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My Initial Thoughts On My Travel to Champagne During Harvest 2016 – James Melendez


Champagne has always meant something to me… looming large and lovingly in my mind and always with a lot of intrigue. I am writing a series of articles of my journey to Champagne during harvest time this year (2016). I scanned my many notes and I knew immediately that I could not cover in one article but only with several would do justice to this journey. This article is primarily to give some initial thoughts prior to departing to France and to give some overview whilst on this trip.


Champagne is a region and it is also the wine of the same name. I know some people have a hard time applying the word “wine” to the word “Champagne” as if it is another category of beverage. I get the point and the confusion but Champagne is a noble wine with an intriguing history unmatched by almost any wine region. Champagne was not born with instant recognition or acclaim—it is where Champagne had to be refined and over time become recognized.

Dom Pérignon is the left book end in the time continuum and Madame Barbe Clicquot is the right side of the book end (and I should emphasize there are actually no bookends left or right as many people before and after have contributed to what is Champagne today). Perignon and Clicquot are very important historical figures in how Champagne became a wine of acclaim and the epitome of the sophisticated.


Pérignon was a methodical Benedictine monk who didn’t drink but had a higher calling of creating a wine that was not just passable but to make an extraordinary wine—his chief contribution is the art of the blend. Clicquot refined Champagne by riddling bottles, placing bottles at an angle (riddling rack) to capture the used yeast.

Champagnes chief city of Reims has been a crossroads for at least a couple of millennia. Reims has been the city where French kings have been crowned since Clovis. No other city in France has had that glorious distinction not Beauvais, Amiens, Chartres or even Paris. Having wines on par with such a distinction has been a historical aim of Champagne.

To spur Champagne to finesse was not a mere generation or two’s scope of work it was a half a millennia to go from those pesky bubbles to awe those glorious stars in the glass. But while it was important to have an outstanding wine from Champagne—the Kings of France were not the only reason. There is something more fundamental. What persists is to get the wine just right it not was a labour of love but something more core about belief in the wine and the region.

Hopping in our time machine and if we were to visit Champagne before Perignon we would find cloudy, sweet and of course those pesky bubbles.

Champagne historically has always been challenged as a place to grow Champagne’s official grapes of Chardonnay, Meunier, Pinot Noir and to a lesser extent Arbanne, Pinot Blanc and Petit Meslier. Very cool climate, challenging weather conditions, early frost and even with global warming has not changed the unpredictability—it remains the constant. There is a common perception that global warming is changing wine grape cultivation in terms of more northerly regions will eventually be great places for Bordeaux and Rhone varieties and other warmer weather grapes. I remember reading an article in Wired magazine where a non-wine writer postulated that Zinfandel and Petite Sirah will be produced in more northerly climates reserved primarily for cool climate grapes like Okanagan Valley in Canada. This article, I interpreted is that there is a straight southerly to northerly affect for wine grape cultivation. I took away that this meant that global warming would change all regions evenly and it was just look north for where grape success would be found.


I digress… I know.

I bring this out in that while Champagne is not excluded from global warming trends. Simply at least for the near and mid-term most likely there will not be a vintage every single year—instead there might be more vintages per decade?   But I think Champagne will still have more of the same–unpredictability with respect to the weather.

Champagne’s acclaim is it’s complex combination of history, experience with varieties, circumstances, self-regulation, and protection of it’s name and tradition and blending of wines, use of reserve wines, and refining styles of Champagne to fit every palate and mood.


I am still awe inspired with challenge that makes this wine not just a passable wine but a wine of great elegance and evocation.   There is a reason we are not drinking still Pinot Noir or Chardonnay or Meunier from this region—it is apt as a blended, sparkling wine.   I have tasted many a vin clair, a base wine, which simultaneously resembles what the Champagne might taste like and it is also tastes nothing like Champagne that you know from drinking a finished bottle.

I loved being on the ground in Champagne—simply because I know I would not just taste a fair number of wines I would be tasting a great ensemble of Champagnes and the styles that I don’t get to taste that many of and I might add my favourite styles: Extra Brut and Brut Nature. I have rarely had access to so many Brut Nature’s and I thought I would appreciate them when I would taste them—instead I fell in love once more.


