A Year in Champagne

Sometimes you can catch great movies on the plane.  I recently had the pleasure of watching A Year in Champagne, a documentary about the ins and outs of champagne making.  It followed several champagne producers and shows how difficult of an industry it is for us to be able to enjoy this bubbly liquid.

Producers/vintners have code to follow, tough seasons, some have small shops (and even crops), but all have one goal — to deliver a delectable bottle with a cork that pops and a liquid we enjoy.  It was also wonderful to see how there are still the small family-owned businesses working against the big corporate ones.  There is a lot of behind the scenes work and business that happens, from sales to chemistry to timing and more.  A quality line in the movie and one or my favorites, perfect for the industry was along the lines of ‘Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink.’

Some of the greatest highlights:

-one vintner has 750,000 (yes 3/4 million) bottles they turn by hand (frequently) over the course of a year to deliver the best taste

-vines are restricted to a certain height, otherwise licenses can be revoked

-they have a specific/allocated amount of time in which they can harvest, otherwise licenses can be revoked


(image source: ayearinchampagne.com)

Stella Barra, North Bethesda

North Bethesda/Rockville (whatever the Postal Service decides to truly name it) is growing.  In Pike & Rose there are several new restaurants and I checked out Stella Barra last week.  It’s a pizzeria with several other options on the menu.


My friend and I decided to split a pizza, but after being told it takes at least 20 minutes for pizza to be ready, we opted for an appetizer, as well.

For the first course, we decided on the Cauliflower Hummus.

IMG_3448It was delicious, and loved that it came with both pita and veggies.  But, I will say, $14…for hummus…really?  I would rather make it at home or go to the store and buy something similar. They know people will try a place and order whatever in this area and just want to be out (and I am guilty of it this time).  Will be interesting to see how long it lasts.


For the pizza, we opted for their special of the night, with beets and goat cheese as the prime toppings, with the Grana nixed. Interesting how they can make a whole pizza for $3 more than hummus.  I sweet talked the waiter to into giving us arugula since I can’t do the ‘regular’ cheese.  We got it.

IMG_3446It was delicious!  Perfectly cooked and amazing flavors all around.  All the food was paired with beer and red wine, too.

IMG_3451Totally worth checking this place out, despite the price, because all the restaurants in the area are about the same.

Bordeaux Walking Tour

While exploring France had to determine the best way to explore what was at my fingertips.  Was referred by a friend to a great way to explore the city of Bordeaux and of course enjoy their great drink — Bordeaux Walking Tours.  I enjoyed an afternoon exploration of the city.

Got to see the city on foot and learn about historic sites along the water and throughout the town.

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Then we visited the Wine & Trade Museum.



DSC_0850At the end of this visit, we got to taste several French wines.  We received the full rundown on history, varietal, region, etc.


IMG_3158IMG_3159(Chateau LaJarre was definitely my favorite)

IMG_3160IMG_3161After this great tasting we headed off to our next stop after learning much about wine at the museum.  During our tour we learned about the Bordeaux region and how the Gironde River determines a lot of the ‘taste’ of the grapes — earthy vs fruity.  Those on the Right Bank of the river tend to be fruitier, those on the Left Bank tend to be earthier.

bordeaux-bordeaux-map(photo credit: totalwine.com)

Turns out our next stop was a blind tasting to apply what we learned about the banks.




I got 2 out of 3 right, and mostly only loved one of them, the Chateau Bardin, from the Right Side.  This was such a fun way to learn more about wine and I did learn that old world wine really isn’t that bad.  I can expand my horizons beyond new world.

The Franciscan Well, Cork, Ireland

Among various places visited while in Ireland, a great place stumbled upon (no pun intended) was Franciscan Well Brewery.

IMG_3099It’s a newer brewery (founded in late ’90s), but has great history to it.

‘The Franciscan Well Brewery was founded in 1998 on the North Mall in Cork City and is built on the site of an old Franciscan Monastery and Well, dating back to the year 1219. Legend has it that the water from the well has miraculous and curative properties and people would come from afar to drink from it.’

We opted to take the entire brewery tour to find out about what all they do based on the additional info they provided on their site.

‘The Brewery has combined modern technology with old age tradition in forming classic beer styles including lager, ale, stout and wheat beer. All the beers brewed at the Franciscan Well are natural, and do not contain any chemical additives or preservatives and are made with the best ingredients.’

It was great.  To put the size of the brewery in perspective, the only thing I can think of is that it’s maybe a quarter size of the end zone of a football field?  Maybe 1/3?  It’s tiny.  They have so little space, have to stay on top of things to a tee and provided more much more insane amounts of info, from law restrictions, what got them started, real estate, bottling, competition, brewing specs to tastings from beginning to…ahhh…end.



The tour provided 4 or so tastings where you also went through the components of yeast, barley, etc.  All their brews were great.  But, one I do remember was a hefe with way too much banana.  I definitely did not need to have more of that.

IMG_3116When you visit the brewery, they have an outdoor brick pizza oven where you can order a great meal, as well, to help soak up all the fun.  Worth checking out to get in even more Irish culture.