What's New in Champagne?

4/06/11 -

(Photo: Marie-Noel Ledru with her cat)

What does it mean to go beyond grower Champagne, to cultivate a more “natural” Champagne section, without being dogmatic or sacrificing the playful charm that makes Champagne such a compelling beverage? This is a region associated with large scale production “houses,” negociants, wealth, opulence, method over terroir, etc... How do we find farmers in Champagne who share our own ideals of healthy vineyards, farmed without herbicides and pesticides, cellars free of commercial yeasts in which the grower makes his or her wine with minimal manipulation? How do we find growers who believe that Champagne begins in the vineyard and is merely carried to its delicious conclusion in the cellar? Currently, we are fortunate to be able to experience a new wave of Champagne growers taking the challenge of making Champagne organically and biodynamically to the next level. Franck Pascal of Basilieux-sous-Chatillon in the Marne, for example, began to detest chemicals during a stint in the army. When he returned to the vineyard, he rejected all chemical treatments and eventually began farming biodynamically, an especially difficult feat in the humid Marne Valley. Living, chemical-free soil helps Pascal’s vines to soak up needed micro-nutrients through the roots. There’s biodiversity in his vineyards; they were beautiful even in January next to the desolate, sprayed vineyards of his neighbors. In almost all Champagnes the secondary fermentations are started with commercially produced yeasts but Francis Boulard of Cauroy-les-Hermonville in the Massif de Saint Thierry preserves his own starter-cultures of wild yeasts throughout the winter months. He nurses his yeast concoction in his home next to the fireplace, to avoid inoculating with the "industrial" varieties. And the wines are fabulous. As we begin to discover, when this level of care is taken in the vineyard and cellar, the resultant wines show depth, length, complexity, and a genuine spirit of place. It is with great pleasure that we offer a handful of delightful new Champagnes; these are first and foremost tasty bubbles, but also great wines made according to the highest of standards. Enjoy! -msb

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