Single village Champagnes; a different expression.
Throughout the magnificent history of Champagne, the art of blending has been celebrated widely. The Chef de Caves, of the big houses, will meticulously select and blend a wide range of still wines from many different villages, vineyards and vintages to assemble a consistent cuvée to embrace their ‘house style’.
In more recent years, innovation is a high priority in order to highlight the complexities this ever-changing region has to offer. A growing number of smaller champagne producers, as well as a select few Grand Marques, now express their terroir through their bubbles to showcase their grapes, vineyards and soils with a blend of their creative wine making.
Some producers have taken this notion of complexion and terroir driven wines further, in order to cultivate a Champagne to reflect the character of the vineyard or village alone.
R e w i n d.
A revolutionist that is Pierre Philipponnat; founding father and then Director of Champagne Philipponnat, was where it all began. In 1935, Pierre obtained the Clos des Goisses vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. Goisses is French slang for ‘very steep vineyards’ which was a real unique quality of the vineyard; alongside the south-facing pure chalk slope! Pierre was quick to realise the potential of this unique plot and therefore immediately started producing a champagne made solely from grapes grown on Clos des Goisses.
From this idea single vineyard champagne became a reality. Albeit it took almost 20 years for the idea to be replicated by other producers over the region. Most famously, Krug, developed its own parcellaire approach when purchasing land in Le Mesnil. They stumbled across a plot within the land which was guarded by a stoned wall. The famous walled vineyard in the renowned Grand Cru was purchased in 1971 and Krug have made single vineyard vintages from this land ever since the 1979 vintage.
Power of plots.
I suppose the biggest question is: Why single villages Champagnes? Indeed, in order to appreciate such a wine, one must appreciate the land upon which the grapes are grown. The peculiarity of terroir is what makes plots and wines so interesting, therefore we can appreciate the intricacy of single village champagnes.
Champagne is as much about the grapes as it is about the soils in which the vines blossom from. This concept that is terroir, embraces all possible factors that could affect the growth of the vines therefore, affect the enchantment that we know as champagne. Technical skill and understanding of your soils and climates are ultimately the Champenois’ perfect tools to create such alluring and diverse wines.
As a consumer, it has been fascinating to embark on a journey through the terroirs to appreciate how each grape differs across the region. The unpredictable nature of the soils takes you on a sensation of discovery to recognise what grape varieties you like and how these may differ across the region.
A time to shine.
Let’s take the magic of the Côte des Blancs; south of Reims renowned for its Chardonnay. Côte referring to the slope or hillsides where most of the villages are located and to both the white colour (blanc) of the chalky soils. The way in which the Chardonnay grape responds to the variability of the soils across this captivating sub-region allows you, as the consumer, to delve deep into your preferences when drinking Champagne. A northerly village within the sub-region, Cramant, harvests more creamy style Chardonnay. However, compared with a different village, slightly South within the sub-region, Le-Mesnil, produces more mineral flavours of the Chardonnay grape. Both equally delicious but both strongly showcase how the terroir from the villages can inspire a wine so brilliantly different. Of course, from this you can explore further into how the vineyards differ within one village but we will save that for another day!
Champagne Philippe Glavier have given us the opportunity to experience this first hand by producing the 2013 Emotion Le Mesnil and 2013 Emotion Cramant. Two separate bottles, vinified in the same way with the same dosage from the same vintage. The only difference being the grapes are harvested from the two neighbouring villages. A true exploration of two of the most famous villages in Champagne. Exhilarating!
Grower Champagne producers have perfected this art of working with their smaller amounts of land. Having been tending to the same vines across generations they know the intricacies of each plot, what works well, what weather affects certain areas and have the know how to bring this together in their bottles. They look after everything from planting through to pressing and bottling. Every little bit of detail is focussed on through the eyes and hands of the same family. Using this benefit to their advantage, we are now seeing incredible wines being made which are full of true terroir characteristics.
Henin-Delouvin produce a range aptly named ‘Ame de Terroir’ which means ‘Soul of the Land’ and create a single village Chardonnay from the Grand Cru of Chouilly. Their prestige cuvée ‘Imagination’ is an alliance of two specially selected Grand Cru parcels of Larry from Aÿ and Plumecoq from Chouilly which creates a dual plot Champagne; unlike anything we have seen before.
Trend or transformation; that is the question. Champagne is transitioning and the Champenois are undoubtedly evolving with the times. Today champagne is more than just fantastic fizz and more about a story which represents the authenticity of soil, grapes, viticulture and much more in order to reconnect wine lovers to the earth from which champagne is grown and produced.
Champagne may be a symbol of celebration but first and foremost it is a great wine!