There have been few events this year that have excited me as much as Terres et Vins, the grower champagne festival in Reims France. It is a cooperation between 22 small and medium-sized champagne houses that manage the production process from growing their own grapes (100%) to labeling their own wine, arranging an event for wine professionals (restaurants, wine merchants, journalists, blogger and other wine professionals) from around the world to taste their wines. All of the producers had selected around three champagnes and three vins clairs (the base wine that is used to make the champagne) to be tasted at the event. Perhaps if you are a friend of sparkling, you can imagine why I was so hyped about it.
When arriving at Palais du Tau, an old building next to the Reims cathedral, the place was already buzzing with people swirling, slurping and making notes. The producers only had a few meters of space each, and there was continuous movement in between the tables and the spitting bowl. The sight was slightly daunting, but we pushed our way through to the first table.
We had a plan: it was to taste all of the champagnes, but skip the vins clairs as these are a bit more complex to taste and we felt that it was perhaps to much for us to try to taste 60+ vins clairs. Here we were clearly out of our league. Tasting vins clairs is an art of its own and challenging as the young wines are fairly acidic. However, after we had reached the halfway point, it was quite clear that our relatively unaccustomed taste buds where not up for the challenge. We soldiered to the finish anyway, tasting all together 60 champagnes and 3-4 vins clairs (just to have a try at it). However the second half of the tastings is a bit of a blur and I cannot really trust that I got everything out of the wine that I would have if it was the first sip. Next time, we will make a better plan, that will then be not to try to over reach and rather focus on the 20-30 wines we want to taste rather than try to go through all.
I will not write about every producer we met, but rather mention a few special ones that we really enjoyed. Just to be clear, all of the producers were very good.
1. Francoise Bedel is ‘The’ producer that really got us into grower champagne. The wines are fresh and minerally produced 100% biodynamically. They are also low in dosage (residual sugar), only 3-4g per liter. We tried the “Vin Secret”, Entre Ciel et Terre (available in the Monopoly) and L’Âme de la Terre 2004.
2. Olivier Horiot, one of my absolute favorite champagne producers. He is a prime example of a next generation of “rebellious” producers making wine in his own way. His champagnes are like premium white and rose wines spiced with bubbles. We tasted the Métisse, Seve Rosé de Saignée 2009 and the 5 Sens 2010. If it has not yet become clear in this blog, 5 Sens is one of my favorite wines (in the world). It is a mix of five grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunieur, Chardonnay, Arbanne and Pinot Blanc), five soils and five barrels. It is a wonderful mix of white fruit and deep underlying earthiness.
3. Fabrice Pouillon is a new acquaintance. He uses sustainable agriculture to grow his vines. He believes in a natural order of plants and bacteria letting the green around his vines grow. This, he believes, is reflected in his wines via a healthy terroir. He is definitely on to something as we were vastly impressed by his Champagnes. Especially the Les Valnons 2007 was one of our favorite champagnes of the entire day (we also tasted it during the first half of the day when we our taste buds were much sharper).
4. David Léclapart is a fourth generation grower and winemaker. He has vineyards in the village of Trépail, Ambonnay and Bouzy. His four principles as a winemaker are purity, energy, pleasure and ecology. In accordance with these, he chose to apply a biodynamic approach to his work in his vineyards and use only malolactic fermentation for the aging of his wines. I must confess, this was one of the last stands we visited, as it was so crowded all day but we still liked the wines, especially the Astre 2011 was interesting. So I am really looking forward to buying a few bottles and dedicating an evening to solely his wines. We tasted the Artiste 2010, Apôtre 2009 and of course the Astre 2011
5. Vincent Couche, certified biodynamic since 2008. He farms his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in southern Champagne in the Aube. Couche’s approach to Champagne is more in line with traditional Burgundian wine making – small parcels kept separate, high-density plantings, with a focus on wines of terroir (a sense of place), rather than wines that are blended to a “formula”. We tasted the Chloé Extra Brut, the ADN Montgueux 2009 and our favorite of the bunch the Reserve intemporelle (66% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay) which is not yet available to buy.
Can you see a pattern here? Biodynamic, terroir and low dosage. I have been previously haunted by the low-ish quality of the biodynamic sparklings (mostly Cavas) I have tried. But Terres et Vins really convinces me of the contrary. The honest earthy flavors of all the producers at the event make me think that there is more to the the talk of terroir and letting the vines do their job without too much interference.
All in all it was a wonderful day. All work, no play, but when you love your work it’s ok. If you don’t count the small space (for each producer) the event was well organized with nice glasses from Zalto for tasting and cute notebooks with all of the wines that were on display. We also discovered that the festivities continued for the next few days with other tasting events, so we should have stayed in Reims the whole week. However, we were quite done with sparkling after the day, so I need to practice more before I can do several days of tasting that much bubbly.