Dusk in the Champagne region really is something else. Just before the dark velvet of nighttime falls, the blue sky melts into buttery yellows and honey-like golds. Jets of pale pink skate across the horizon and the once milky white clouds begin to blush with the orange glow from the last of the evening sun. For just a moment, the light over the vine-crossed slopes of Épernay is almost the same colour as the glass of Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2006 in my hand.
I’m stood on the terrace of the brand new Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa, wrapped in the warmth of a plush wool blanket. Despite the flush of colour from the burning sky before me, this is north-east France in mid-September – in other words, it’s not exactly warm. However, as Olivier Livoir, our host for the evening and Ruinart Maison’s Maître d’Hospitalité explains, it’s of these kinds of temperatures champagne-makers dream.
"2006 was an amazing year for champagne.” says Livoir, leaning against the balcony and nodding to a glass of that vintage in his hand; the other casually tucked into the pocket of his trim, scarlet red suit. Look close enough and you’ll spot that his box-fresh white Adidas 'Originals' bear his initials and his pocket square is dotted with a delicate ladybird print. Only a Frenchman could pull off this look, and do it so elegantly.
“But that wine,” he continues, “is probably not good as it will be for 2018. We will just have to wait for the first tasting to be sure.” Livoir is of course referring to this year’s near-perfect weather conditions, which have already broken records across the region. He’s pleased, and rightly so: a good grape and plentiful harvest means everything to this wine.
This year’s near-perfect weather conditions have already broken records across the region
Chances are though, you and I won’t get a taste just how significant this year has been for at least half a decade or so, maybe more. For now, the words of Livoir are just dinner-party titbit, a reminder for your diary or a year to hedge your bets on. Better then to focus on the moment at hand.
Our evening with Livoir is just the start of a whole weekend-worth of exclusive tastings and behind-the-scenes access to some of the oldest houses in Champagne. I’m here with Clos19 to mark the launch of its Harvest Experience. Founded by Stephanie Arnault in 2017 (the niece of the LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault), Clos19 is host to some of the most luxurious experiences, products and services money can buy. With champagne-fuelled trips to the icy plains of Antarctica to an English town and country getaway priced at a mere… er, £12,000, the lifestyle platform is a hedonist’s paradise. And when it comes to its newly launched Harvest Experiences, you won’t be surprised to learn that no expense has been spared.
As with all of Clos19’s Experiences, you can book on to one of the set Champagne packages and take the Harvest Experiences as they come (and they come as carefully curated as you’d expect). With these trips, you’ll head out on a deliciously immersive tour through the houses and histories of Ruinart or Veuve Clicquot – depending on which maison strikes up more of an interest for you. Or there’s the second option, where you can turn the luxury dial right up to max and put your money behind a tailor-made experience to create a trip that’s just right for you.
Go your own way and you’ll find that (almost) the whole of Champagne is at your feet. Your unique tour could take you all the way up to Veuve Clicquot’s Manor of Verzy – part of the Clicquot domain for more than 100 years – where champagne is served in the romantic walled gardens and then topped up with a four-course lunch in the sun-drenched dining room with impressive wine pairings from the Clicquot library to match. From there a spot of vine maintenance and grape harvesting in the Verzenay vineyards could be on the cards. Before you head over to the iconic city of Reims and dive into the shadowy depths of the Clicquot chalk cellars, where in among the aging, dusty bottles you might even be treated to a live cello concerto.
But it doesn’t stop there, because if you’ve ever dreamed of going behind the scenes at Napoleon's favourite champagne house, then dinner with a side of Dom Perignon in the Moët & Chandon orangery is on standby if another cellar tour and a serious slice of history takes your fancy. And of course, you’d be amiss to pass up the opportunity of quality time with the likes of Livoir and his colleagues from Ruinart. This is, after all, the oldest established house in Champagne.
In the Clicquot chalk cellars, among the aging, dusty bottles, you might even be treated to a live cello concerto
In short, this is one of the best ways to explore Champagne. The Clos19 Harvest Experience offers a… well, experience afforded by few. It’s not just a deep dive into the stories behind the leading houses in the LVMH portfolio, the Harvest Experience gives you an insight into the lives of the 18th-century bourgeoisie who put Champagne on the map.
And while you’re here, you won’t just be learning about how Madame Clicquot invented the first documented blended rosé champagne or how Jean-Remy Moët built a replica of the Grand Trianon in the ‘back garden’ of the Moët estate for whenever Napoleon and Empress Josephine came to visit (remember that orangery we talked about?), you’ll be living it – and, in some cases, drinking it, too.
Sure, no one’s going to build an entire house on their estate just for your weekend away, but with Clos19 Experiences you’ll walk the vineyards the founding families of these iconic houses walked, you’ll eat where they once did and you’ll no doubt raise many a toast to their legacy with the same champagne (albeit a younger and far less sweet version) they put their names to all those centuries ago. You won’t come across a vineyard or cellar tour quite like it anywhere else.
Plus, for those who can’t maintain this level of geekery for the entire trip, there’s always plenty of time to relax, too. Enjoy the royal treatment at the hotel’s spa or make an early morning date with the infinity pool and catch that epic view in reverse as the sun comes up over the misty valley of Épernay. A lap or two in the bracing autumnal chill will set you up perfectly for a weekend of unadulterated glamour and luxury. And yes, I am speaking from experience. Sometimes, just sometimes, there is such a thing as too much champagne.
The Clos19 Champagne Tour Experience is available to book now. Head to clos19.com for more information.