Why visiting a small Champagne house is the best

Sometimes even the most stripped back vines can look beautiful. Monthelon France
Sometimes even the most stripped back vines can look beautiful.

For every major Champagne House in the region, there are many smaller producers, eking their living out of their own vineyards, and competing with the global brands.   There are many Champagne houses in Epernay, and we had a fantastic time at the Moët and Chandon Champagne House, sampling their bubbles and touring the amazing caves.  It was, however,  the experiences we had with people like Denis Frezier that will stick with us forever.  They are one of the best small champagne houses in Epernay, in my opinion, for a variety of reasons.

Our visit back to Epernay brought back memories of our stay here three and a half years ago.  A time, when we visited here with my brother and sister-in-law.  We were both in motorhomes and we had a hankering for the French Champagne region. 

Our love for Denis Frezier started back in 2012

It was March back then, so a completely different season to what it is now.  It was freezing.  The harvest of August/September (the previous year) was long gone, and the vineyards were now bare.  Pruned back in preparation for the new years growth. 

As we had allocated plenty of time to visit Epernay the next day, we headed for the hills in search of some smaller Champagne Houses.

Climbing the small roads that wound their way through the hills, we were afforded a tremendous view of the surrounding countryside and the vineyards.  Again, at this time of year, it’s not as pretty, but you can visualise the grape vines, clinging to the wire overhead.  Someday, we shall return here, so that we may see these hills in all their glory.

The harvested vines of March 2012 in Monthelon
The harvested vines of March 2012
View from up on high, looking across the harvested fields Monthelon
View from up on high, looking across the harvested fields

Taking over the village of Monthelon

Not a person stirred? Not a car drove by.  It was just the brisk breeze blowing through the narrow streets and through our bones.  We were in Monthelon, and having parked up the motorhome, we thought we would walk to a few  places for some wine tasting.  But no-one was open.  Did anyone actually live here?  Work here?  Where were they all?

Have you ever had an entire village to yourself?

Walking through the town of Monthelon in 2012
Walking through the town of Monthelon in 2012
Walking through the town - not a person in sight. Monthelon France
Walking through the town – not a person in sight

As we approached the smaller Champagne Houses, we kept poking our faces into their driveways and shopfronts, but this day was looking more and more like we would have to head back into Epernay if we wanted to taste some of the local’s finest.

But, whilst the absence of people (and Champagne) was unusual, the ability to quite literally walk all over this village was too good to pass up.

best small champagne houses in epernay
A water well in the main street of Monthelon
Beautiful paintings on the building walls in Monthelon
Beautiful paintings on the building walls

Stunning little gardens like this pop up everywhere too.

Champagne region Monthelon France
Such a beautiful garden to take some time out in

When there’s no-one around, it’s easy to fool around and have a bit of fun.

Monthelon France Champagne region
A bit of fun

One of the best small champagne houses in Epernay

Sometimes, in this fiercely competitive world we live in, we can be drawn towards a product or a service, by pure coincidence.  As we were just about to finish our circumnavigation of Monthelon, I poked my face into one last Champagne House, hoping that we mind find someone there.  Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong….the bells were going ballistic.  I jumped back in fright, not really comprehending what was happening.  Of course, it’s a door bell of sorts and by placing my head over the property line, I had triggered it.

In a rush, a woman came to the door and started yelling (excitedly) at us in French.  We figured she was welcoming us so in we went.  After all, one does work up quite a thirst walking all over a village.

Soon, we were downstairs, in another cave-like environment, and communicating in a very haphazard way with our host, Mrs Frezier.  What an absolute delight to be able to sit around a wine barrel, taking in the smells of the champagne and the grapes, whilst trying to decide what we would like to taste.

Inside Denis Frezier's cave
Inside Denis Frezier’s cave

You see, it is when you get the time, in a small group, to chat directly to the owners, where the real learnings take place.  Whilst only a very small producer (15-25,000 bottles per annum), they have quite an assortment.  For those(like me) who have a dry palette, the Bruts, extra Bruts and Brut Blanc de Blancs are my favourite.  For my sister-in-law, a much sweeter version of me, there’s the Brut Rose and the Demi-Sec.  Quite honestly, there’s something for everyone.

