It is a calm and humid morning in Champagne as we climb into a car taking us to Chavot. We have a booked tour and tasting at Laherte Frères, one of my favorite grower producers in Champagne. I say favorite so often, that what is special about this one? In addition to having some excellent entry level champagnes, Laherte Frères has a fairly rare cuvée in their selection, Les 7. It is a blend of all seven grapes allowed to be used for champagne.
We arrive at the estate early, but our guide is already there. Aurélien Laherte is the son of Thierry, who owns the company with his brother Christian. He is the winemaker running the estate today. Laherte is a grower-producer, so they grow and use only their own grapes in their champagnes. Laherte owns vineyards in Côte de Blanc, Vallée de la Marne and the southern slopes of Epernay. On a specific plot in Chavot they grow the seven different varieties of grapes: Chardonay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meuner, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier, Arbanne and Pinot Gris and Frometeau (ancestor of Pinot Gris).
Its early, but we start with the tasting. As with many of our visits, our host starts cautiously, not knowing our background with wine. We sample the entry level 100% Chardonnay, Ultradition and two different vintages of the Clanc de Blancs Brut Nature. As we chat about the wines, we see our host relaxing a bit. He can see that we are there for the love of wine and not to gulp down expensive alcohol 10am in the morning (probably it is the spitting that gave us away). More bottles come out: the Millessime 2006, the Saignée style róse, les Beaudiers and the 100% Meunier, les Vignes de Autrefois. Now we are getting somewhere. All three wines are new for me and both the Millessime and 100% Meunier are great. Very crisp and balanced. But the real star is the róse de Saignée. Everyone declares it as their favorite pink champagne of the trip. No wonder – it is also a 100% Meunier. I am so excited these days about Pinot Meunier. You have a lot of poor Meunier on the market, because it is used as a filler in many champagnes (so there is large volumes of lesser quality). However in the careful care of a grower like Laherte, the Meunier strives and becomes a beautiful champagne on its own. The róse is produced with the Saignée method.
We do not taste the Les 7 this time. Not that big of a deal for me and M as we have had it before, but perhaps a disappointment to others as the Les 7 is an example of how the king of all sparkling wines tasted 250 years ago. Although everyone is still talking about the rosé, so perhaps they have have forgot.
After the tasting we head for a quick tour of the production facilities. The most impressive is perhaps the old-style presses. Laherte have two 4000-kilo traditional presses that are used to push out the juice. Vinification is done in barrels with spontaneous fermentation using only natural yeast. The wine is also stirred on the lees to add creaminess to the champagne. Malolactic fermentation is also allowed if the wine so pleases. Laherte lets it happen naturally if it is to happen. The wine decides. There is a culture of low dosage in this house, just the way I like it.
Our visit has come to an end, and we head for the shop. All six of us take out the credit card to buy some “souvenirs”. The róse is perhaps the favorite with everyone picking up at least one bottle. At the estate it costs only around 40€ which is a bargain for such a great wine (I also saw it at Caves du Forum for the same price). We also pick up a bottle of the Les 7, as it is not that easy to find in wine shops. It is only a hand full of houses that make such a wine (many do not have all the grapes).
Laherte does not do regular tours, but they do open their house occasionally to guests like us who are passionate about wine (contact details are on their website). It is good to contact them early to ask when would be a good time to visit. It is also good to be aware that in case of rain, the tour might be cancelled as the whole family heads to the fields to protect the grapes. We were lucky that it was calm weather that morning.