So we thought the Champagne trip would be a welcome bolt hole in the middle of a busy spring for us as a family. A little time away without the children to spend time with each other and experience some culture. It did just that and more.
It was an excellent excuse to be contributing to the building fund, spend time with the Church family and drink before midday! I must say whilst I know my wife easily fits in to more refined company I was a little concerned that I might unwittingly lower the tone beyond the tolerance of others. I was a little anxious that I wouldn’t be able to meet the cultural expectations of such delightful company. However I was pleased to discover that my brothers Martin Rich and Mark Hallett served me by making me look sophisticated in comparison.
Enough of the jibes! The trip was well organised, smooth travelling, great accommodation, and a schedule that was full without being manic. Reims – the city set on a hill in delightful rolling countryside. You could imagine it being chosen for its dominating position in the landscape for bygone kings to sit in lofty impenetrable heights raining arrows down on their enemies whilst filling their bellies with wild boar and frog’s legs. But this isn’t the case! The hill was chosen for a much more useful purpose in that, it being made of chalk, you could burrow beneath to great depths carving our caverns and catacombs of space in which to store Champagne!!! The chalk keeps it a delightful temperature and out of the sun. Quite literally the foundations of Reims are built on fizzy potentially explosive liquid that if ignited would collapse the whole city!! What a great use for a hill.
So a tour round the champagne filled caves, with the obligatory tasting was the first stop, followed by a visit to the local grape farmer to hear how it happened from seed to bottle. I thought this was a little odd. Basically the rights to the land defined by some regulatory body can only pass from father to child and so on and so forth. The same regulatory body defines the amount you can grow and then sets the price. So it’s a good little earner given that no one else can buy into the market and it’s got such a strong brand. So all I have to do is marry off Lily and Olivia to a French champagne farmer and we’re set for free bubbly for life. Trust the French to protect the farmers. I thought I could bring a couple of vines back and grow them on the allotment and we’d be minted, but apparently the French would strike if I did.
More seriously vine roots go down 20 metres, don’t produce crop for three years and are pruned so the plant above ground is only a metre high looking rather unattractive. However this set up produces amazing fruit each year for over 40 years! This spoke to me of our spiritual reality. We all look for quick results, immediate answers to prayer and magic wand solutions. A bit like Prosecco! But God wants us to dig deep into him. He wants to cut off all our rubbish and be ruthless with his pruning. This way we will produce fruit in his time year in year out, not just summer flowers that will wilt in the sun.
So we did that day one. We repeated day two and three. In-between we ate, drank and spent some great time together. It culminated in a small family run farm with a bar in the basement. They still used the traditional methods of production, bottling and stuff. That was all very quaint. Don’t picture Welsh farmer, picture Ferrari in the garage using traditional methods as a USP to ensure his price stays high. It’s quaint but clever. Lovely home cooked food and chopping cork heads off with swords.
If you wanted to know how the bubbles get made I have an answer, but it’s very boring. What you need to know is that the bubbles are better than Prosecco and taste great. The real stuff wins. We’re content that it met all requirements and the Church may get a new pew out of the proceeds. Well done Mark Hallett for arranging. Great time had by all.