This is the fourth in what will be a series of five posts about my visit to Champagne
- Day 1 – Guided tour of Reims Cathedral and Champagne dinner
- Day 2 – C.I.V.C., Roger Coulon, and Veuve Clicquot
- Day 3 – Louis Roederer, Rene Geoffroy, and Jacquesson
Last month, I had the privilege of traveling to the Champagne region in France as a guest of the U.S. Champagne Bureau for the 2014 Champagne Harvest Media Trip. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about what makes the Champagne region special via visits to 10 producers including large houses, growers and cooperatives. Our visit included exquisite meals too – all paired with Champagne!
Our itinerary for Day 4 included:
- Bérêche & Fils – Visit, tour and tasting
- Billecart Salmon – Visit, tour and tasting
- Bruno Paillard – Visit, tour and tasting
Bérêche & Fils
Bérêche & Fils, located in the village of Ludes, is a family run grower Champagne. It was founded by “Leon and Albert Bereche in 1847 with only 2.5 hectares of vineyard land in Ludes, Champagne. The family mostly produced grapes to sell to larger houses. Beginning in the 1950s, successive generations expanded the property and aquired land in the Vallee de la Marne. Today, the estate has 9.5 hectares spread over 21 parcels in three areas of the Montagne de Reims and the Vallee de la Marne.
Although the family has been producing their own wines since the 1970s, it was the fifth generation of winemakers and the current owners, brothers Raphael and Vincent Bereche, that refocused the estate on production of their own wines and brought international fame and recognition for the impressive results. The brothers studied vineyard management and oenology and practiced their craft in various traineeships. They joined the estate in the early 2000s and quickly established a reputation as talented grower-producers. Through their leadership, the estate has shifted toward naturalistic growing methods that respect the land on which the wines are born”. (Source). They have not used chemicals on their vineyards in 15 years.
In addition to their own Bérêche & Fils label, they have a new second label – Raphaël & Vincent Bérêche, which is their négociant business, where they produced Champagne from purchased grapes. They chose to run their second label under a different name in order to not have to change their status of their entire business grower to négociant. It’s not unusual for successful small growers to supplement their production with purchased grapes.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Raphaël, who gave us a tour of their production facilities. It’s a small operation, and there was a lot of activity as they were preparing for harvest. The day we visited they were racking their reserve wine, and cleaning bottles.
We tasted the following wines:
- NV Bereche et Fils Champagne Brut Réserve
- NV Bereche et Fils Chardonnay Champagne Les Beaux Regards
- NV Bereche et Fils Champagne Campania Remensis (rose)
- 2011 Bereche et Fils Coteaux Champenois Ormes Rouge Les Montées
- NV Bereche et Fils Champagne Reflet d’Antan
- NV Bereche et Fils Champagne Cuvée Côte Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs
- 2002 Bereche et Fils Champagne Vallée de la Marne Brut Millésime
My favorite was the “Les Beaux Regards” bottling. It’s made with 100% Chardonnay from 100 year-old vines in an eponymous parcel that been in the family for three generations. It is dosed as “Extra Brut”(3g/L). It’s a gorgeous, energetic Champagne with a creamy, stone fruit, tart apple, lemon peel, honey and wet stone character.
I came away very impressed all their wines (the 2002 Vallée de la Marne Brut Millésime was also outstanding). While it maybe challenging to find this wine, this is definitely a Grower Champagne to seek out!
See below for gallery of visit to Bereche & Fils
Billecart-Salmon, situated in the village of Mareuil-sur-Ay is an independent and family-owned Champagne House founded in 1818.
It all began in 1818 when Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon founded a Champagne House that was above all conscious of the excellence of its wines.
Since then, every member of the Billecart family has been committed to perpetuate the family tradition through standing by the immutable oath: ‘Give priority to quality, strive for excellence’. – Billecart-Salmon
When we arrived at the Billecart-Salmon estate we were greeted by our guide Jerome, who took us on a tour of the “house”. Unfortunately, as Jerome began his overview of Billecart, I realized I left my notebook on the bus (Doh! – perhaps too much Champagne with lunch?) The tour included the gardens, which were striking (sorry no pics – but here a link to a post that has lots of photos). The estate sits on top of a vast network of underground cellars.
