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Bunkering Down 

Written by Aksel Ritenis

“Bunkering Down” 

To all my friends in Champagne and bunkered down across the champagne world, these words are for you. I first wrote them in the introductions to The Champagne Guide 2018-2019 and 2020-2021, and I have resisted the urge to update or embellish. They seem all the more appropriate today than ever. Here’s to the resilient survivors. 

Behind an inconspicuous doorway hidden amidst the lush trees of a secret walled garden in the middle of the city of Reims, in the shadows of the fairytale turrets of Pommery, lies a timeless passageway of 106 spiral stairs descending into a mythical, ancient world hiding the very deepest secrets of Champagne. With each step deeper, deeper into the underworld of Charles Heidsieck, the temperature plummets and the chill of expectation rises. The final step falls into a vast subterranean ‘crayère’, a chalk mine of cathedral proportions. Walls of stark, white chalk tower to the surface 38 metres above in a perfect pyramid, looming and dramatic in its cavernous expanse, like a gigantic sculpture of buried ice art frozen in time. 

Time itself stands still in the silence of this place. Immortalised for 1700 years, the vast chamber reverberates with 3rd century Roman picks, scoring the chalk, carving blocks to build the cities of the ancient world above. Tunnels disappear into oppressive darkness in every direction, whispering with the hushed voices of Middle Age smugglers, squirrelling away their shady chattels in secret drives. Hundreds of interconnected crayères resonate with the century-old cries of children taking refuge as booming echoes of World War I German shells raze Reims to the ground, shaking the stone to the core of the earth. 

About the author

Aksel Ritenis

Axel is the Editor and Publisher of Connoisseur Magazine "for the Finer Things in Life" and has been the custodian of the magazine for over 10 years and leader of a team of freelance Journalists and Community Members who continue to make it all happen!-Join the Team at Connoisseur Magazine!

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