The Jewel of La Fête
It has been a long-standing wish of mine to go to La Fête du Champagne. A wine party is not the correct summation of La Fête. This near week-long romp of wine tastings features superstar Champagne Houses and the fabulous people behind them. It is a dream all wrapped up in the bubbly mousse that makes Champagne the drink that has captured us all for centuries. This final week of October was a fantastic affair. While you can attend every event at La Fête, the Gala Dinner is the jewel in the crown of this wine-filled fantasy land. And this year, 2023’s La Fête, was the best yet.
There is an energy to La Fête that is grand, convivial, and over the top. A kin to the full expressions of wonder that have made artworks like Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa or Monet’s Water Lilies. The focus and intent of the artist behind each was all done to communicate a wonderful obsession. In this case, the obsession is Champagne. Kicked off by an afternoon at the Grand Tasting, where bubble lovers get the chance to get personal with thirty-three different Champagne houses, the Gala is a whole other animal.
Running all night long, those in attendance come dressed in their best. The top-of-the-top suits, sparkling numbers, and avant-garde dresses fill the room. The night begins with a sabered bottle on a stage for all to see, ‘La Fête commence!’ shouts through the room. The night is off to a bottle-popping start, with everyone in the crowd bringing the very best from their cellar in tow. Wines are poured, shared, and mused over, and you start to hear things like…
Did you try a glass of the ’04 Cristal?
I am never getting over that 1973 Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle!
Quick, they have a magnum of Veuve Rosé from ’85!
I love Salon, but I should have had more.
Without a doubt, that is a Methuselah of Billecart-Salmon!
For the Passion of Bubbles
Started by Peter Liem and Daniel Johnnes. If their names sound familiar, you know their influence on the wine and hospitality industry is far and wide. The writer of the essential guide to the region Champagne and the world-renowned Sommelier Peter and Daniel started with their inaugural La Fête in 2014. Joined by Raj Vaidya, Sommelier for some of the best-known restaurants in New York and part of the La Paulée team; the first La Fête was small but highly anticipated. It has grown vastly since those humble days. Peter Liem noted that 2023 was the biggest La Fête du Champagne yet. The journey of La Fête is a fascinating one, Raj told me. Since its beginning, they have brought La Fête to Los Angeles, Houston, and even London. But for him, the special somewhereness of New York is that it is the home of La Fête; here, at the center of the universe, the energy of NYC is reflected back in the celebration.
While the Gala itself is the height of party moments for those in the know of great Champagne, the goal of La Fête is to express the history, traditions, and culture of the Champagne region. Daniel took the time to explain how putting on the full festival of Champagne that is La Fête is not much different than the work he and the team do for La Paulée. From his point of view, the approach is the same: to highlight the craftsmanship and artisanal aspect of the region and not to get political. It is about respecting all that is Champagne, from the large houses to the small and everything in between. Peter echoes those same thoughts. Stating that ever since the beginning of La Fête, it was the intention to show the best of what Champagne has to offer. No matter the size of the house. Living in the Champagne, Peter has seen everything progressing rapidly within the region. There are so many people doing different things today, and the expression of what it means to be a Champenoise has evolved.
The wine industry has evolved as well in the last decade. There are more new faces in a changing world of unaffordability. So, while the events La Fête du Champagne can run a hole in the wallet for some, the team behind it all makes an integral point to work with the wine community at every level. Through the Sommelier Scholarship Fund and their work with The Roots Fund, Daniel, Peter, and Raj have provided travel, education, and mentorship opportunities to the next generation of wine professionals. However, if you are planning your first excursion to La Fête in New York for 2024, the best way to get the most out of the visit would be to attend The Grand Tasting. It is the perfect convergence of great wine, the chance to taste back vintages, meet the Champenoise behind the bottles, and be present with the in-the-know people in the world of wine.
Between the Stars and the Champenoise
At the Gala Dinner this year, sitting between Monarch Wine CEO Christina Rodehau and newly Knighted Dame Chevalier, J’nai Gaither, I took a moment to take everything in. The exquisite cuisine by Chefs Daniel Boulud, Arnaud Lallement, James Kent, Helen Nguyen, and Emma Bengtsson. A table filled with Champenoise.
Sitting across from me was Christophe Baron of Christophe Baron. Down the table to my left sat Mathieu Roland-Billecart of Champagne Billecart-Salmon, along with his team and Jean Garandeau of Jacquesson, next to them. A bit farther down the table was Florence Boubée Legrand or Ruinart. Behind me was Raphaël Bérêche or Bérêche et Fils. And just one table over was Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon of Louis Roederer. All of which were pouring fantastic wines from their libraries. It was also a personal treat to meet so many wine lovers who opened their cellars to the event. Like a bottle of old Selosse that Raj was excited to taste. With rare bottles floating around and memorable vintages to be tasted, this is the unexpected and delightful part of the evening for those at the center of the night. There is truly nothing like La Fête du Champagne.
What’s next from the country’s leading wine organization honoring Burgundy, Champagne, and Rhône Valley regions, Pressoir, is just as alluring. The same team that is dedicated to showcasing French wine and culture through range of events and services is excited to kick off La Tablée next! An immersive, week-long annual festival celebrating the wines of the Rhône Valley – invites oenophiles far and wide to join their table from November 29-December 2 in New York City. Wine lovers of all types – from serious collectors to curious novices – can indulge their passion for the bold, yet elegant flavors and generous spirit that are embodied by Rhône wines, through dinners, tastings and seminars that bring together the Northern and Southern regions’ renowned winemakers with celebrated chefs and restaurants for unforgettable experiences.
Renée has dedicated her life to grapes. As a Court of the Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier, she has made wine her life’s work, and her entrepreneurial spirit has driven her to be a curator of wine experiences. In her work as a Wine Communicator, Curator of Virtual Experiences, Brand Consultant, Educator and Wine Writer Renée brings to life her love of wine in a way that is contagious. She has a flair for making wine fun and understandable, sharing her passion for the vine.