Billecart has a reputation for producing wines that offer excellent value. In particular their multi-vintage Rosé, which retails for $75 is widely considered to be a benchmark for “affordable” Rosé Champagne (I know, I know – $75 buck is a lot of coin, but with increasing demand for Rosé Champagne many retail for well over $100).
We tasted the following wines:
- NV Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rosé
- NV Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
- 2004 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
- 2006 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Extra Brut
- 1999 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Cuvée Nicolas-François Billecart
My favorite was the 1999 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Cuvée Nicolas-François Billecart. It’s a blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay. (10% of the pinot is fermented in barrel) with a fine bead, and a luxuriously delicate and creamy mousse with complex aromas and flavors of poach peaches, mineral, bread dough, and hazelnuts, and a long finish. It’s a very elegant Champagne!
Learned: Champagne should be served around 12c (53-54 degrees) to fully appreciate it’s aromas and flavors. If served too cold, you’ll miss out! And for the first time, I heard someone suggest decanting Champagne. Our host Jerome, suggesting decanting the Cuvée Nicolas-François for an hour. It’s an unorthodox practice, but on the surface it makes sense to me with Champagne that is mature and complex.
These are widely available Champagnes that are worth seeking out that offer very good bang for the buck.
See below for gallery of visit to Billecart-Salmon
“Bruno Paillard’s family lineage of brokers and growers in the two Grand Cru villages of Bouzy and Verzenay dates back to 1704. Following in their footsteps, Bruno began as a broker in 1975, and acquired a deep and extensive knowledge of the region and its wines. In 1981, at the age of 27, he started his own Champagne house – the first new maison in nearly a century. After renting a cellar for three years and purchasing carefully selected grapes from independent growers, Bruno released his first Champagnes. He then built his own cellar, allowing him total control over temperature, lighting and humidity. In 1990 Bruno built his current winery, and in 1994 began purchasing vineyards. He now has 62 acres, almost half of which are Grand Cru. The fruit from these vineyards cover 50% of his production needs and they are farmed organically and sustainably – a rigorous and delicate job given that his holdings are subdivided into 70 different parcels. Bruno sources the remaining fruit through long-term contracts with high-quality, independent growers. Each wine is vinified separately in stainless steel (75%) and oak (25%). The exception is N.P.U. which is fermented and aged entirely in oak.” (Source) Although they are labeled as Brut, all of Paillard’s Champagnes are technically Extra Brut as their dosage is 6 grams or less per liter. Annual production is 450,000 – 500,000 bottles.
Upon arrival at Paillard, we were greeted by Alice Paillard who gave us a tour of their facilities. She explained to use that all their vintage wines feature original art that reflects a theme. For example, the 1996 Brut had the them “Structure and Velvet”. That theme was given to Italian artist Paola Marchesi, who created custom art for the label. Very cool!
We tasted the following wines:
- NV Bruno Paillard Chardonnay Champagne Blanc de Blancs Réserve Privée
- NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée
- NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Rosé Brut Première Cuvée
- 2004 Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs
- 2004 Bruno Paillard Champagne Assemblage Brut
- 1999 Bruno Paillard Champagne Nec Plus Ultra (N.P.U.)
My favorite was the 1999 Nec Plus Ultra (N.P.U.), and the 2004 Brut Blanc de Blancs. Both were stunningly outstanding with creamy, elegant, harmonious character. The NPU, from the excellent 1999 vintage was aged on less 10 years, then bottled aged for another 2+ years! It’s a majestic, full-bodied wine with a cherry, black currant, quince, brioche and honey character. It’s dosed at 4g/L.
Learned: Champagne producers may substitute sugar for time (i.e. rather than aging wine longer, they increase the amount of the dosage)
Paillard was my favorite visit. The wines were all outstanding. I can guaran-damn-tee you I’ll be buying some of these, if I can find them!
See below for gallery of visit to Bruno Paillard
It was a another awesome day in Champagne wine-wise. If you’ve been following this series, you may be wondering why there is no food porn. This was the only day we didn’t have any scheduled lunches or dinner combined with a visit to one of the producers.
And my waist line thanked me for it!
My next (and last) post in this series features a visit to the Cote des Bar – a relatively unknown but important region which makes up more than 20 percent of the appellation’s 17,000 acres.