While enjoying the company of my parents as they visited over a long weekend, I decided to take them on a trip to Champagne’s spiritual capital, Épernay. Knowing that Canard-Duchêne was their favourite Champagne, I thought I’d take them to the cellars for a guided tour as it was nearby.
Having already reviewed Canard-Duchêne’s entry Authentic Brut cuvée, I thought it would also be a great opportunity to cover the full experience.
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Although my parents often proudly claim that they’ve been enjoying Canard-Duchêne since 1983, the house has been producing its effervescent wine for far longer.
Founded in 1868, Canard-Duchêne is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary. Its story begins when Victor Canard, a cooper, met a winemaker’s daughter, Léonie Duchêne.
Falling deeply in love, they decided to marry and in 1868, they founded their own Champagne house together. Bearing their names, the house grew to become a grande marque.
Canard-Duchêne soon caught to the attention of the Russian Tsars. Consequently, Victor and Léonie’s son, Edmond, secured a contract as the Imperial Court’s official supplier in 1890.
In honour of this accomplishment, Canard-Duchêne adorned their bottles with Russia’s imperial two-headed eagle coat of arms. Additionally, their label’s sabre represents the brand’s relationship with the art of sabrage, which we’ll explain later.
Today, Canard-Duchêne is sold in over 130 countries across the world with an annual production of 4 million bottles and claims that one is opened somewhere every 15 seconds. Meanwhile, the Canard-Duchêne’s blender, Laurent Fédou, has been with the house since 2003.
Where Is Canard-Duchêne Champagne?
While Canard-Duchêne sources its grapes from 400 hectares within 60 different crus, the house itself is based in Ludes at N°1, rue Edmond Canard.
Ludes itself is a premier cru village in the Montage de Reims but is in close proximity to both the Vallée de la Marne as well as the Côte de Blancs.
Therefore, it’s easily accessible by car from both Reims and Épernay, which are the most popular Champagne hubs. However, public transportation is somewhat challenging when touring the region.
You can learn more about how the Champagne region is divided as well as its grapes with our full Champagne region guide.
How To Book A Tour With Canard-Duchêne
Canard-Duchêne requests visitors to book their tours in advance, which can be done either by phone or via their website.
When booking online, you simply fill out a form and submit it. However, this is just a tour request and you’ll be contacted for a confirmation according to their availability.
Confirmation either comes in the form of an email or a telephone call so it’s important to check for their response. This is because although most days will have as many programmed tours, there are fewer on others. Furthermore, some are in French while others are in English so it’s worth checking beforehand.
In our case, there were fewer tours than listed as it was the off-season period so our tour ended up being a slightly different time than planned.
How Much Are Canard-Duchêne Cellar Visits?
Visiting Canard-Duchêne offers excellent value compared to many other visits, which can be expensive.
A typical visit costs the following:
- Adults: 14€
- Children (0-10 Years): Free
- Children (10-17 Years): 7€
- Groups (15+ People): 13€
Included in the visit is a tasting session, which is one of the reasons why adults are more expensive than children.
Canard-Duchêne Tour Review
As I didn’t read my emails before arriving, we arrived slightly earlier than the final tour time, which is why I made sure to mention that it’s worth checking in the section above.
Nevertheless, we were warmly greeted by Aurélie, one of Canard-Duchêne’s guides, who invited us to take a seat while we waited. The wait wasn’t uncomfortable either as Canard-Duchêne’s atrium features a spacious lounge with lots of seating.
While we waited, we had a cheeky glass of Champagne from the nearby bar and Aurélie played an introductory video.
When the time came for the tour, it turned out that we were the only visitors. As such, we were delighted to have the place all to ourselves!
Introducing Champagne & Canard-Duchêne
We were first directed through a large glass door, which took us down a relatively modern staircase to the first floor of Canard-Duchêne’s cellars. Aurélie happily answered our questions and gave us a few facts on our way down before the tour began.
As we reached the base of the staircase, I realised that we had burned through quite a number of questions and hoped that there would be some material left for the tour!
Fortunately, there was much left to explore, which I realise the more I learn about Champagne.
Learning About The Region
We arrived in a large room with a modern installation on the wall surrounding a map of the region in the centre. Towards the side, there was a easel featuring another map of the region, which Aurélie used to explain how it was broken down.
For those unfamiliar with Champagne, this was a great starting point. Aurélie then used this as a basis to explain Canard-Duchêne’s place in the industry.
As a Négociant Manipulateur, Canard-Duchêne sources most of its grapes elsewhere as I explained above. Out of the 60 champagne crus they use, there are a few grand and premier cru villages for an access to premium grapes.
In order to ensure a regular production, Canard-Duchêne has a number of 4 to 6-year contracts with local winegrowers with whom they share a close working relationship with frequent visits.
Aurélie then lead us passed an old press and into a hallway on which a fresco had been designed with the Champagne production process. During this presentation, we learned about the typical winemaking process and a very titbits specific to Canard-Duchêne.
For instance, we discovered that 2018’s harvest was particularly early due to the intense heat and began on the 25th August rather than the first week of September. In fact, the year was quite exceptional so we can expect a 2018 millésime in a few year’s time!
Furthermore, we learned that the majority of their grapes are first fermented eight to ten days in steel tanks. Meanwhile, their organic P181 cuvée is left to develop in oak casks before maturing in their bottles.
Over 70 different wines are used for blending Canard-Duchêne Champagne and the house uses more Pinot grapes than Chardonnay. Additionally, their reserve wines can be kept in tanks between two to three years with their oldest being from 2008.
Finally, we were also explained that their Charles VII cuvée is aged for four years rather than the mandatory minimum of 18 months.
Although Aurélie broke it all down for us during the visit, you can learn more about how Champagne is made with our full guide.
Before we headed to a lower level, Aurélie showed us a sculpture of Canard-Duchêne’s impressive coat of arms. Here, she took the opportunity to explain to us its origins as I briefly explained to us plus other fun facts, which I won’t spoil for you if you intend to go!
After admiring the impressive coat of arms, we were taken down an older set of stairs into the House’s original cellars. Carved by hand in the mid-19th Century, the cellar used to belong to the Ludes Château that belonged to the family.
However, the castle was partially destroyed during the First World War due to the nearby front lines. In the 1950s, it was then sadly entirely demolished so that the house could build anew.
Carved into the ground’s natural chalk subsoil, the cellars offer an ideal climate for maturing Champagne. The humid environment remains at a consistent 10°C (50°F) and the darkness prevents unnecessary light exposure to the wine.
Interestingly, we also learned that the cellars were used as hospitals during both World Wars for injured soldiers. Hopefully, the troops were treated to a few glasses before heading back to the Front!
An Underground Art Gallery
The first floor had been left as a cellar with rows of bottles on their pupitres used for the riddling process. However, these were mostly for display as I don’t know of any houses that still employs someone to riddle an average of 40,000 bottles a day.
Down each side of the cellar’s corridor, there were long alcoves, which had been converted into individual art installations.
Each one was original and sought to embody Canard-Duchêne’s identity while paying homage to the effervescent wine. Designed by French artists, my favourite one was made by the Épernay-born Vincent Rahir.
Simply called “Remuage” or “Riddling”, it featured a mural arrangement of ageing bottles with a pupitre in the centre. Meanwhile, lighting from the floor illuminated the bottles in the pupitre so you could see the sediment near the crown.
Other installations presented the Canard-Duchêne family tree in a artful way, a display of original winemaking tools as well as the original stain-glass windows salvaged and renovated from the Ludes Château’s chapel.
Although it’s tempting to describe them all, I wouldn’t want to ruin the experience of discovering them for yourself!
The Art Of Sabrage
As mentioned above, I intended to explain Canard-Duchêne’s continued relationship with the Art of Sabrage. An art-form first developed by Napoleonic officers, sabering is the technique of opening a Champagne bottle with a sword.
Canard-Duchêne continues to host events and train professionals in Champagne sabering. In fact, the house has a long relationship with 80 different education establishments including HEC, La Sorbonne, Polytechnique and Saint-Cyr.
