First of all, I have to say what a fantastic start to the year it has been since this year’s Gold Service Scholarship.
Having never visited a vineyard before, since the results were announced at Claridge’s on that wintery February evening, I have been lucky enough to visit the Champagne region three times as part of the Scholarship’s prizes and study trips. Each time has been unique and special for so many reasons, and I am extremely grateful to have had these experiences.
Most recently, Jennifer (2016 Winner) and myself were invited to visit the Champagne house Laurent-Perrier by David Hesketh, Managing Director for LP UK. This has been a prize given annually to the winner of the Scholarship, and it worked out perfectly that Jennifer and myself were able to make this trip together. Having attended two group trips, what was exciting about this trip was the prospect of one on one time with some of the most knowledgeable people in the Champagne world. Also what was personally exciting for me, having recently moved to Jean Georges at The Connaught, was to learn more about the champagne which we serve as our house Champagne throughout the whole hotel.
The trip started with a somewhat bleary-eyed early meeting at London St Pancras, where the three of us grabbed a coffee and croissant in anticipation of the two days to come. The trip was well and truly underway as soon as we arrived in Reims, after a stop off at LP headquarters to collect our host and tour guides we headed out on a driving tour of the region and vineyards, with a boot stacked with picnic baskets, contents already being speculated over by Jen and myself. En route, we collected a local expert on the landscape and geography of Reims and Epernay, a wine grower and small-scale producer of his own Champagne, who guided us during our tour of the region. During the time in the car, we learned more about how and where vines can grow and the reasons why. Stopping off to view what looked like simply a wall of chalk, it was explained how chalk is necessary for the growth of Champagne grapes, and how this came to form under the soil from hundreds of thousands of years of shell and sea creature decay, all of which ensured that there were holes and gaps within the chalk, creating the texture of a sponge, which allows the vines to seemingly defy gravity and suck the water upwards to nourish themselves during drier times. No time was wasted in opening the first bottles of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé and Brut Millésimé to taste, as the contents of the long-awaited picnic were finally revealed.At this point, it was hard not to think how lucky we were to have been invited on such a fantastic trip, whilst sipping our Rosé and nibbling at the home-made lobster quiche and freshly cooked fish which we found in our picnic baskets.
After a quick stop off at the hotel to change for dinner, we met David in the lobby, unaware that the dinner location was a Michelin starred restaurant in the centre of Reims – Le Foch. Having come to Champagne to learn about the wine itself, it was an unexpected treat to be able to taste some unusual still wines, as well as experience Michelin starred service in another country. After a full day in the vineyards, the cheese trolley well and truly finished us off, back to the hotel it was for us to catch up on sleep before the second day of tasting.
As the trip was a two-day visit, with our Eurostar tickets booked for the evening, our second day with Laurent-Perrier flew by in a blur of tours, tastings and a final lunch. We were lucky enough to taste the whole range, the unanimous favourite being the Grand Siècle – an interesting concept whereby Laurent-Perrier want to ‘recreate the perfect year’. By assembling three exceptional vintages, and ageing for a minimum of 8 years, LP aim to create the perfect year which nature could never provide. The result was fantastic, a beautiful Champagne which will stick in our memories due to the unusual concept and exceptional work put into creating it.
Reflecting on the trip now, having returned to work, I feel extremely lucky to have been able to visit Laurent-Perrier with David and Jennifer. David was extremely generous and allowed us to expand our knowledge which is invaluable when progressing through our careers in the hospitality industry. Visiting the vineyards and tasting the wines whilst in Reims has given me a greater understanding and more passion for these wines in particular, which I can use personally but also pass on to my team.
This is just one of the many prizes I’ve experienced. All have been equally interesting, inspiring and enjoyable.