Some general information
The wine area includes 300 different villages or "crus", each with its own characteristics, and divided into several zones: the mountain of Reims, the Marne valley, and the côte des Blancs, the vineyards of the Aube and the Aisne. The first three form the essential part of it; they are the most respected regions with the most famous vintages. To determine the quality of each one of them, a scale of growths was established where Ambonnay is located in the great growths 100%..
Champagne can be made from three grape varieties mainly :
- Pinot noir, a noble grape variety (black with white juice) which brings structure, body and longevity, strength, sap and generosity.
- Chardonnay (White), another noble grape variety which gives finesse, lightness, subtlety, elegance and freshness.
- Pinot Meunier, which is not authorized for the grand "crus".
In total, the proportions of Champenois grape varieties are about one third for each of the three varieties. It should be noted that some old grape varieties such as Arbanne and Petit Meslier are no longer used today, but are still possible.
As far as we are concerned, our origin of "grand cru de noir" has always pushed us to prefer Pinot Noir, which represents more than 3/4 of our surface, the rest being occupied by Chardonnay. This is why our champagnes are qualified as powerful, but sometimes also refers to Chardonnay aromas.
Following allergies, in 1969, caused by the use of synthetic chemicals, we had to look for other treatments for our vines while preserving our health. This is why, since 1971, we cultivate our vines by protecting the environment of which we are a part.
To defend the microcosm that we have preserved in our plots, we had to fight against pollution by helicopter against which no organization for organic farming supported us (Ruling No. 1 85 of February 17, 1988 of the Court of Appeal of Reims).
Then, after having been amongst the pioneers of agrobiology, we protested against the payment of controls. It seems rather paradoxical to pay for not polluting. But as we were only slightly followed by others, and faced with commercial pressure, we had to give in and were only recognized as reconverting in 1994. In the same context, today a whole trade of depollution or recycling is established, to which we must be vigilant so that those who have polluted and still pollute, are not the same ones who profit from this new market... to be heard!
The work of the soil
Excluding weed killers, we must proceed to superficial hoeing to limit the competition of weeds without affecting the roots of the vine. We replace chemical fertilizers by a vegetable compost made on the farm and supplemented with butcher's bone powder and blood meal (a more natural cycle than in cattle feed). This compost, spread over the entire surface of the soil, maintains the quantity of humus necessary for life and constitutes a screen maintaining humidity longer in case of drought.
Erosion is practically non-existent, because the soil, well aerated by the compost, by mechanical work and by living organisms such as earthworms (in sufficient quantity), has a very high permeability which facilitates the replenishment of the water table (floods and droughts would be minimized if everyone cultivated the land...)
The work is spread throughout the year. In February or March, out of the frost periods, comes the regulated pruning which tends to limit output (lost pain for some chemical fertilizers users!) to obtain a better maturity and a greater quality; then the binding of the frameworks of the vine.
At the beginning of June, we gather by parallel wires the branches which, during the summer, are sheared several times. Around mid-June, we can evaluate the harvest after flowering (if everything goes well).
The main cryptogamic diseases that we have to face, and that cause great damage, are mildew and powdery mildew. For this, agrobiology prohibits synthetic fungicides and tolerates Copper and Sulfur salts. However, these products have a certain toxicity leading to a fauna imbalance. This is why, since 1974, we have been experimenting with essential oils that limit the evolution of parasitic fungi, and since 1980, we have been exploring the field of homeopathy. But we have to admit that in some difficult years in terms of climate, nature shows itself to be the master.
We have some successes in terms of fauna, in fact we hardly intervene against insect parasites, the balance of this fauna seems sufficient to limit the damage caused by them.
The beginning of the grape harvest takes place approximately one hundred days after the full flowering, that is to say from mid-September to the beginning of October. The date is fixed by prefectural decree, but we mainly take into account the maturity. In agrobiology, the harvest is less important. The first years of conversion, we reduced the yields by a third, and today, the climatic hazards lead us to yields in saw tooth, being able to make almost as much as the others, and to harvest only a tenth the following year. Generally speaking, the big losses occur directly and indirectly during the spring frosts which weaken the vine for its beginning of vegetation, making it very sensitive to cryptogamic diseases.
The wine making
The pressing of the grapes must be done just after the harvest, in order not to let the skin macerate with the grape pulp. In fact, there are several categories of juice in the grape berry: the more qualitative pulp juice flowing under low pressures in the press are the "cuvÃ©es"; the one of the skin less suitable to aging, flowing under higher pressures are the "tailles". This is why the pressing of Champagne grapes is well regulated in terms of minimum extraction time and proportions to be obtained.
For the elaboration of the red Coteaux Champenois, we proceed in the same way as in Burgundy.
The must flows from the press to the settling tanks where it will rest for at least 12 hours so that all the foreign matters (pips, skins ...) settle. As often as possible, we proceed to a second settling to refine the first.
The must is then racked into barrels or vats, where the first alcoholic fermentation takes place using indigenous yeasts. We then obtain a still wine which, during the winter, is racked.
In the spring, for reasons of stability of the wine and to avoid using a lot of S02, we let the malolactic fermentation take place (bacteria transforming malic acid into lactic acid), which slightly deacidifies the wine in a natural way. After this, most wineries reacidify the wine, but we don't think this is necessary... to each his own!
After these major formalities, comes the bottling: we then add to the wine a small amount of unrefined cane sugar or concentrated grape sugar, sometimes natural ferments and clay-based glue.
The bottles are then laid on laths. The sugar is transformed into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of the second alcoholic fermentation of the yeasts. It is this gas produced which, when uncorked, causes foam. This fermentation also produces a deposit composed essentially of dead yeast and the added "glue".
The bottles stay this way for months and years: the legislation of Champagne requires a minimum of fifteen months in the bottle for a non-vintage, and three years for a vintage. But a vintage Champagne starts to blossom only after five years of aging on its deposit.
The elimination of the deposit is done "Ã la volÃ©e" after a stirring of about a month on a manual desk. This disgorging on the fly requires opening the bottle while raising it, in order to let only the deposit leave without too much champagne and without preliminary freezing of the neck.
We then add an expedition liqueur based on concentrated grape sugar to obtain the Brut or the Demi-Sec or even the Doux.
Please note that we try to keep the bottles with their deposit before the sale, the aging of the champagne is thus done very well; and it is possible to taste Champagne of more than ten years with more mature bouquets and some youthful features. The disgorging, at the time of the sale is therefore recent (the disgorgement date is registered on the label in the batch number).
Conservation and service at home
For a good conservation of champagne, your cellar must be fresh and of constant temperature, of average humidity, protected from draughts, vibrations and light. The bottles must be laid down to avoid drying out the cork. After several months of conservation, the cork can lose its elasticity, but this does not affect its sealing because champagne keeps its foam.
However, you should know that conservation at home will not have the same impact as conservation at our place, considering that the deposit is removed for the sale. Aging at home can last a couple of years without changing the taste, but beyond that, it is better to refer to good years capable of holding up well over time. For the rare and good amateurs of old champagnes (as we are) after a couple of years in your cellar, those famous aromas characteristic of old champagnes develop.
Our champagnes should be drunk chilled, but not too chilled. Do not knock them, it "breaks" the foam and hides the good bouquets of our wines. 10 to 12 degrees seems reasonable, and if it is too cold let it warm up in the glass to discover the flavors. We refer to this more as a good wine than classic champagne, perhaps because they are good champagnes!
They are served in stemmed glasses, the thinnest possible, preferably tulip-shaped, made of crystal to make the bubbles rise!