Our last examination of Grower Champagnes was in November 2012 when we tasted offerings from Larmandier-Bernier, Jacques Selosse, Egly-Ouriet, Pascal Agrapart, Roger Coulon and Pierre-Gimonnet. We returned to the subject in August for our final event of the 22nd ‘Academic Year’ of the Society with a tasting of six of grower champagnes:
- Marc Hébrart Selection, Premier Cru Non-Vintage, Brut
- Chartogne-Taillet, Sainte Anne, Brut
- Pierre Gimonnet Rosé de Blancs
- Marguet Blanc de Noirs, Non-Vintage, Brut
- Champagne Laherte Frères, Brut Tradition, Non-Vintage
- Veuve Fourny, Blanc de Blancs, Premier Cru, Non-Vintage, Brut
The tasting was limited to 14 and was held at Millstones Restaurant on Sunday 4 August, starting at 11.30 am. It was followed by a three-course lunch.
(The event was sold out)
Read Jancis Robinson MW on Grower Champagne: Champagne – a wine or a brand? (Free for all) 1 Jun 2013 by Jancis Robinson/FT
Growers’ Champagnes have exploded out of obscurity in the last 10 years. Old domaines have been invigorated and new domaines set up. They have embraced all sorts of new techniques and ideas, a revolution that has lit up Champagne, forcing the established names to review their approach to production and marketing and revealed a new cast of cult producers focused on terroir and quality.
Marc Hébrart is a small producer in the Vallée de la Marne, who makes Pinot Noir dominated (65%) Champagnes from the firm’s own Premier Cru vineyards in Mareuil, the neighbouring village to Aÿ. Hébrart used to provide grapes to some of the big houses before more recently choosing to bottle its produce under its own name. Chardonnay (35%) makes up the smaller part of the house blend, and no Pinot Meunier is used. Jean-Paul Hébrart, the current owner and winemaker, inherited the property from his parents and has been in charge of the day-to-day running since the age of 19. The wines are full-flavoured with excellent balance and length. Only a small percentage of the wines is exported, with most of production swallowed up by the French themselves!
Located in the village of Merfy, northwest of Reims, the House is run by father and son team, Philippe and Alexandre Chartogne. With just 12 hectares of vineyard in Merfy and adjacent villages, this is by no means a large-scale operation and, as far as possible, production is non-interventionist and organic. The soils here have layers of sand and clay producing rounder wines than those grown on purely chalk. During the First World War Merfy was on the front line and a lot of the vineyard area was laid to waste as a result. This meant it was unable to develop in the same way as other nearby, now better-established areas. The Chartogne family is at the forefront of the movement to rejuvenate the reputation of the region with small, high-quality parcels of single vineyard wines, further refined by the increasing use of barrels. This is a fabulous estate, meticulously cared for with wines fermented separately by grape variety and by terroir and with increasing use of oak. The wines are light, bone dry and deliciously fruity. Perfect aperitif Champagne.
Archetypal ‘small grower’ based in Merfy. A good, informative back label tells us this blend is mainly 2008 and Pinot Noir predominates. This tastes open, somehow sensitive, almost fragile but a champagne you want to nurture. Very clean and brisk. But it also has some palate weight. Some length too. And a rather smart label to boot. Great value. – JancisRobinson.com
Côte des Blancs, as the name suggests, is all about chardonnay, and all Gimonnet’s wines are 100% chardonnay. The Gimonnets are based in Cuis but also have vineyards in Cramant, Chouilly, Oger and Vertus, with some 40 plots of land in all and a total of 30 hectares. The non-vintage wine, however, is all chardonnay from Cuis, which tends to make a delicate fruity style. What is unusual here is the reserve wine which is added to the non-vintage and which is drawn from several vintages, in this case 2005, 2004 and 2002, which were kept in bottle rather than tank or vat. The result is a wine of great complexity and length of flavour. Outstanding as an aperitif or with fine fish dishes.
The origins of Marguet Champagne go back to 1875, when it was founded by Emile Marguet. The house is located in the town of Ambonnay, on the Montagne de Reims, and run by Benoit Bonnerave, a fifth generation member of a local vine-growing family. Grapes are sourced mostly from premier cru and grand cru villages, from both the firm’s vineyards as well as from neighbouring growers. Benoit Bonnerave is a dynamic owner with a real passion for being as close to nature as possible and his ambition is to work organically throughout. So far, he has made a real name for himself for his outstanding rosés, reflecting the quality of his grand cru holdings in Bouzy and Ambonnay. Some of his chardonnay comes from Trépail, the only premier cru chardonnay vineyard on the Montagne de Reims. The blanc de noirs, produced by Marguet entirely from black grapes is full-bodied and flavoursome and also worth discovering.
Benoît Marguet is another new kid on the block and handles with great dexterity his family’s vines, some of which are farmed biodynamically. The vineyard is scattered, but the heart is on the so-called côte des noirs which includes the superb, perfectly sited grand-cru village of Ambonnay. This cuvée is made from black grapes only, 70% pinot noir and 30% pinot meunier. The style is full, rich tasting and beautifully rounded.
The church of Chavot stands on a ridge surrounded by vineyards and is a clearly visible landmark. The area is of some interest geologically as this is a point of contact between the chalk of the Côte des Blancs and the clays and silts of the Marne Valley. Both chardonnay and pinot meunier do well here and in addition the Lahertes have vines on the Côte des Blancs itself. The Lahertes farm some 70 different plots, which include old vines and even ancient and largely forgotten varieties. Vines nearest to the cellars are farmed biodynamically. This is their Non-Vintage Brut, dry, fruity, clean and refreshing and based on a majority of chardonnay.
Full and round with some complexity thanks to generous bottle age. The fruit comes from Vertus at the southern end of the Côte des Blancs.
Last updated: 4 August 2013