Reims, France — It is an imposing and sweeping site turning into the wide driveway of the Pommery Estate in the Reims in the heart of Champagne country. The estate has looked down from its perch upon the hill of Saint Nicasius (the 11th bishop of and patron saint of Reims) since the end of the 19th century. Inside not only exceptional bottles of champagne and fine tours and why not a master class await, but an unparalleled art experience as well because for 20 years the groupe Vranken-Pommery Metropole under the helm of Paul-François and Nathalie Vranken has ardently supported art.
The house has since 2003 hosted a Pommery Experience contemporary art exhibition in the depths of its in-activity cellars which changes on an annual basis, but now a new venue is on the agenda with a gallery space in the Cellier Pompadour, the house’s historic storeroom, devoted to carefully curated temporary shows. Currently a colorful show is underway featuring flowers in all of their shapes, sizes and forms. Artfully entitled Blooming, the show juxtaposes the contemporary art from artists linked to the Pommery Estate with older works emanating from the exceptional collections of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Reims (The Fine Arts Museum of Reims) which is currently closed for renovations. The exhibition brings together 150 works by some 61 artists and participants. And in the case where you can’t be in France right now, The Gourmet Gazette brings the exhibitions and the Pommery Estate to you.
This extraordinary garden brings together works by, among others, Paul Gauguin, Camille Corot and Henri Fantin-Latour with contemporary artists like Barthelemy Toguo and Pierre and Gilles. it is an unlikely and highly successful blending of worlds that offers up resplendent nature, air, light and at times sound. The imaginary jungle of Pierre Seinturier is on hand as are the butterflies of Jean-François Fourtou. There is a fragile bouquet of flowers from contemporary artist Laurent Pernot seemingly trapped in ice and snow a world apart from Henri Fantin-Latour’s Roses in a Vase of Crystal, a 19th century depiction of a bouquet of flowers that the artist picked himself and set down upon a table against a dark backdrop. There is also an exceptional display of contemporary ceramics by Barthelemy Toguo.
Meanwhile, for a totally unusual champagne experience, you can explore the spectacular chalk cellars of the house of Pommery in Reims. The cellars are currently hosting Introspection, Experience Pommery #15, a show devoted to contemporary art in the various alcôves and tunnels of the house’s extensive, deep and working cellars, a
journey into a mysterious labyrinth, which comes alive with diverse
works of art, visible only once the monumental staircase of 116 steps has been descended, a staircase that comes to life with the light play work created by the Spanish artist Pablo Valbuena entitled Kinematope, 2016.
A summertime three-dimensional beach scene installation work from Enrique Marty takes the visitor invitingly into the cellars where bottles are quietly aging away. Meanwhile in one alcôve, art works look over a 14th century statue of the Virgin Mary, for the cellars harbor a consecrated chapel. Richard Fauguet’s Opalines dazzle while dangling from above and Jacqueline Mauriac’s Vertigo, 2007 offers rainbow hues in the otherwise very white space of the cellars. The show, curated by Nathalie Vranken, présents some 20 international artists from various générations and working in myriad médiums ranging from video, to drawings, to sculpture and installation works. The Pommery guides are especially trained to guide youthrough the exhibition as well as the activities of the cellar. And afterwards, once you come out of the cellars and the Pommery experience, you can enjoy a glass of refreshing champagne as part of the tour.
A Slide Show of the Works in the Shows
And beyond the original art experiences at Pommery, the estate itself offers a world filled with secret venues, delicious champagnes and fine gourmet dining. Here when Madame Pommery, first name Jeanne-Alexandrine known as Louise, took over the reins of estate in 1858 upon the death of her husband, she set out to create a unique place, a place carved indelibly into the landscape of Champagne country. She planted acres upon acres of vineyards, making the estate the owner of one of the major vineyards in the region. She also purchased the walled 25-hectare Clos Pompadour, nestled right in the city of Reims. She was a woman ahead of her times for the estate was already open to visitors in 1878 who could explore the 18 kilometers of tunnels some 30 meters underground.
A Slide Show of the Estate
But in 1874, she was behind another innovation, perhaps even revolution in Champagne country when she asked her cellar master to create a champagne, regarded as the first brut champagne, that was low in added sugar content and the Pommery Nature was born, a precursor for the champagnes that are coming highly into vogue today in the region. But after an art-filled morning and tasting, step into the estate’s Le Réfectoire restaurant serving classics of the French gastronomic repertoire (reservations more than recommended). Fine champagnes produced by the house include the Cuvée Louise 2005 Vintage, an exceptional champagne produced solely from wines from 2005 emanating from the Grand Crus growing regions of Aÿ, Avize and Cramant and aged for six to eight years. Another vintage champagne produced by the house is the Grand Cru Royal Millésimé 2008 Vintage. There is also the non-vintage and highly refreshing Brut Royale.
Across the way is the Villa Demoiselle of the estate’s sister domain, Vranken, but stay tuned for a separate glimpse into those champagnes and the Villa Demoiselle, a masterpiece of Art nouveau.
Blooming exhibition until November 15th
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette