In October, I flew overnight to France, where I met up with 3 champagne-savvy friends from Nantucket and off we sped to the city of Reims for an epic Champagne adventure…We dropped our bags at Hotel du la Paix and Carlos, our driver, delivered us to La Banque in Epernay, for a bit of sustenance for our impending journey.
It was only 6am Eastern Time and I was deliriously tired, but, when in Rome…we had champagne with lunch.Â Fortified in more ways than one, we were ready for our first appointment in the Valle de la Marne, with Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy of Champagne House RENE GEOFFROY, a grower-producer in in Ay.
The Geoffroy family established their champagne house in the 17th century, yet even with such a legacy of tradition, Jean-Baptiste is an innovator.Â J-B showed us the rather un-embellished facility, which included a cool old-school wooden press and a fully automated bottling line, and then the important work of champagne tasting through the seven cuvÃ©es began…including two stellar and distinctly different RosÃ©s–different from each other and from most other champagnes!Â Neither is a blend, as is traditional in Champagne;Â one is a rosÃ© de saignÃ©e, made from bleeding off the juice during the maceration of pinot noir grapes.
The other, “Blanc de Rose”, is a one of a kind–a maceration of pinot noir and chardonnay, together in the same tank. The marriage of the chardonnay and pinot noir juices in contact with the skins of the two varietals is a first of its kind in Champagne!Â The former (available at currentVintage) is a serious and seductive wine, deserving of a fine food pairing;Â the latter is fresher and lighter, although far from simple–a lovely summer sipper.Â The other bottlings we tried were various blends of the three champagne varietals:Â Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.Â Making champagne, even more so than wine, is equal parts chemistry and artistry.Â This “business” of tasting just doesn’t get old!
From there, Carlos ferried us down to Champagne Pierre Peters in Le Mesnil sur Oger.Â There, the story is Grand Cru chardonnay.Â The wines are pure and sophisticated;Â they stood in equally complex but delightful contrast to the blends at Geoffroy.Â Â Rodolphe Peters, a fourth generation winemaker (and seventh generation grower), hosted our visit.Â It began routinely, with polite introductions, but soon our enthusiasm for bubbles sent him back to the cellar for bottle after bottle–including an enchanting mystery wine, which we happily puzzled over (a golden, honeyed 1990!).Â The champagnes at Pierre Peters include from 14-20 vintages of still wine, however the goal is to produce a wine that speaks of the vintage, rather than a house style.Â It was fascinating sampling two cuvees from the same four plots only a year apart.Â One was tart, lithe & sexy, the other smoky with cinnamon spice.Â The % of each vineyard varied significantly, as well as the dosage, but the side by sides were still an excellent example in what the different plots bring to the ultimate blend and the influence of Mother Nature.Â The blanc des blancs at Peters were all weighty & yeasty, but not at all dense.Â They had a lightness that was counter-intuitive to the first sip.Â Rodolphe was full of pithy quotes and I could hardly scribble them fast enough…He said, “My best job is in the vineyard, not in the cellar”, referring to the importance of growing.Â “Champagne is white wine made with red berries.Â We are not looking for the same maturity as Burgundy.”–(This from a chardonnay grower).Â “Behind every wine, there is a soil and a local man who makes it”.Â And thus is the point of “Grower Champagnes”.Â From vineyard to lab to cellar to bottle, these are hands-on, nurtured, cultivated & crafted expressions of place with a kiss of winemaker style.
Rodolphe said ‘you have to walk alone’–a path happily more and more growers seem to be following.Â To be continued…!