‘Will a magnum of Brut be enough?’ At the beginning of a trade trip to Champagne, these are the important decisions to be made. It was reasoned to our host, Jonny from Maison Perrier- Jouët, that given it was 8.15am and there were only six of us, a magnum would suffice. All in the name of research…
A short Eurostar later we pulled up to the majestic gateway of Maison Belle Époque, located on the aptly named Avenue de Champagnes in Epernay. Purchased in the early 19th century by Perrier-Jouët, Maison Belle Époque is not only the centre of their production, but is the spiritual home to the culture that is so heavily associated with their Champagne house. It is a striking building, filled with Europe’s largest collection of Art Nouveau artworks. There are over 200 pieces from the likes of Majorelle, Lalique and Rodin, as well as an original Toulouse Lautrec hanging proudly in the main living room. Walking through the rooms, everywhere exudes the organic forms associated with this historical movement. Blown glass chandeliers, lamps and stained glass windows designed by Émile Gallé, whose 1902 painting of the iconic Japanese Anemone adorns every bottle of Belle Époque. It truly is a living museum.
After visiting the flamboyant mansion above, we descended to the cellars below, which wind for over 10km through the famous chalk soils of Champagne. We wandered past Perrier-Jouët in all stages of production: from un-disgorged magnums in riddling racks, to stacks of bottles emblazoned with the iconic floral design, ready for dispatch. Thomas, our guide for the day, shepherded us to an area known as “Eden,” which is a little nook, tightly packed in which and held behind lock and key are iconic vintages: as 1996, 1945, 1921 as well as some 1874s and two bottles dating all the way back to 1825! In celebration of the recent 200 year anniversary of the house, the cork of one of the remaining bottles of 1825 was popped. According to the few who were lucky enough to taste this ancient liquid, the wine was remarkably youthful. Thomas was grinning with evident glee telling this story. There is also a modern touch to the tradition. Contemporary designers Studio Glithero and Simon Heijdens have produced a beautiful installation that illuminates the space.
After a tiresome day enjoying both art nouveau and Champagne in healthy quantities, we all slinked off to our respective bedrooms in the house. My room was set up with a beautifully hand carved dresser, blown glass bed side lamp and matching chandelier and a very tasteful floral carpet reflecting the dozens of bottles of Belle Époque we’d cracked through that evening. As I nodded off in my tremendously comfy hand decorated turn-of-the-century bed, I thought that I will not forget this living museum any time soon. A truly wonderful place to visit and enjoy a peek back in time to the late 1890’s as well as plenty of fantastic Champagne of course!