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Dan Probert explores Champagne

By David Wyatt, also posted in News on

Louis RoedererTo Champagne! More specifically the Louis Roederer Vineyards, press-houses, cellars and tasting rooms in Reims. Six other excited guests and I were treated to a wonderful whirlwind trip through the regions guided by Mark Bingley MW and Martine Lorson from Louis Roederer. After an early morning trip on the Eurostar and the TGV, we arrived in Reims. We had an interesting look around some of the vineyard areas in Reims and in Ay. Many Champagne houses have deals with growers and buy grapes from selected plots, and many growers don’t make wines from their grapes but make a living from selling-on the grapes. However, Louis Roederer have spent lots of time and effort in investing in the best plots of land in the best areas across the whole of the Champagne region. To make their Brut Premier Champagne, 70% of the grapes come from vines they own, which compared to most other Champagne houses is very high. It means they can be absolutely sure about the quality of growth, harvest times and yields of fruit. All of these little factors affect to the most important bit in wine, the grapes! Without excellent quality fruit, you can’t make excellent quality wines. Although rain was predicted, the weather held out for our wander around Louis Roederer vineyards. They are very ‘hands on’ with the vines and are constantly assessing the development of the vines, they are even practicing Biodynamic Viticulture on some plots to see if there is a marked difference in the wines. The 2012 vintage may be a tricky one, the high rainfall and low temperatures mean that ripening may be a problem, so many growers are hoping for at least a dry July and August and a rise in temperatures would be beneficial. We’ll just have to wait and see, but this is why many growers and champagne houses have vineyards spread out across the whole region, to increase their chances of harvesting a good number of good quality grapes. The press house in the small village of Ay is one of the older ones and the house also has room to accommodate the team of 150 pickers that descend on the vineyards in September. There are three of the old style vertical presses made of wood, and each can press three tonnes of grapes. The system is an ancient one but still works incredibly well and although the newer presses elsewhere are twice as big and made of stainless steel, these ones retain some charm about them and it would be sad to retire them. The evening dinner was delicious and thoughtfully accompanied by some wines also part of the Roederer portfolio. It’s a small portfolio but the wines we had, Domaine Ott Provençal Rosé and Semillion, Chateau Haut-Beausejour in Bordeaux and Quinta Ramos Pinto Tawny Port were all absolutely stunning. The next morning saw an intriguing trip to the cellars and winery in Reims where the magic happens. All the winemaking, ageing and bottling is done right here and we got to see the inner workings of the winery from fermentation vats (a mixture of mostly stainless steel and a tiny proportion of oak), the classic pupitres for remouage by hand (riddling) right through to the robots that control everything from bottling, washing, labeling and boxing finished bottles of wine. A strange mix of old traditional techniques seamlessly coupled with modern machinery. The bottling line was as mesmerising as the rows and rows of 6000-litre oak casks of up to ten-year-old reserve wines. Reserve wines are the still wines used for topping up the bottles after removing the sediment from the second fermentation. The end of the tour included a rare opportunity to taste the full range of Roederer Champagnes. From the Burt Premier NV right through Blanc de Blancs, Vintage, Rosé and, most enjoyably Cristal. Eponymous with quality and excellence, Cristal is the pinnacle of Louis Roederer Champagnes, one of the top three Cuvée Prestige Champagnes in the world alongside Krug and Dom Perignon. Only available to the public since 1924 after previously being exclusively produced at the request of the Russian Tsars, hence the unique and distinctively lavish bottle, and taste! Overall an amazing trip, solidifying all the glitz and glamour associated with Champagne but in a way totally justifying it. You have to see it for yourself to understand the complexities and cost of producing such a wine. But hopefully tasting it will go a little way? Dan Probert is Store Manager at Adnams Cellar & Kitchen Store in Holt. You can read more from Dan on his wine blog - and find photos from Dan's trip on Adnams Holt's Facebook page. If Dan has whetted your appetite for fine fizz, why not try our own Adnams Champagne?


David Wyatt