A Hurricane, A Blackout and A Bottle of Champagne: Two Years Since Sandy
Chilling with Sir Winston Churchill during the Hurricane Sandy Blackout
Two years ago this weekend, the East Coast was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. You may have been in the middle of the chaos, or watched news stories on TV about the devastation in New York and New Jersey. I did not know the extent of the destruction at the time because this happened to our electrical plant when the brackish flood waters hit, and we did not have electricity for the next six days.
We were talking about the hurricane this weekend with friends, and about how many people are still trying to recover their lives, businesses and neighborhoods. I thought I’d share a story that I’ve been thinking about writing for a while. Last year was too soon for it, I felt. But this year, I think we can think about Sandy with a tiny bit of levity. We can all relate to that sense of desperation when you know your fridge is not going to stay cold for much longer, right?
So here’s what we did with a bottle of champagne we’d been saving for a special occasion.
Pol Roger is an artisanal champagne maker. A family owned business founded in 1849, they are one of a handful of champagne houses that still turn their aging bottles by hand rather than by machine. They are not open for public tours, unlike many of the larger houses. We had actually visited the Pol Roger offices in Epernay in 2008. The lady behind the desk was extremely nice, and she allowed us to buy a bottle of champagne. While we were chatting with her, none other than Christian Pol Roger, 5th generation member of the family business arrived. He had been out walking and happened to stop by the office. He wore a raincoat and green Wellies, and he was as charming as you would hope. He told us how much loves New York City.
He advised us to buy a bottle of their Cuvée Winston Churchill. Churchill himself was a devoted drinker of Pol Roger champagne since his first sip in 1908. Ten years after Churchill’s death, Pol Roger created a very special champagne in his honor, as described in this recent story in the Wall Street Journal. But we were near the end of our trip, and we had had a little too much fun with our American Express card. So in one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, blunders we have ever made, we left without a bottle of Winston. The moment we got on the train back to Paris, we realized our error and gave each other epic dope slaps.
So in 2010, when we were going back to France, we vowed to go back to Epernay. Serendipitously, through my network in the markets of New York City, a colleague arranged a behind the scenes tour of Pol Roger for us. James and I enjoyed an incredible day learning about the traditional processes of this glorious company. We think of champagne as a luxury, but making a luxurious elixir like Pol Roger by hand takes a lot of work and expertise. And collaboration. And thought. And passion.
At the end of our tour, we were invited to the tasting room. Our hostess opened three of their best bottles, including a Winston Churchill. All three were all absolutely lovely, and we had a wonderful, wonderful time with those bottles until well after the sun had gone down. We departed in a bubbly haze, full of champagne and appreciation, and carrying our own bottle of Winston Churchill.
“I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” (Lily Bollinger)
We carried the bottle home to New York like a newborn baby. And we held onto it for a special occasion. And we waited, and we waited, and we waited.
A Glass of Pol Roger’s Cuvee Winston Churchill during Hurricane Sandy
So on November 1, 2012, as we pondered the hurricane and the darkness outside the windows and inside our refrigerator, we knew what we had to do. We put the bottle in our still-frozen ice cream maker insert, packed up cheeses and olives from the dark fridge, grabbed our flashlight and walked to our friend Karen Holland’s house on Waverly Place.
Karen is a francophile too. We’ve been having dinner together almost every Sunday for the past three years. So if ever there was someone else to appreciate our bottle, beyond me, James and Sir Winston Churchill himself, it was Karen.
When we got to her apartment, she had lit all the candles she could find, and she had arranged a lovely spread of foods that had to be eaten too. We let the champagne settle from its journey downtown for a little while.
And then we popped it open.
I’m fairly certain that it tasted so deliciously fresh and fantastically bubbly because we had infused it with so many expectations. Or maybe it was because we had survived a hurricane and now had to figure out how to deal with no electricity for the foreseeable future. Regardless of the circumstances, however, it was simply a perfect bottle of champagne.
And so the three of us drank the entire bottle as we exchanged hurricane stories, munched on bits of cheese and laughed into the night.
~ Karen Seiger, Markets of New York City
Winston Churchill Cellars at the Pol Roger Champagne House
Pol Roger is one of the few Champagne houses that still turn their aging bottles by hand
A gorgeous glass of Pol Roger champagne in their tasting room in Epernay
A little less glamorous: Drinking Champagne by Candle and Flashlight during Hurricane Sandy
Remember this? Charging our phones at an outdoor outlet after the hurricane
The Bryant Park Holiday Shops had just opened a few days before Hurricane Sandy hit. Luckily, there was little damage.
Our kitty Pantera Azul had the right idea of how to deal with a hurricane
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