Balloons are part of the marnotherapy. Here passing over newly burst Pinot Noir-vines in the Montagne de Reims.
- And they even let people pay 50 euros.
The astonishment is quite genuine, as guests, grapepickers and the family discuss during one of the meals of the past grapeharvest.
The subject is a vigneron in one of the villages of the Côte des Blancs, who has understood how to make a business of winetourism as well. Several days of the grapeharvest this year he welcomed 200 paying guests to a traditional lunch.
On top of the lunch the guests get a bit of an introduction to the work in the fields, a visit to the local museum of champagne and some hours where they pick grapes. This is what you get for 50 euros. Almost.
This is the part where the genuine surprise enters the scene. The local champenois who have to work in the vineyards to make their living just do not understand, what makes anyone who does not have to even pay to participate.
To pick grapes is hard, dirty, boring (for some). To empty baskets or buckets and lift boxes filled with 50 kilos of grapes is even harder, even more dirty.
But if you are not local - like me - the vines, the grapes, the old-fashioned way of the harvest has a special aura. You are outside all day, you can sniff the smell of wet soils, feel a light wind play on your cheek and feel the beneficial sensation of sunbeams that warm your skin.
Okay, some people will end the grapeharvest with a back burned as red as a lobster. In France there are still a lot of macho men that do not use suntan lotion. Their problem.
So I understand quite well that some hours of harvesting are tempting. It takes you one step closer to the full bottles than what you achieve from a visit at the reception of the vigneron, and it is the only task in the vineyards that you can carry out without knowing anything. But few locals have understood this fascination.
Lifestyle in the Marne
This - and because champagne is good business - is probably why only few vignerons in Champagne so far work with winetourism. But in other big wineareas in France it seems to be a domain that is in growth. Along with the general crisis, I suppose. Certainly it is mentioned more and more in professional media and newsletters.
In Champagne few or none have an economical pressure these days where sales seem to know only one direction: Up. Which is undoubtly why the phenomenon is not very developped here yet. Certainly it is far away from the potential it must have.
The question is how much there will remain to show on the long term, since the development here is moving away from a classical harvest where you lodge people. The authorities demand more and more facilities for the staff - that follows a modern world, of course - but it also makes many decide to hire teams instead that lodge themselves in their own campingcars. Thus you save installing for instance yet another shower. But you also loose the traditions of the grapeharvest one more place.
Folklore for the tourists
Left will be various harvest parties the old style, that areas such as the Saint-Thierry massif arranges, but only after the real grapeharvest is over. Nobody has time to deal with tourists before. So there will be a bit of hullabaloo for the visitors but not the real thing.
In the departement of Marne the initiative marnothérapie covers champagne and vines and much more. For instance the hotel-castle in Etoges, wellness
and a flight over the Montagne de Reims in balloons.
If your preference is more the grapeharvest itself such as in the village in the Côte des Blancs, a bottle of champagne from the year is included in your 50 euros. You may even get an older bottle if you cannot wait two years since any champagne will not be ready until two years after the grapeharvest.
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