Ferrari Champagne Road-trip to Reims
Now that’s a blog post title you don’t get to write very often (well at least I don’t!).
When I heard that my photographer colleague David was planning a trip down to Reims to gather material for an article for the Ferrari Owner’s Club magazine and wanted a co-pilot, my hand was first in the air. David happens to be the proud owner of a Ferrari 328 GTS Targa, so that was of course the designated vehicle for the trip, especially as we were going to meet the owner of a Champagne house in Reims who is an avid car collector and happens to have a Ferrari Testarossa…
We met at David’s place near Maidstone very early one July morning, and drove down a very quiet M20 to the Eurotunnel terminal near Folkestone. One advantage of being in a low-slung sports car with limited ground-clearance is they put you at the front of the Eurotunnel train on the lower deck with all the caravans, so you are almost the first off the train at the other end.
After a quick stop for fuel, we drove down the A26 out of Calais towards Reims.
Ferrari photos in Arras
After about 70 miles on the road we made a detour into Arras for coffee and pain au chocolat, and to get some images of the 328 in the spectacular surroundings of the Place des Héros. As it was still quite early in the morning the square was almost deserted so we were able to get some photos unimpeded by other vehicles or curious onlookers. Originally built in the 17th and 18th centuries, the houses have been rebuilt after suffering almost complete destruction in the First World War.
Lest we forget – 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme
Our trip coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, so it seemed appropriate to pay our respects with a visit to one of the many British Commonwealth Cemeteries that dot the Picardy landscape, and also to the memorial at Thiepval.
Our first stop was Warlencourt British Cemetery on the D929 south-west of Bapaume:
Many of the soldiers buried here have no names – they were never identified, such was the ferocity of the fighting. Their graves bear the simple inscription: “A Soldier of the Great War – Known Unto God”.
There is an eerie stillness and a calmness about these places now – such a contrast with 100 years ago when this whole area would have been a maze of churned up mud, zigagging trenches and shellholes.
We weren’t able to visit the War Memorial and cemetery at Thiepval, as our visit coincided with a week of commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. But just as moving in its own way was the array of poppies on the mound outside the Visitor Centre, each representing a soldier killed in the battle, and inscribed with messages and words of remembrance from relatives of the dead. It brings tears to my eyes to write about it even months later.
After these sombre moments, we drove along the D-roads through the flat fields of Picardy to Coucy-le-Chateau, where we planned to stop for lunch. Unfortunately, we were just too late for the one restaurant in this small village – and the Chateau itself was closed!
So after one quick photo…
…it was back on the road en route to our next photo location, Soissons.
This amazing piece of Gothic architecture was built in the 13th century and towers (literally) over the town – its tower is as tall as that of its contemporary Notre Dame in Paris. Like so many places in this region it was badly damaged in World War One and had to be restored.
From Soissons it was a fairly easy hour’s drive along the N31 to our final destination, Reims.
Bruno Paillard Champagne
Our first port of call in Reims was the HQ of Bruno Paillard Champagne, and a meeting with M. Paillard himself. His courtesy and hospitality to us was boundless and much appreciated – not only did he give us a personal tour of his “caves” but also took us on a trip to see some of his vineyards, and also to view his historic cars – of which more later.
You may not have heard of Bruno Paillard champagne before, but that’s because his excellent wines are supplied primarily to high-end restaurants, rather than being sold through the usual wine trade channels (although you can order them in the UK from WineDirect). We were lucky enough to taste some of his wines over a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and they are undoubtedly superb.
Descended from a family of vignerons and champagne brokers, Bruno Paillard is the newest prestige champagne house established since WW2.
Art on champagne labels
One of the distinguishing features of Bruno Paillard champagne is the use of original works of art on the bottle labels. M. Paillard commissions works of art from up-and-coming artists from around the world, which then grace the labels of his wines. The originals of the paintings hang in a gallery at his offices (and in his home). In this way the art of winemaking makes a graceful connection with the art of the painter.
Through the champagne vineyards
One of the ways in which champagne vineyards differ from those in other wine-making areas is the way in which many of the vineyards are divided up into small “parcels” owned by different producers or even individual families – some as narrow as a few metres wide. This came about because as each generation inherited the land from their parents the plots became increasingly subdivided. There has been some consolidation in recent years with the bigger champagne houses buying up land, but much of the region is still in the hands of smaller producers, many of whom sell their own production direct to consumers.
One benefit of this “parcellisation” is that a typical prestige champagne will be made from grapes from many different parcels of land, giving the wine a complexity and allowing the winemaker to create a balance between the flavours of the grapes grown in different “microclimates”. It’s all part of the fascination of the world’s most famous sparkling wine…
We explored the vineyards in Bruno Paillard’s wonderful restored Citroen DS21 convertible, one of his collection of fine cars:
The undoubted star of Bruno Paillard’s car collection is his yellow (“Giallo Modena”) Ferrari Testarossa, currently being restored by a specialist company near Reims – for obvious reasons I can’t give more details than that! The workshop was a treasure-trove of fine automotive machinery in various stages of restoration – everything from Maseratis and Jaguars to a Ford GT40.
The Testarossa is awaiting fitment of its front bumper…
Here is another of M. Paillard’s projects – a Facel Vega, definitely in need of some TLC!
My personal favourite, the Citroen DS-21 convertible. A bit more practical than a Ferrari, dare I say!
Day Two: Taittinger and Lanson
Having bid farewell to Bruno Paillard, we headed into Reims itself for visits to Taittinger and Lanson.
Taittinger matures its wines in cellars cut out of the chalk of the hillside. Originally dug by the Romans who wanted the chalk for building purposes, these caves were then used by the monks who began winemaking in the region, and they were also used as a refuge from shelling during the First World War. They are ideal for the maturation of wine because of the constant temperature and because the chalk absorbs humidity from the atmosphere.
After the tour of the caves, it was of course time to sample Taittinger’s wines…
At Lanson, we were fortunate to be escorted on our tour by the Président/Directeur Général (CEO) of Lanson, M. Philippe Baijot:
Lanson actually has a vineyard right behind its offices in the middle of Reims – as the city grew it gradually enclosed the vineyard, but it still contributes grapes to Lanson’s production.
Reims-Gueux motor racing circuit
Finally it was time to head for Calais and home – but not before a side-trip to Reims-Gueux motor racing circuit to the west of the city.
Reims-Gueux is a triangular street circuit laid out on public roads between the villages of Thillois and Gueux. It started life as a racing venue in 1926, and apart from a break during the Second World War was used for racing until the 1970s. It hosted the Formula One French Grand Prix races in 1938 and 39, and non-championship F1 races after the war.
The pit boxes and some of the grandstands are still in place alongside the D27, so you can imagine the atmosphere of racing in those far-off days…
Ferrari Champagne Road-trip to Reims – thank you!
Grateful thanks to Bruno Paillard and all at Taittinger and Lanson for their amazing hospitality – and to David for letting me hitch a ride!