We take our time, talking to Mrs Frezier and working our way through the bottles of bubbles.  She was very pleased when her efforts paid off, with both of us buying half a dozen bottles upon our departure.

Champagne purchases at Denis Frezier
Champagne purchases at Denis Frezier

Fast forward to the second visit

Upon returning to Epernay, we couldn’t wait to get up the hill to visit Monthelon once more, and to stock up on our favourite regional Champagne.  Nothing much had changed in this sleepy village, but at least this time, there was some sign of life.

It is however greener, with the vines all still firmly attached to each other and showing no signs of having been pruned.  The scenery as we climbed the hill was glorious.

Champagne Region France
Rolling green hills of grape vines

Champagne Region France

We weren’t able to reunite with Mrs Frezier.  With her children now taking a more active role in the business, we got to spend some time with her son Sebastian’s girlfriend.   Of course last time, we had such good fun there, tasting all the Champagnes that we forgot which ones we actually bought.  Back then, Mrs Frezier just wrote everything down on paper, so our details weren’t in their new computer system.   So, we just had to taste our way around the bottles once more.  Not a bad problem to have!

Not too much has changed down here either.  Even the wine barrel where we do the tastings is still in the same place.  It’s still definitely one of the best small champagne houses to visit in the area.

Great conversation

Because of the amazing English spoken by our host, we were able to learn much more this time about the origins of this Champagne House.  The original owner was Mr Frezier’s Father, who had a successful vineyard prior to the War but then was sent away to fight. His son (Mr Frezier) later took control and rebuilt the business into what it is today.  They do not export, as they are way too small for that, which is such a shame as I think  I would be their number one buyer!

Instead, we bought another half a dozen bottles of their Blanc de Blancs, which I have now decided is my favourite.  Oh, we shall have such a wonderful time drinking these of an afternoon as we move into our final week of our six week journey in the motorhome.

As always, nothing suffers because we are travelling in this way.  Motorhomes were made for pulling up in beautiful locations so that we can drink beautiful French Champagne.

Down in the Champagne Caves of Denis Frezier again
Down in the Caves of Denis Frezier again
Champagne Deniis Frezier Monthelon France
Even our tasting table on the wine barrel is still in the same place

We did decide to have a bit more fun however, and recreate some of the scenes we were all part of on the last trip.  You’ll notice some similarities here, although there are less of us this time, and we’re a little older 🙂

Champagne Monthelon France
Recreating the purchase photo from 2012.  Our sister-in-law is missing this time.
Champagne Monthelon France
Our fabulous host this time around
Champagne Region France
The France Passion site where we stayed in 2012.
Champagne Region France
This winery is no longer a France Passion site 🙁

Staying at France Passion

Yay!  Being back out in the French countryside means that we have a plethora of options for staying in some amazing locations.

As the weather has turned a little ordinary, we make the decision to drive out of the Epernay region and towards Paris, our next destination.   An hour or so of driving takes us through some more beautiful little villages, along the Route de Champagne.

Now I’ve eaten a serious amount of French baguettes in my time.  We even make them at home.  But, hands down, the winner of the best baguette we have ever eaten in all of France, goes to Sandrine and David LeBrun from the Boulangerie at Montmort-Lucy.  If it wasn’t so out of the way, this is THE place I would be heading back to over and over again.  Their patisserie items aren’t bad either 🙂

Champagne region France
Patisserie and Boulangerie in Montmort Lucy
Champagne region France
Abricot Tartelette

Powering up

Because we were heading for a France Passion site tonight (and they don’t have services), we pulled up at a brand new Aire de Service in Vertus.  For all my complaining about Aires in France that don’t work, or won’t accept my credit card, or we can’t find tokens, this one ticked every box.

