It was 5 pm and getting dark, and it was raining when we parked in front of Marie-Noëlle Ledru's house in Ambonnay.
We had already made two visits that day and honestly, I was looking forward to relaxing, eating dinner, drinking some wine. Tired, cold, and standing in the rain, we still couldn't help but stop to admire her simple and lovely house.
The walls are made of chalk, just like most of the houses in Ambonnay, she told us. You can see it in the picture above - a spot of wall does not have an outer coating and the chalk is exposed.
We went inside and warmed up by the fireplace before heading next door to her cellars and winery.
Ledru disgorges every bottle she makes by hand. This is a lot of work, very repetitive. A neighbor helps her, she said. There is a little "hutch," if you will, that catches the capsule and yeast plugs.
Then the bottles are inserted into this contraption that dispenses liquor for dosage.
Ledru hand riddles her wines, too. When you drink a bottle of Ledru wine, you know that she handled it at every aspect, from grape to press to tank to bottle, and then she riddled the bottle and disgorged it herself too.
Instead of attempting to piece together a suitable introduction to her wines, I will instead reprint one paragraph from Peter Liem's overview of the estate on ChampagneGuide.net:
Ledru owns five hectares in Ambonnay and one in Bouzy, with a total of 30 different parcels. All of the vineyards are planted with cover crops and tilled, and she uses no herbicides or insecticides, seeking to work her vines as naturally as possible. The same sensibility extends to the cellar, where she makes the wines without filtration, without cold-stabilization and without any sulfur at disgorgement. Fermentation is all in stainless steel and enameled steel tanks, for their neutrality, and the malolactic is allowed for all wines. “I do the malo because for me it’s natural,” she says. The wines are aged for a respectably long time on their lees, averaging about three years for the brut sans année and five years for the vintage wines, and all disgorgement is done by hand, in a fashion not dissimilar to how it might have been done two or three generations ago. Ledru only bottles about half of her production, meaning that there’s very little wine to go around, and the other half is sold to the négoce, most notably to the houses of Pol Roger and Deutz.I would add to this only one thing - Ledru's production will be smaller soon, as her family seems to have reclaimed some of the vines they were renting to her.
The range begins with a non-vintage Brut and Extra Brut, the same wine but with longer aging on the lees. I had never had the NV Brut before and I was very impressed. It shows a bit of everything that makes her wines so good - purity and freshness, clean and ripe fruit, refinement and control, and intense vinosity. She disgorged a bottle of the NV Brut for us, based on the great 2008 vintage. It was excellent wine, pure class, and it will be released later this year.
Then we tasted her vintage wines, beginning with the utterly delicious 2002 Brut Nature Grand Cru. This is such a lovely wine, with startling clarity and precision to the dark, dark fruit. There is great acidity and balance, and a layer of chalk runs underneath.
We drank the new release of Ledru's top wine, the Cuvée du Goulté, a Blanc de Noirs made from "the best of the best" parcels in Ambonnay. The 2006 is only the second vintage to make it to the US, I believe, and it is a great wine. Find it and buy it great. The aromas are broad and strikingly diverse, with zesty citrus peel, powerful dark fruit, earth, and salt. Beautifully balanced and just delicious on the palate, and this wine seemed to me that it has a whole lot in store for those who wait.
Ledru's blended rosé is special too, as it is made with her still red wine, which is delicious in its own right. I do not remember the vintage that the rosé we tasted is based on, but it was aromatically alluring, spicy, well balanced, and so very drinkable.
All the time we tasted, by the way, Marie-Noëlle Ledru sat across from us, near the fireplace with her cat on her lap.
We ended our tasting by begging to sample Ledru's Ambonnay Rouge, a wine that she didn't make in 2010 because of low yields. Not enough Pinot to make Coteaux Champenois in 2010, according to several of the producers we visited. Vincent Laval, for example, made a rosé instead (so delicious that it was painful). This is the wine that Ledru uses to make her blended rosé. Ledru's 2008 Ambonnay Rouge was broad and airy on the nose, with spicy and floral nuances that complicated the rich fruit. Elegant and spare, this wine is so perfectly balanced that it will fool those who are not paying attention into thinking that is simple. It is not! It's beauty lies, in part, in its complete harmony and seamlessness.
I've had Ledru's wines before and always enjoyed them, but his visit helped me to understand why Peter has been trumpeting the quality of Ledru's wines for so long. And the amazing thing is that unlike some other small estates making wonderful Champagne, Ledru's wines are not expensive. Cuvée du Goulté, her top wine, a world class Blanc de Noirs, will not run you more than $65 in NYC. If you want to try them and are having trouble finding them, Bonhomie Wine Imports brings them to the east coast and Triage Wines brings (brought?) them to the west coast.