Champagne Producer Focus
Posted on September 05 2016
You may have noticed that we are a little bit enthusiastic about grower Champagne here at The Good Wine Shop. Our Grower Champagne Month saw us celebrate our 25+ new grower Champagne listings with two tasting events that were attended by more than 100 people. As the summer draws to a close, we thought the time was right to provide a bit more in depth information on three of our favourite growers. Imported directly from the producers to The Good Wine Shop, these are some of the best value wines in an already great value category.
Based in the premier cru village of Rilly-la-Montagne in the Montagne de Reims, Champagne Hubert Paulet is run by Olivier Paulet. The fourth generation of the family, Olivier took over the estate in 1998 at the age of 25. While not fully organic (the harsh, damp climate of Champagne makes organic viticulture a challenge), Paulet uses a ‘reasoned fight’ approach to viticulture alongside some organic preparations for his 8 hectares of vines. He only uses Copper and Sulphur spraying when disease pressure is high and uses no insecticides or herbicides, preferring to use shallow ploughing and allowing grass to grow in between the vines in order to maintain soil health and keep yields low. Different grape varieties are planted on the soil that most suits them: Pinot Noir on soils with higher clay content, Chardonnay on chalky soils, and Pinot Meunier on sandier soils. The grapes are hand harvested and fermented in neutral tanks and lees ageing ranges from 28 to 72 months depending on the wine. ‘Dosage’ (the final addition of sugar before bottling) varies too, but is kept low, at a maximum of 9 grams per litre. Olivier produces only 2000 cases per year, and Champagne Hubert Paulet is exclusive to The Good Wine Shop in the UK.
Denis Varnier has been at the helm of Champagne Varnier-Fanniere since 1989 and is the third generation at the estate, although the Fanniere family were growing grapes in Champagne as far back as 1860 before deciding to produce their own wines in 1947. Varnier-Fanniere’s 4 hectares are all classed as Grand Cru and are situated in the Cote de Blancs villages of Avize, Oger, and Cramant. One of the unique characteristics of this domaine is the high average vine age – 45 years – with some parcels (for example the holdings in the Clos de Grand Pere which are the source of the Cuvée St Denis) being over 70 years old. Chardonnay excels on the chalky soils here and the wines are made almost exclusively from this grape (with the exception of the rosé that requires a contribution from Pinot Noir). The base wines undergo full malolactic fermentation – a process that softens the texture and acidity of the Champagnes – and the final product is bottled at a slightly lower pressure than most fizz, supporting this generous character.
Michel Arnould’s grandfather-in-law Henri Lefevre began making his own Champagne in 1929, and this domaine was founded in when Michel married into the family in the early 1960s. Currently carrying on the family tradition in the Grand Cru of Verzenay are Michel’s son Patrick and his son-in-law Thierry. The 12 hectares of vines farmed here are planted 80% to Pinot Noir and 20% to Chardonnay, with an average vine age of 32 years and some vines dating back to 1950. Ploughing and grassing are also used here in order to encourage low yields and promote vine health. The winery contains more than 30 steel fermentation vats of different sizes to allow each parcel of wine to be vinified separately before blending. Around 8,500 cases were made in 2014.