This year we took our annual trip to Champagne again, stopped in at two of our favorite producers, took in a big Maison and met with an organic, bio dynamic producer. We will take you through our trip, and what we have learned and recommend! This time we went with my sister and future brother in law, who are not big champagne drinkers and anyway we needed to prove we were not alcoholics. P. S, We might have failed!
We started with the largest producer we planned to visit on this trip, Lanson. Boy, do they invest in a lot of marketing. Outside their building is a Lanson black London cab, and a number of other cars with branding all over them.
With a house like this, everything is clinical, you arrive into a pristine hallway, pay your fee (25 Eur) and wait around, looking at the retail merchandise that you may want to purchase! There is no emotion or feeling in a house like this. The tour guide, while lovely, is reciting a script, its methodical and structured and I didn’t learn anything new. We were taken outside to observe some real like vines in action for their Clos Lanson. I suspect they are inspired by the Clos de Mesnil by Krug, and have therefore built a wall around some of their vines, to proclaim that these magically special vines can exist no where else and therefore, can charge a small fortune. Seems a bit overkill. Lanson is not Krug!
Lanson is a tourist attraction, their vat room is massive and shiny, and their barrels are equally as immaculate. There is no sign this is a working facility, it all feels as if it is just for show. This facility by the way was new in 2014, maybe thats why. Now that the tour is over, the tasting begins. We have decided to taste their Black Label and the Rose. Now, we drink Lanson at home, its a reasonable bubble, nothing that would stand out in a crowd though. However, even I must admit thier run of the mill Brut tastes better in their tasting room than at home in our living room. The bubbles are like I said, nothing special, therefore I am happy to continue to purchase this when it is on special in my supermarket and can smash it on a Tuesday just because we can!
Next up, Jean-Dumangin for a cracking secret stash of 2009 vintage with only 7g dosage. More about that in a bit. Laurent is a small grower and maker of champagne, who informed us about the struggles of competing with the likes of Lanson. In fact, he was the supplier of bubbles to a yacht club in the UK, but was pushed out by a large house with promises of branding and marketing. He had no choice.
He does make excellent juice, and a favourite of mine is his extra brut Blanc de Blancs. 100% chardonnay, dry and crispy. Sadly (but luckily for him) he has sold out of all of his vintage bottles, after the 2009 vintage won prestigious awards in two categories. He explained to us the boom in demand that followed and how he maintained to supply his wines to his loyal followers. Another great reason, I think, to visit small houses like three and form relationships.
We did manage to walk away with a case of the 2009 and to make it even more of a collectors item, the case was also from his dosage experiments with only 7g dosage vs the 9g version that made it to market. This is special wine, that we will enjoy in our collection for a while, or maybe only 2 more tuesdays! This is what is special about smaller growers, they will want you to love thier product as much as they do, and they are happy to share it with you.
Again, we visited Forget-Brimont! This is such a special house for us, we visited them last time and we recieved the best visit to any champagne house EVER. Let me tell you, they outdid themselves this time. We had another private tour and tasted their whole range. Their Grand Rose is still miles ahead of any Rose in champagne, and their Blanc de Blancs still knocks my socks off. I could talk about these guys until the donkey had no hind legs, but I dont want this post to be too long and I still have one more grower to talk about.
I saved the best till last. While we have a ton of love for Laurent and Forget, I have to admit that we were all quite certainly bowled over by our last visit.
Larmandier-Bernier. Based in Vertus, these guys are making something exceptional that is both organic and biodynamic, and it takes like magic! We were part of a group for this tour, but we were met by Sophie Larmandier, co-owner and wine maker with her husband Pierre. Straight into their barrel room where wine is quietly undergoing its first spontaneous fermentation. Just when you were wowed by the barrels, we noticed that they have a clay amphora! We had read about champagne and wine makers experimenting with this, and getting great results. It was amazing to see. They are using it to create a champagne that is similar to orange wine. This can only mean great things are coming. They also use concrete eggs to vinify their Rose, and oak barrels from Austria for their white wines, as according to Sophie, they impart a much gentler flavour than French oak. The yeast they use for this fermentation is 100% natural, they do not add extra when they vinify, instead relying on the natural yeasts that form on the skins. This means this in this wine yeast can only be found on their terrior and in their cellar.
Sophie firmly believes in organic and biodynamic methods when it come to her wine. She has lots of comments about the farming techniques of non-organic growers, to the point of being almost critical. She is passionate and resolute in her wine making, which explains why their wines have such a funky smell and taste to them. Reflecting the unique yeast, and bio farming they are famous for. The book by Peter Liem, Champagne, has praise dripping out of its pages for Larmandier-Bernier, and rightly so. Their products are as individual as the yeast they are using, and we are looking forward to what they going to next. Especially if it means amphora champagne.
Our trip to Champagne was so much fun, and I recommend you book your trip as soon as you can!