Aurélie then took us down another floor to see more of the cellars. As we went down the old stone steps, she explained that the cellars featured four levels with a maximum depth of 35 metres, which host a total of 11 million bottles between them.
However, a fifth level had recently been discovered by accident when the cellars were being pumped after flooding. Only partly finished, there were no stairs to this secret level but just a hole.
Hearing this, Laurent Fédou was inspired by the idea of using it to age Champagne to celebrate the house’s 150th anniversary. Consequently, 150 bottles will be placed inside this abyss as well as 50 vintage ones for good measure so they can use the cave’s natural environment during the prise de mousse.
The final floor of the guided tour featured long hallways of Champagne bottles sur lattes, which is the main part of when the wine is aged in a bottle. These hallways are still in use and the bottles we saw will all one day be corked and distributed around the world.
As she provided a few more insights into Canard-Duchêne’s production and logistics, she shone her torch into one of the bottles. Here, we could clearly see the sediment produced by the ageing process, bathing in the liquid contents.
At the end of this corridor was the sort of library I’d much rather have than bookshelves. A small room carved out of stone, Canard-Duchêne’s Champagne library hosts a collection of about 10,000 bottles.
Each bottled has been riddled but has yet to be disgorged, which means that it can continue to age for decades with the oldest being from 1957. Furthermore, a private collection could be seen behind iron bars.
A dedicated space for the blender, Fédou would use the library’s facilities to occasional sample wines for different periods in order to better understand the house’s blends.
After having climbed and descended over 130 steps, we were ready for a little refreshment. To bring the visit to a close, Aurélie took us back up the flights of stairs in to the bar near the atrium where the tour started.
She then proceeded to bring out a selection of cuvées that we could try. Usually, a visit includes a single glass for tasting. However, Aurélie was kind enough to let us try a few more since I was on Bespoke Unit business…
On offer to try on that day were the following cuvées:
P181 Extra Brut
Canard Duchêne’s Organic Blend is a dry extra brut composed of 30% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier and 40% chardonnay. All sourced from the village of Verneuil, the cuvée’s name derives from the specific 12-hectare plot where the grapes are harvested.
The house’s standard bearer is a classic and my parents’ favourite blend. Made using 30% reserve wines, the blend consist of 40% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier and 30% chardonnay.
Charles VII Blanc de Blancs
A Blanc de Blancs is a Champagne made using only white grapes, which is usually just Chardonnay. This particularly creamy blend has a crisp white fruit finish and is composed of 30% reserve wines.
Charles VII Blanc de Noirs
My favourite among Canard-Duchêne’s selection, the rich Blanc de Noirs is composed of 70% pinot noir and 30% pinot meunier. An intense and tart experience, the mature palate features red fruit preserves with a yeasty finish.
Charles VII Smooth Rosé
Although I’m not usually partial to sweet Champagne, I was keen to try something new. Canard Duchêne’s new Sec cuvée is a wonderfully fruity featuring 20% reserve wines in the blend.
With its high sugar content is a blend of 40% pinot noit, 30% pinot meunier and 30% chardonnay.
If you’re looking to discover a small and affordable house with a rich history, Canard-Duchêne is a family favourite. As mentioned earlier, I’ve already reviewed their Authentic cuvée, which is also featured among our best Champagnes under $50.
Given that Canard-Duchêne is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the larger houses, it’s both affordable to visit as well as stress-free. Furthermore, there’s ample parking and a number of visits are available throughout the day.
Aurélie was a wonderful host who was dedicated in both making us feel at home and I look forward to a future visit for Bespoke Unit.
Personally,I was delighted to have had the opportunity to explore Canard-Duchêne with my parents, which for them was quite a sentimental journey. Objectively, it’s a worthwhile visit if you’re in the region and I recommend that you include it in a planned trip.
"Affordable & Enjoyable Tour With Personality. While the larger houses will attract people in droves, Canard-Duchêne offers a more intimate experience of its cellars."Rating: 4.0 ★★★★
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