Leclère-Massard Champagne HouseApril 8 in France ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C
It's Vicky's 37th birthday today and continuing with the bubbly theme, we are splashing out and spending 2 nights at an aire belonging to the Leclère-Massard Champagne House, at a cost of €5pn.
To reach here, we drove along the champagne tourist route, past grape presses, wooden barrels, giant models of bottles, dozens of champagne houses, people doing last minute pruning to the vines, themed murals and metal sculptures of grapes. We even passed a viticulture school! This 'in for a penny in for a pound' approach really helped immerse us in the region, placing it in our minds as somewhere very distinctive. Champagne isn't a poor area but nor is everyone rolling in the euro millions generated by one of the world's most expensive wines. The swathes of vines are broken up into small patches, even rows, owned by individual producers. It is a working region, one devoted to often back breaking physical labour.
Being used to staying at free, municipal facilities in France, we didn't know quite what to expect when arriving at our aire. The house just looks like any other in the tiny, quiet village of Villeneuve, save for the little blue and white motorhome sign directing visitors up the drive. It did feel odd turning into what, for all intents and purposes looked like a private residence, but sure enough there was a tarmacced back yard with electric hookup, fresh water and emptying facilities. Being the first ones there, we nosed into a corner, bordered by tall hedges. Small notices announced tastings at 6pm and asked guests to say hello, but the house itself displayed no welcome signs and looked so private that we chose not to knock on their door. Instead, we took the tandem and cycled to a supermarket around 5km away in the next town to get some last minute supplies for the big day. There were a few cycle tracks along the way but even when we were on the roads, drivers were considerate and respected our space.
Three other vans arrived and filled up the little aire, staying for just the one night. Our neighbours emerged from the house shortly after 6pm with a box of champagne, but we'd reserved our tasting for the following day's celebrations.
Waking early, Vicky had a lovely slow start to the day, listening to a wonderful cacophony of hedgerow birdsong just outside the van and watching as Goldfinches, Linnets and Chaffinches hopped happily from branch to branch. We braved the threat of downpours on a walk, exploring the swathes of farmland behind the aire. Long chalky tracks extended over shallow rises in the flat terrain to disappear over near horizons. Black Redstarts flitted about near a barn, Swallows darted past at lightening speed and high above, male Skylarks hovered, broadcasting their song far and wide. Occasionally we were lucky enough to see them dive to meet a female, who was nestled among the crops. Bright yellow oil seed rape flowers were beginning to bloom and disguised small groups of birds we think might have been Fieldfares, who scarpered from the field to nearby trees when they sensed our presence.
Back at the van, Will made eggy bread (original for himself, vegan for Vicky) and she spent the afternoon chatting to family and opening pressies, before a lovely salmon and brocolli tagliatelle with some Absolu Meunier champagne that Will had bought her following our vinyard tour in Mutigny a few days ago.
At 5:56pm we knocked on Leclère-Massard's front door and waited, but nobody answered. Feeling awkward, we returned 5 minutes later and the host opened the door, abruptly asking if we wanted to buy 6 bottles. We didn't want to commit to purchasing that much without knowing what it tasted like and explained this. She ushered us uncomfortably to a table layed with a selection of 6 champagnes in her open plan living and dining room. We had a glass of their regular bubbly and tried to make 'Franglais' small talk. The drink was nice, but nothing special so we decided to buy a bottle of their 2009 Vintage. Our host seemed relieved as we left, we aren't sure if it was her lack of confidence speaking English or something else that made her tense, but it was a shame, as it could have been so much better.
We finished the evening with a film, cheese and biscuits, lemon meringue pie and of course some more champagne! Despite the stilted tasting, it had been a great birthday and a very memorable week leading up to it - we've never drunk so much champagne!Read more