Growers' champagne - Centurion Mag

JEFFREY T IVERSON INCENTURION-MAGAZINE.COM on Independent champagne makers (Dec2012):

Lastyear’s record champagne exports offered a salient reminder that bubbly has lostnone of its mystique for wine lovers the world over. The great champagne houses,led by prestigious cuvées like Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon or LouisRoederer’s Cristal, have engendered over time an aura of exclusivity that stillsurrounds champagne to this day. But recently dozens of new coveted cuvées haveemerged, and they’re not only coming from the cellars of Krug or Perrier-Jouët.Grower champagne is titillating the imagination of oenophiles like neverbefore, as independent, avant-garde producers are redefining rarity in theirimage, with ultra-limited, single vineyard bottlings. “More and more growersare making authentic wines,” says the grower-producer Emmanuel Lassaigne. “It’sa return to our roots,to an era before mass production, with small cuvées that are definitely confidentiel, yet without a luxury label.”

Whateverthe label, anyone who has savoured a bottle of champagne by Cédric Bouchard ( glimpsed one of the wine world’s shooting stars. Bouchard’s micro cuvées –from foot-crushed grapes, fermented with natural yeasts, and disgorged without dosage– have left a seasoned critic like The Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni “literally shaking my head in awe”. Bouchardleft behind a wine sales career in Paris to open his own champagne house in2000, buying mini-plots around Celles-sur-Ource in Champagne’s southernmostCôte des Bar region to create Roses de Jeanne, the smallest wine property inthe province. Bouchard brought a Burgundian notion of micro-terroirs along witha winemaking philosophy of “one parcel, one grape variety, one harvest”. Hisastonishing rosé champagne, Le Creux d’Enfer, originates from a .071ha parcelof pinot noir which yields an infinitesimal annual 300-500 bottles and whichGalloni calls “one of thegreatest champagnes ever made”.

Theextolling of Côte des Bar wine is, to say the least, a recent phenomenon.Historically treated by wine authorities as a second-tier subregion, themajority of grapes are still sold off to big houses. Yet some always believedthe area held exceptional terroirs: a former oenologist for Charles Heidsieckonce christened the chardonnay slopes of Montgueux, with its pure chalk soil 15million years older than that of Côte des Blancs, “the Montrachet of theChampagne country”. Emmanuel Lassaigne ( has strived to unlock this potential since taking over hisfather’s 4ha Montgueux vineyard in 1999. At every stage, Lassaigne patientlydraws out the aromas of his terroir: harvests at optimum maturity;fermentations of several months in oak and steel; an elongated, low-temp prise de mousse phase conceived to createelegant, fine-grained bubbles. Cuvées like the barrel-fermented La CollineInspirée, rich with notes of brioche, citrus and mineral elegance, have redefinedMontgueux. Indeed, today Lassaigne is the toast of wine cognoscenti and hipstersalike in Paris, and his champagne appears on half the menus of the 100 best restaurantsin the world.

Thisnew generation’s peculiar mix of avant-garde thinking and traditionalism isepitomised by a grower like 29-year-old AlexandreChartogne ( Chartogne-Taillet, located in the northern Montagne de Reims,has been in his family since 1683. Chartogne spurns chemical fertilisers and erbicides, and has studied centuries ofvineyard journals his ancestors kept to find solutions to daily problems: helets sheep roam his vineyards to keep cover crops in check, prefers horses totractors, which compact the soil, and maintains a parcel of rare, ungraftedpinot meunier using an ancient vinetraining method called rovignage. Yet Chartogne isn’t backwardslooking. Like his mentor Anselme Selosse – who firstbrought Burgundy winemaking techniques to Champagne – Chartogne vinifies in oakhis rich, highly-coveted micro cuvée, Les Barres (500-2,000 bottles annually).Yet a delicate wine like his Beaux Sens, a 1,000-3,000-bottle singleparcel cuvéeof pinot meunier, Chartogne vinifies in space-age-looking egg-shaped concrete vats.He draws on the expertise of France’s most esteemed soil microbiologists,Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, to tend to each vineyard parcel as uniqueindividuals whose personalities he seeks to channel into wine. And that meansputting his champagne’s integrity ahead of his clientele and their unquenchable thirst – trying to satisfy demandonly leads to the kind of artificial interventionthat effaces terroir, he says. “I find it more interesting to taste the differences between soils, than the differencebetween oenologists. What I appreciateabout wine is discovering what nature gives us.” What it gives Chartogne is magnificent– and maddeningly meagre in quantity. But that’s also what makes such cuvées socompellingly covetable.