The 200-mile journey from Champagne to the Mosel Valley spans what are the world’s most northerly vineyards producing fine wine. Winemakers in England and – who knows – further north may quibble in future years, but for now, this is fine wine’s upper limit.
Despite the region’s prestigious image, most routes into Champagne are far from picturesque. Whether you approach from London, Paris or Burgundy – from north, west or south – you’re largely confronted with an unchanging landscape of industrial agriculture (mainly wheat and beet) that doesn’t fit Champagne’s romantic idyll. The chill winds that sweep in unimpeded from the North Sea only add to the barren feel – while, of course, helping to lend the wines their signature tension.
There is one exception, however. The road east, from northeastern France to another marginal viticultural climate in western Germany, offers a striking, poignant contrast. The route splits a region that has been fought over relentlessly down the ages, served as the frontline of that most bloody of wars, WWI, and which still bears the evidence in its Frenchified Germanic names. Though the road is initially wheat fields, warehouses and factories, it evolves into stunning landscapes: forested hillsides, hidden valleys, deep green meadows, streams and lakes. At its heart is Verdun, home to some of the most gruesome scenes of WWI and still home to so much arsenic that trees can’t grow in its old battlefields.
Photographer Philip Lee Harvey made the journey from Champagne to the Mosel via two revered houses. Salon (a sister house to Delamotte, under the ownership of Champagne Laurent-Perrier) makes just one wine which it produces, on average, only four times a decade – a blanc de blancs from the slopes of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger which it famously sells without recourse to marketing. Then, across the German border in the village of Wiltingen, the equally exclusive Egon Müller estate makes the most expensive white wine in the world – the legendary Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese – in tiny quantities.
Philip Lee Harvey is an acclaimed photographer and filmmaker. Based in London, he is a contributing photographer for Condé Nast Traveler magazine, and his career has taken him to every continent, via commissions from the likes of Lonely Planet magazine, The Telegraph, Travel + Leisure, Vanity Fair and Tatler. You can see more of his work here