On this harvest experience I was looking forward to not just tasting styles but from many producers and producer types – Négociant Manipulant (NM) and Récoltant Manipulant (RM) and to pair Champagne with food.  Also walk through many caves, vineyards and to talk with cellar masters. What I didn’t expect and should have expected was the profound sense of history that I would walk into and through. Being based in Reims and me being a student of history was a profound sense of a history that is utterly extensive and brings Champagne into context—gives the fuller story of this amazing wine and history.

Champagne’s refinement is not by accident but through centuries of incremental improvement, and that a non-stop belief in this magical land. Stay with me as I write up more of my journey this past September (2016)





James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

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Who Is The Napa Valley Falcon Whisperer, And How Did She Help Make Your Cabernet?

brave new palate: a blog & portfolio of writing

Generally speaking, most wine coverage focuses on two kinds of people in the industry: winemakers themselves, and sommeliers. Logical, yes! But a whole slew of characters are involved in the production of wine, of course. 

rachel-and-falconA few months ago, I was in Napa Valley on a sustainability-themed media trip, and I met the woman whose job it is to use trained falcons to deter berry-eating birds. Stirred by the unconventional nature of her career, I took a deeper dive and profiled her for MUNCHIES. Read here. And next time you’re enjoying a wonderful glass of licorice-and-leather-inflected Smith-Madrone Cabernet from Napa’s Mount Veeder, well, first of all please call me because I would like a glass, too, but also perhaps consider the complexity of the ecosystem–humans, animals, and insects together–that allowed that wine to come into existence. 

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Travel Checklist and My Trip Preparedness – James Melendez

I have often been known to produce a “wow” when someone sees my luggage.

For others most people are okay to leave their home with most humblest of supplies. I prefer to be prepared.   I hear people tell me that they don’t sweat it as they will buy what they need when they are there. Rarely on a trip do I have enough time to just attend my itinerary let alone to go shopping for clothes or toiletries.

While I get that concept—the logistics have rarely worked in my favour.

I also travel with a good number of electronics and traveling lightly is rarely possible. Here are a most often pack list of my electronics:

  • MacBook Pro
  • Power Adaptors
  • Two iPhones
    • Different networks
    • Extra video and photo capability
  • Power adaptors x2
  • Power converters if abroad (at least two—I use to travel with one and north of impossible to get everything powered up)
  • Extra photo cards
  • Ultra heavy Canon camera—depends for reason of travel I might now always take with me; if I take with me two batteries (always have one powered up and ready to go)
  • Extra Apple lighting cables
  • See through Bags to hold electronics (which I place in my carryon)
  • Portable external drive (if you do video—it is a must for me)
  • External drive
  • iPad only on a long trip-in case I need something to read and all power is exhausted

I used to carry a portable iron – imagine that?!? Small but heavy…… I decided non-iron shirts are a must. Are they wrinkle resistant—no not really but they don’t look like the wrinkled versions when you pull them out of the suit case. I have found a general lack of irons in Spain… I don’t think it has to do anything with Spain it is just the hotels I have gotten over time.


This is where I get in trouble…. On my long European trip this year (2016) I packed only enough clothes for a week as I had AirBNBs and many had washers and dryers. From my experience it was not perfect and here is why. Imagine getting use to a washer and dryer in each new city you went to—I had what I call 10 base camps—each one was in a different language: German, Italian, Polish, and Czech. And a lot of guesswork as it related to each washing machine and dryer—sure I could have translated everything. But I thought how different can these machines be to the ones I use in English—and as it turned out—not very different. The hard part was not every apartment always had laundry detergent. I being the boy scout (lower case) I was never a boy scout when I was a youngster—we were way too poor. But I anticipated it and brought a very small amount with me. I live near a Laundromat and bought the small boxes.

What do I bring? Well it depends—is it pure pleasure trip (rarely are they ever) or is it a combination. I bring a ton of clothes because I need a ton. In winter it may be a heavy jacket. Yes, Amsterdam, Antwerp, London and Paris in particular in winter are particularly cold.

Late Spring or mid-Fall in Europe are particularly chilly. I thought I would start off in April in Italy and when I got further north the warmth it would be there in May—wrong. It was chilly and rainy almost everywhere I went. I did have a heavy enough jacket. But I had to buy an umbrella—lasted me from start of journey in Napoli in April till end of trip at end of May in Berlin.

Because of my many travels I may have needs other don’t. This list is geared towards Fall, Spring and Winter and less so on Summer as I try to travel as little as possible.


