The village hall was packed with people gathered around large trestle tables of champagne. So now began the discours from the local board of representatives. The preceeding year was described through highlight dates of success and latest political developments in the world of champagne. As you can imagine Champagne is highly regulated and a very political business. Whilst other wine producers in France are really toughing it out at the moment, the Champagne business is constantly growing with global demand outpacing the current maximum production quota. Approximately 300 million bottles were produced last year. But I digress, and this could be another post another time...
So, in the village hall, the champagne was à volonté and the children passed around brioche. Not really enough brioche to soak up the quantity of champagne that was being consumed. For me there were two outstanding features to the gathering. Firstly, in the last year I have never seen more than 2 or 3 people at any time in the village. Everyone keeps to themselves. Whilst they are not aggressively competitors they really mind their own business and the French habit of shutters on windows means the place always looks deserted. Even when everyone could be at home with the fires blazing all you see are closed up homes. Naturally, you see people out in their vineyards and at harvest the lanes are full of tractors and heavy equipment. However, this was the first time I had seen so many people. And they were out in force!
Secondly, everyone was really drinking hard. This is the one time I have seen even Mother Frog consume more than a couple of glasses. Although they are producers and champagne is usually at the table, the French generally don't drink in large quantities and as wine producers there is never really "downtime". It's the equivalent of a 365 days per year farm. The whole family was getting very merry!
I was introduced to many people (and felt extremely chuffed that I was described as 'English, but speaks very good French, so don't worry') who I will never recognise again!
By now we had gathered up friends, invited top customers and a couple of the guys from Dunkerque who have been travelling down to work the harvest period for the last 30 years. And we wobbled our way down the road back for food.