The hillsides of the fertile valley of the Marne west of Epernay are almost entirely dedicated to the vine and its various products – not just champagne and wine, but also ratafia (like sherry only far nicer) and marc. There are major producers here, such as Moët et Chandon and Lanson. However every village – for example Damery and Cumières – has many independent producers or Récoltant manipulates (RM) who produce wine from their own grapes in small quantities. These operations are often found in unassuming and apparently small village houses, with the equipment for wine production housed in the basement. None of this champagne is exported but it is often of outstanding quality, outdoing many or most mainstream non-vintage champagnes at a fraction of the price. The only problem is, one has to go and get it; and a special occasion is the only way to justify the expedition… Here are some spring vineyards above Cumières.