A brand new, hard surface to park up on, and a machine that takes credit cards directly, without fuss.  Something that seems to be so hard for some towns to get right, is made perfectly simple by the town of Vertus.

So simple in fact that I had time to pose for a photo in the middle of the road, and enjoy a glass of bubbles.  (I wasn’t driving)

Champagne region France
The service machine was super simple to use
Champagne region France
Time for a sip of bubbles whilst we are getting some electricity into the equipment on board
Champagne region France
Getting some electricity

We arrived at our France Passion location for the night and found it was only us. It was now definitely time to wind down and have a nice cold glass of the Denis Frezier Champagne, from our favourite local Champagne region producer.  Here’s to the little guys!

best small champagne houses in epernay
We were the only people at this France Passion location
Champagne region France
Definitely time to wind down with a bottle of Denis Frezier

France Passion review

Champagane Leclere-Massard

Rue du Plessis 12
51130 Villeneuve Renneville Chevigny
France

N 48.91282,  E 4.05532
N 48°54’46”,  E 4°03’19”

  • Contrary to what I said earlier (and contrary to what is usual France Passion facilities), this place offered electricity, wifi and water, for a small charge.  I have to say that I think this is the way of France Passion, and the network will become broader as a result.  I don’t think any motorhome traveller will mind paying a few euros for services, like they would if they were at an Aire de Service.
  • Free to stay overnight if you are not using any services.
  • Dogs allowed.
  • Extremely quiet, off a small road so no traffic noise.
  • Hard stand for motorhomes.
  • Grassed areas for putting out table and chairs.
  • Maximum stay 48 hours.
  • Good external lighting.
  • Champagne is able to be bought on site.

Champagne France region

13 thoughts on “Why visiting a small Champagne house is the best”

  1. The French countryside in your pictures looks beautiful no matter what season it is. Nobody does the pastries like the French…..yum.

  2. Somehow the personal touch of a smaller business always comes through, doesn’t it, whether champs or whatever? Sounds like you had a great experience!

  3. Quite right Stephen. It’s because every dollar they make they appreciate how important it is and that if they don’t look after their customer, they don’t have the bank balance of a global corporate to bail them out in tough times. It was a terrific experience.

  4. Looks like you had an awesome town – but why were there no one there? Was it just a lazy day or was there something going on? I’ve been in a few towns like that before and it’s really creepy. I’m always thinking they’re watching me from inside with insidious eyes!

  5. Ha ha that’s really funny. Maybe the town’s people were looking at us? It’s just a small village and they would have all been out in the vineyards most likely working.

  6. What a fantastic find! We love visiting the small producers. For me, it’s really the best part of slow travel and those local discoveries are normally the most meaningful. We visited a few of the big Champagne houses too and it is interesting, but by far the best experiences have been at the small wineries.

  7. It’s certainly great when you have the time to really explore, isn’t it. Visiting this place has so many special memories for me because we also did it with family. I only wish I could buy his product in Australia.

  8. Nice article!

    We also love the small producers because some a large number of them produce high quality champagnes.

    We always go to Champagne Roger-Constant Lemaire in the village of Villers sous Châtillon.

    Champagne Roger-Constant Lemaire produces 6 different champagnes which age in their cellars for 4′ till 7 years.
    Their rewarded champagnes are all without malo-lactic fermentation.

    At lemaire you can par your motorhome for the night, there is also a spot for motorhoes in the village.

  9. I love Champagne Lafrogne which is based on a hamlet called Courcelles, in the village of Trélou-sur-Marne. It is in the Marne Valley which is really the main part of Champagne where the Pinot Meunier grapes grow which adds floral notes and aromatics to the champagne.

    The wife behind the brand has lived and/or travelled extensively in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland so speaks good English.

    Just across the road from their cellar door is an artisanal brewery called Les Trois Loups (Three Wolves) which sells a range of unfiltered beers which are all brewed on site but increasingly sold through Paris and the north east of France. The owner and head brewer speaks English as well and is happy to talk through the beer brewing process.

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