In homage to Growers’ Champagne Month (June, in case you didn’t know), I’ve listed below some of the top names and am highlighting two that are new to me this year. The first is Champagne Guy Charlemagne, winemaker-owners from father to son since 1892, based in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. The second is Champagne Labruyère in Verzenay, which is not only new to me but new to the world.
A quick word on growers’ Champagne. The term simply means a Champagne that is produced by the person/family/estate that grows the grapes. They may have vineyards in a single village or several, but either way they are generally focused on their terroir more than the big houses that buy in most of their grapes and blend them to meet an established house style. Put another way, the style of a grower’s Champagne is dictated more by the land itself and its response to each year’s weather conditions.
Growers’ Champagnes are also, inevitably, on a smaller scale. Guy Charlemagne has 15ha and Champagne Labruyère has (for the time being) 7ha. The term for this kind of Champagne producer in France is récoltant-manipulant, identified on the label by the tiny letters RM preceding their official code number.
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Mesnillésime Blanc de Blancs Vieilles Vignes Extra Brut 2008, £58
An exceptional Champagne. Pale straw with fine, meltingly soft bubbles and enticing aromas of honeyed lemon, apricot and bready richness. The palate is intense, textured and finely structured, with deep bready notes and sustained lime-zest freshness. Very pure, complex and long. Drinking beautifully now, or, if stored properly, any time over the next 7+ years. A very reasonable price for the quality. This is Philippe Charlemagne’s top cuvée and is made entirely from 60-year-old vines in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. It’s partly fermented and aged in used Burgundy barriques and partly in stainless steel. There’s no malolactic and the dosage was 4g/l.
The other two Guy Charlemagne cuvées I tried (both with a dosage of 6g/l) were the Réserve Brut, (£32.50) a Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs from the two Grands Crus of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger, and the Cuvée Charlemagne Les Coulmets 2012 (£42), from a single vineyard of 45-year-old Chardonnay vines in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. These are carefully made, well-articulated Champagnes that show integrity and purity. I would have liked to see both with a little more lees age, but bottle age will add depth, so buy and keep a while if you can.
All the Guy Charlemagne Champagnes are sold by Gerrard Seel, gerrardseel.co.uk
A new Champagne grower and producer but not a new wine producer: the Labruyère family, led by seventh generation Edouard, is the principal shareholder in Domaine Jacques Prieur in Meursault and owns Domaine Labruyère in Moulin-à-Vent (where Edouard was born) and Château Rouget in Pomerol. Knowing at the outset that he wanted to produce Champagne that reflected its origin, rather than just the Champagne process, and to which he could apply some of the experience gained in Burgundy, it took Edouard Labruyère eight years to find the terroir he wanted. The two vineyards, in the Montagne de Reims Grand Cru of Verzenay, are planted with 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, and were finally bought in 2010 and 2012 from two growers who used to sell to the big names, especially Dom Pérignon. The Labruyère philosophy includes quite severe pruning to restrict yields, picking late to achieve natural alcohol of at least 10.2, and vinifying each parcel separately with natural yeasts and partially (25%) in used barrels from Jacques Prieur. Three Champagnes have been released so far, all based on 2012 with 5% each of 2010 and 2011.
Champagne Labruyère Page Blanche Blanc de Blancs, £52.85
All Chardonnay. 2 years on lees. Dosage of 3.2g/l. Fine bubbles. Exotic, fresh aromas of green apple, sweet citrus, apricot, spice and orange. Elegant, fine-boned palate with delicate lemon, floral, fresh pear and chalky notes, a pashmina-soft texture and lingering lime-citrus finish.
Champagne Labruyère Prologue Brut, £39.65
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. 3 years on lees. Dosage of 4.8g/l. Has some the same exotic notes as the Page Blanche, but in a richer, sweeter way with an added note of jasmine. Richness and concentration come through on the palate, but reined in and pulled tight by youthful austerity. Long, vibrant finish.
Champagne Labruyère Anthropologie Rosé, £46.25
A blend of 93% Prologue with 7% red wine from Bouzy. Almost 3 years on lees. Dosage of 6.4g/l. Pretty, bold colour. A basket of summer red fruits on the nose and a palate of summer-pudding fruit flecked with orange and spice. Fleshy, fine and long.
Champagne Labruyère is imported and sold by Corney & Barrow, corneyandbarrow.com
Recommended Growers’ Champagnes – by no means a definitive list
Pierre Gimonnet Marc Hébrart
Vilmart et Cie
Photographs by Joanna Simon