  • Lightweight Jacket or a sport coat (great to travel with if you anticipate dressier occasions—I love sport coats because of the many pockets. if you anticipate a slightly warmer travel period; a jacket in colder periods
  • Scarf – I bring one year round. When I am in Italy I want a scarf on at all times; in all cool seasons I always wear one
  • A pullover sweater if a short trip an additional one if longer time; I bring cotton in cooler periods; wool if traveling in winter
  • Two or more pair of jeans (depends on length of visit)
  • A more dressier pair of pants
  • Long-sleeve shirts I bring non-iron (less than an everyday change—even if light this gets super heavy)
  • Short-sleeve – I rarely do this unless it is going to be warmer
  • For a shorter trip I bring enough undergarments for each day plus one
    • I keep the plus one in my carry on –just in case your luggage is delayed
  • Socks – I bring enough for each day plus one and keep an additional pair in my carry on (again, just in case)
  • Pajamas
  • I bring a tie if I know I have a dressier occasion
  • I try to bring only one belt (I generally bring two to match the shoes I’ll be wearing)
  • I try to bring a nicer pair of shoes
  • A more comfortable pair of shoes
  • Running shoes
  • Running wear and cap
  • Slippers (I don’t like walking barefoot in places I am staying)
  • I have clothing bags so I can have major categories to place in drawers rapidly
  • A plastic bag for dirty clothes
  • Sewing kit—I have many an important button come off and I can quickly fix.


Probably many things you pack probably without thought—mine I would say is comprehensive and not exhausting

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste – a tend to bring a larger amount depending on trip
  • Floss (some countries I have been to this is a rarity—I hate to run out—I keep hearing my dentists ask the question they ask way too often “do you floss”)
  • Mouth wash
  • Shaver
  • Shaving cream
  • Electric shaver
  • Shampoo (I have been at hotels that have a 3-1 formula) I hate that –and my scalp is way to sensitive for a 3-1 soap
  • Conditioner
  • A small bar of soap (just in case) I am probably the only person on earth that does this
  • Facial Moisturizer
  • Lotion (larger than travel size)
  • Hair gel (larger than travel size)
  • Band aide
  • Nail clipper

Carryon toiletries (travel size of course)

  • Moisturizer
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lip balm
  • Tylenol
  • Allergy med
  • Tissue
  • Floss
  • Small fragrance (yes, I love fragrance and of course I never wear during a wine tasting event or judging)
  • Vitamins
  • Prescriptions

On a longer trip I do replenish as anyone would—and can find most supplies and I have found some great things that I love to get each trip like Taft men’s hair gel.   I got Schwarzkopf Taft men’s hair gel in in Prague. I took a small gamble and went for the lower priced product. Loved the product quality and smell and long lasting formula.

And lastly because I am James the Wine Guy I always travel with a wine key and Champagne/Sparkling bottle closer; So often so many places don’t have at least a bottle opener—usually the hotel or AirBNB has one when you don’t need one or when you need one your hotel or AirBNB doesn’t have one.

I have had to pace what I might bring back. My luggage is heavy when I leave and heavier when I get back. I have a gift I have received or gifts I want to bring back. I am conscious of it and I try to never bring back more than two bottles of wine in my suite case—actually I should only be bringing back one and if I am buying wine at an airport retailer (there are some good ones—I like the wine retail store in Bari’s airport—mainly local wines.

I have only had to pay for extra heavy baggage this year and that was Air France. I was barely over and the only thing that would bring down the weight is taking a bottle away. When I fly discount carrier (which is rare) I always pay for luggage.

My new suitcase purchased this year just crashed completely. I think the problems began in Florence and I remember the wheels were never the same. Super noisy and it was the extra brutal cobblestone of Florence did my bag in as well as my “comfortable shoes” I took pictures of the most uneven cobblestone of any European city that I have ever seen. My feet, my body and my soul and of course my luggage were wrecked.

Here is picture of my wheel and keep in mind I have had this piece for less than year—what obsolescence—amazing.


I have another Samsonite suite case that still works well and have had for least 3 years.

Travel is great and do yourself a favour—create a checklist before you go. Ask questions of your hotel or Airbnb be you travel (about things you want or need). I would say being less casual about what you bring on travel and being more specific makes you feel empowered—not scrambling for toothpaste on a Sunday where every shop is closed in the European city you are visiting.

I hope you find this article useful—let me know.

Cheers, happy and safe travels to you!



Also, published in my travel blog – James the Travel Guy 



James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

Follow, subscribe, like, browse: