Department of Arts & Culture where he heads the marketing & public relations unit. Previously, he was the Spokesperson (2006 – 2009) for the Ministry of Arts & Culture under Dr Z. Pallo Jordan. His Master’s Voice is Memela’s second book which will be published by Geko Publishing. The first book was Flowers of the Nation (Kwa-Zulu Natal University Press, 2005.) He has also contributed short stories to Soweto Inside Out (Zebra Press, 2004) and Crossing Over (Kwela Books, 1994.)

A well-known journalist and public intellectual, he is a frequent commentary contributor and serial letter writer to The Star, Business Day, The Argus, Mail& Guardian, Sowetan, Pretoria News, The Argus, City Press and Sunday Sun, to name a few.

He has served as Acting Editor for the Sunday World from October 2003 to October 2004.

Before that he was an Assistant Editor and Columnist of ‘Mamelang,’ a no-holds-barred opinion feature leader which explored social, cultural and political topics.

Memela was the founding editor of the Entertainment and Lifestyle Supplement called Hola from 1999 to 2004.

He was awarded the Arts & Culture Journalist of the Year Prize in 1999. Also, in the same year, he was presented with the Most Outstanding Contribution to the Promotion of the Arts Prize by the Gauteng Provincial Government.

Before joining the Sunday World, Memela was Assistant Editor: Insight & Features at City Press and was a columnist who wrote ‘Mind blast,’ a provocative and controversial ‘must read’ political column that explored the evolution of a new, democratic society.

He also served as Showbiz Editor, where he was widely acknowledged as a leading commentator on cultural issues.

Most notably, he was awarded the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship in 1997/98 to the University of Maryland where he spent a year enhancing his knowledge and understanding of the role of the arts in society.

In 1992, he was selected to attend a year-long course on editorial management at the University of Wales, Cardiff.

In 2000, Memela was awarded the Clive Mennel Fellowship which allowed him to spend three months sabbatical at Duke University, South Carolina.

Memela is a Communications graduate of Fort Hare University. He holds a post-graduate in Journalism from Stellenbosch University.

He lives in Midrand, South Africa.

For the Sowetan’s review : http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/goodlife/2011/11/07/his-master-s-voice-soul-stirring-and-powerful

For the FB event : http://www.facebook.com/events/382398028471593/

Bubbles for Blankets  

Our final event for the month of May! On the 26th at 2pm we are, in collaboration with the Twitter Blanket Drive hosting an event to collect as many blankets for the needy as possible. So please join us in tasting a whole bunch of delicious sparkling wine. The price of entry to the event is a blanket or 3. Come drink bubbly, mix with a whole bunch of really interesting and really wacky people and have a fabulous afternoon. I am going to try for a little live music but I’m not promising at this point!

The event starts at 2pm and goes on till around 5.30pm, dress warm as it is going to be a little chilly in the late afternoon but the bubbly and some heaters will keep you warm. The more the merrier so please come along and support this very worthy cause!

For the FB event : http://www.facebook.com/events/312219662183548/

Love ‘n Lollipops

Mandi Friedman

Lollipops Catering

“Food, Passion, Life”

Tel: 011 782 5063  Fax: 0866 33 9331 Cell: 082 895 3698

Indulgence Coffee Cafe, 1 Mount Dev, 225 Beyers Naude Drive, Northcliff ext 5

Lollipops Catering Africa cc 1998/020733/23