For champagne houses, the champagne harvest in September is undoubtedly one of the most significant and exciting moments of the whole champagne making process. The first day of harvest is set by the CICV (Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne). This year, the first grapes of Maison Ruinart reached the pressoir on September 17th – the date the grapes are harvested at their optimal level of maturity and quality.
I’m not sure what had earned me a spot at the table of champagne lovers invited from all over the world. Perhaps I’ve shown my love for the godly liquid on my blog and socials much too frequently (hey, I do love me some champagne), perhaps they had no one else to go (which I doubt – I mean, it’s champagne!). Nonetheless, I had the honor to experience this year’s harvest – and what an experience it was. Along with a group of forty, we put on our harvesting gear (wind and rain jackets, rain boots, gloves) and with a pair of harvesting scissors and a basket (that would soon be filled with bushes of grapes) and ventured into the fields to harvest grapes ourselves.
The fields included vines of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. The Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaiotis explained that this was a particularly challenging harvest year. Hail and rain early in the year, followed by a hot summer resulted in a smaller harvest, a quicker maturation and ultimately grapes expected to be sweeter and richer than usual.
On average, a bottle of Ruinart champagne contains 1,5kg of grapes.
In the Champagne region, grapes are picked manually. I believe it’s by law even. Wine enthusiasts come every year around mid-September to volunteer for the harvesting and I can see why. Time stops for a moment when you go into the fields and participate in the harvest for yourself. Touching the soil, picking the grapes and learning about the life cycle of the grapes, combined with the overall elegance of the champagne house – it was a fascinating experience.
After all the labor, we combined our baskets and sadly our efforts had totaled up to a disappointing number of four bottles. With a group of influencers mostly busy photographing, flying drones and instagramming, we were told that we were ten times slower than their own harvest employees.
The Ruinart bottle has always stood out to me due to its unique and sophisticated round shape.
A harvest lunch was set up in the middle of the fields with up and coming chef Celine Pham serving us a wonderful Vietnamese lunch of banh mi sandwiches, summer rolls, a selection of some of the best cheeses and lemon ginger madeleines I’ve ever had. Lunch was served with the Ruinart Rosé. A fruity and aromatic rosé that is silky on the palate but intense in flavor as well. The Ruinart Rosé goes well with light summery dishes and – to my surprise – went well with the delicate cheeses as well.
In contrast, the previous night, we attended a Ruinart dinner at the famous Cristal Room Baccarat by Guy Martin. Here we were served the Ruinart signature Blanc de Blancs, a champagne made of only chardonnay grapes, resulting in a beautiful round and rich taste. As the CEO of Ruinart Frédéric Dufour noted, the Blanc de Blancs is a champagne for any time of the day. The champagne went well with the dinner prepared by Guy Martin (who also came out to greet us afterwards – star struck).
The following day, we continued our journey at Maison Ruinart. The House of Ruinart was founded in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart. Inspiration for the first ‘wine with bubbles’ came from his uncle Dom Thierry Ruinart. Ruinart was the first champagne house and remains family run through four generations. The House of Ruinart stands for elegance, sophistication, French culture in its truest form and a delicate and rare taste.
We descend to the Ruinart Crayères, the caves where the cuvées are stored and maturation and fermentation process begins. The Ruinart chalk mines are like underground cathedrals of chalk. Dug by hand, the deepest cellar measures up to 38 meters in height beneath the vault. Underground, in the heart of the Ruinart caves, we are served the Blanc de Blancs champagne, en Magnum. As one other influencer put it “I’ve died and gone to heaven”. Which describes the experience perfectly.
To conclude our Ruinart journey, we are served dinner prepared by Gregory Marchand from Frenchie (one of my favorites in Paris), paired with the iconic Ruinart champagnes. As a surprise, we are also served the Ruinart L’Exclusive 2000 – a magnum with a blend of grapes from 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1993.
Only to be shared on special occasions – which this certainly was.