Single-Vineyard Champagne

4/20/15 -

Once, the vineyards of Champagne were simply divided into the wines of the mountain and the wines of the river.  During the winters of the Little Ice Age (16c-19c), these wines, particularly those of the river, would often experience stuck fermentations. Spring’s warmth would restart those fermentations, creating slightly sparkling wines, a natural product of terroir.

 While the monks of the Abbey d’Hautvillers are often credited for “discovering” bubbly wine, they should be remembered for refining the grape pressing and multi-vineyard blending practices that were already traditional in the region. The art of blending still wines or vins clairs is and will remain an important expression of the Champenois terroir.

 However, blending requires a granular and masterful knowledge of individual vineyards and their individual wines.

(Above: 1940s Champagne Vineyard Map)

Following in the historical tradition of single-vineyard Champagne (Clos des Goisses, Clos du Mesnil, Clos du Moulin) each one of the following wines is a bold and delicious affirmation that great Champagne can be the expression of a single, delineated plot.

Most of these single vineyards are farmed organically and many are truly world-class sites. Beginning with the wines of the Montagne de Reims, Emmanuel Brochet’s Le Mont Benoît is a study in precision and exquisite tension. From the northern Montagne de Reims, Hugues Godmé takes great care in the farming of three masterful Champagnes, Les Champs Saint Martin (Pinot Noir), Les Alouettes Saint Bets (Chardonnay), Les Romaines (Meunier). Finally, Les Crayères, a world-beater of a vineyard where Benoït Marguet grows a pure and tingling, majority Chardonnay Champagne.

Next, the wines of La Grande Vallée, where the great house of Jacquesson grows a beautifully vinous Rosé Champagne from a pinpoint corner of the Les Terres Rouges lieu-dit. In the best years, Georges Laval’s Les Chênes (100% Chardonnay) has enough ephemerally allied grace and power to be counted among the world’s great wines. Based on the historical varietals of Petit Meslier, Arbane, and Pinot Blanc, Benoît and Melanie Tarlant’s BAM! is Champagne recast in a more floral and refreshingly mineral mold.

Finally, from Champagne’s most southern borders, two of our favorite growers understatedly show what love of vines and of place can mean. Olivier Horiot’s En Barmont is a deliciously fun rosé that is perfect for warmer weather outings. Gerard Ruppert and his daughter, Benedicte Leroy are a study in commitment to organic viticulture and their aromatically beguiling blanc des blancs, Martin-Fontaine is a just reward.

The Champenois have long understood the varying vinous expressions of individual vineyards and to growing fanfare the region is finally focusing on the single-vineyard. I believe in each these growers and their vineyards. Without caveat or reservation, they are truly exceptional. I hope you enjoy them! David Salinas

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