Monday, February 07, 2011

A Trend Toward Single-Vineyard Wine in Champagne?

The hills of Champagne, as in Burgundy, are divided into many individually named vineyards, some containing more than one lieu-dit, or named parcel. In Burgundy the decision was made a long time ago to bottle the wines from each vineyard separately, and we can compare Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots to Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux-Monts, or to any other of the 14 or so 1er Cru vineyards in that village.

Champagne houses, in general, followed a different path. Champagne is a blended wine, mostly. Wines from different vineyards within a village, and from different villages altogether, wines from different vintages are blended. Although this tradition clearly hasn't hurt the quality of the wines, their reputation around the world, or the price they command, it is probably one of the issues that create questions for some people about the degree to which Champagne expresses terroir.

I am certainly not the person you should look to for the latest news in Champagne, but it seems to me as though there is a trend towards single-vineyard wines, particularly among young producers. Makes perfect sense, when you think about it. As grower Champagne continues to gain in popularity, the producers of these wines can offer new products to their expanding audience, especially when those products further extend part of the grower ethos - that of expressing terroir.

I began to think about this during our visit with Alexandre Chartogne of Champagne Chartogne-Taillet. After lots of tasting in the cellar we were back in the comfortable and warm reception room, tasting through the current lineup of wines. I remembered that Chartogne-Taillet makes a Blanc de Blancs, but we weren't drinking it. When I asked if he still makes it, Alexandre said that it is now bottled as Les Heurtebises, the vineyard it comes from.

The next morning I thought of this again with Vincent Laval in the cellars at Champagne Georges Laval, as Vincent told us about the conditions in Les Chênes and Les Hautes-Chèvres, the vineyards that produce his single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Laval's estate is tiny, producing no more than 10,000 bottles per year, and yet he bottles these wines separately. And they command very high prices - at least $150 per bottle.

I thought of this again later that day, tasting with Raphaël Bérèche. Beginning with the 2007 vintage, he makes an old vines Pinot Meunier from the vineyard of Les Misy in Port à Binson. It is called Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche, and Bérèche's intentions are clearly announced on the wine's label, as the place of origin is far more prominent than the family name. The back label, by the way, contains information on the vineyard, disgorgement date, and everything else that we might want to know.

Around this time I asked Peter what he thinks of this trend, if it is in fact a trend. "I've been meaning to write something about that," he said. That's fine - we can wait together to read whatever it is Peter has to say on this issue.

The next day I thought of this again, but in an entirely different context. At Philipponnat, a larger house, we drank Clos des Goisses, one of the most celebrated wines of Champagne, and also a single-vineyard wine. The house could theoretically blend much of the grapes into non-vintage wines, use some for a vintage wine, and sell many more bottles much more quickly than they do with Clos des Goisses, which ages on its lees for way beyond the required three years. But Charles Philipponnat and the others at the house understand how special the vineyard is, and bottle it separately.

And later that day at Salon, when Export Director Jean-Baptiste (Tista) Cristini showed me around the gorgeous house and property. We looked at a picture frame that contained a menu from Maxim's in Paris, from 1928. It reads "Salon 1921 - Mesnil Nature, cuvée pure de raisins blancs." This means "Pure Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs." There were other wines offered on the menu, but none of them mentioned the place of origin. I guess Mesnil has been considered great terroir for a long time, and Salon recognized the power of marketing the single village wine.

My point, I guess, is that perhaps this is nothing new, this trend toward single-vineyard wines in Champagne. If it is, in fact, a trend. Maybe it's a cycle and we're approaching a single-vineyard section of the wheel. The real question, in the end, might be why are there more single-vineyard wines appearing in Champagne, and what impact will they have? As I mentioned before, we can wait together for Peter on those questions.

4 comments:

TWG said...

Could create an increase in the prices of your favorite single vineyard Champagnes.

D J R-S said...

Old Vine, single vineyard Meunier gets me reeeally interested! Who's importing?
Expect to be in town by mardi grtas, to finally meet Jared Brandt & celebrate his 40th...see you?

Scott Reiner said...

Starting in 08 Ulysse Collin will bottle his wines with vineyard designations.

Thomas said...

Enjoyed very much reading about your trip - thanks for sharing.

Best from,
Thomas