Harvest time in Champagne
Benoit Tarlant, one of the stars of the younger generation
22 - 25 November 2007
It is a few years since we last ran our “Growers Champagne” tour and a lot has happened in the interval. Wine has become more branded with the likes of ‘Blossom Hill’ and ‘Jacob’s Creek’ driven by the supermarkets and discounting, taking a larger and larger slice of the wine market. Paradoxically at the same time the internet makes it possible for the small voices to be heard and small specialists in their niches to prosper.
Micro trends and mega-brands; is that the future? Certainly in Champagne this seems to be the case. The strong brands are doing very well and the supermarkets are moving serious volumes of their owned branded products (sometimes at outrageously low prices in order to get media attention). The counter-movement is a yearning for authenticity both among producers and consumers. Taittinger, for instance, has brought out a single vineyard ‘Clos de la Marqueterie’ and a grand cru blend ‘Prelude’. Leclerc-Briant even has a range of single vineyard Champagnes called ‘Les Authentiques.’ These are a couple of examples, there are many more. Where then does this leave the small domaines, the Grower Producers?
On this tour we will visit a series of leading growers and will taste many more in our evening tastings. We’ll consider the issues facing them and hear what they are trying to achieve.
Export markets have now discovered these ‘small producers’ and interestingly they don’t expect them to be cheap. It doesn’t take many international or American cognoscenti demanding Pinot-based champagnes from Bouzy for shortages and price rises to follow. Sought-after prestigious grower champagnes? 20, certainly 25 years ago, the idea would have provoked snorts of derision. The new generation may be shaking off the inferiority complex which has stigmatised ‘small’ champagne producers but interestingly they have also refined the ‘grower’s mentality’.
A highly trained and motivated generation is taking over. We’ll take another look at organics. The early steps in organics in Champagne were faultering to say the least. Well they aren’t now. There is probably no-one working as hard in the vineyard as the younger generation of grower producers. Organics, biodynamics, keeping old vines as long as possible, replanting with high quality rather than high yielding clones; looking beyond Pinot and Chardonnay at the lost, ancient grape varieties of Champagne. This is what they are up to. This spirit of experimentation extends to cellar work too. Oak barrels are back, so too are natural yeasts, unfiltered base wines and so on.
This will be a fascinating tour and along the way we’ll come across new and delightful wines. Our Growers tours have been influential in the past, on our own programme and perhaps beyond too.