As harvest is once again upon us, I thought it would be fun to elaborate on a few Champagne producers who have been working in a different way for a few decades and who have come together under the name Trait-d'Union.
The group is made up of Champagne Selosse, Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, Champagne Coulon, Champagne Jacquesson, Champagne Egly-Oriet and Champagne Jacques Prevost - six contemporaries, friends and Champagne de Terroir pioneers.
Trait-d'Union is a dash, or hyphen; the little (-) symbol which links individual words together. The words keep their individual meaning, yet the dash links them to the other words. The Trait-d'Union Group chose this name for exactly that reason; they are individual growers linked by a shared respect for their land and their focus on quality, yet they remain very much their own entities. Or, put in a more poetic way as done by them in spring:
"A common appellation
Paths that cross
Villages that share
Gestures that connect and give a sense
Of wines of reference
From the same sun and different soils
A moment ‘avisé’
A hyphen. ‘Trait-d-union’ "
I visited four of the six members and was very impressed by the quality and uniqueness of the Champagnes. This is probably linked to the strong character of each of the vignerons and the fact that they all focus on quality, terroir and a living soil. Below is a little more information on the four producers I visited, and my version of their grape growing and wine making philosophies.
Anselme Selosse struck me first and foremost as a very charismatic philosopher, a rebellious winemaker always on the look out to push the boundaries. As we arrived, we spoke about Buñuel, Sartre, education and upbringing long before we got on to the subject of wine. Anselme believes that we all need something to escape to, an emotional exuberant revelation. This is what he strives for in his wines. His work as a winemaker revolves around three axes - the wine making, the terroir and harmony. He compares his winery to an artist's studio - the place where an artist can express himself most freely and in harmony.
In the vineyard, it is all about healthy soil and the ecosystem that comes with it - soil as part of nature is an interdependent system. There is a whole community living in and around the earth. Only through respecting this community, limiting the yields and picking at full ripeness will the fruit from the vines express the unique flavors inherent to the terroir. The focus on authenticity continues in the winery, where he practices minimal intervention wine making. Base wines are fermented using the indigenous yeasts on the grapes and are aged in wooden barrels and vats on their lees until the summer. Harmony is a key word for Anselme Selosse - instead of intervention (in the vineyard, winery). He wants to blend into the background to fulfill his role in the delicate ecosystem.
The result is indeed unique. The Selosse Champagnes have a wonderful saline and little oxidative character as well as a rich mouthfeel and texture - which in my opinion are the perfect expression of Anselme's terroir, which very much includes him, in the Cotes des Blancs.
At Champagne Coulon I met with Isabelle Coulon, who's husband, Eric, is an eighth generation winegrower and has been making Champagne for more than 30 years in Vrigny in the Montagne de Reims.
Isabelle spoke about the soul of the terroir (the soil, the vines and the grapes) in Champagne as well as the soul of the winemaker (his passion and history), and how they try to reflect these two principles in the Champagnes they produce. Their Collection Reference is the expression of the winemaker. These wines are exuberant and vivacious, much like Eric Coulon. The Collection Emprinte, on the other hand, focuses on the terroir and aims to express the essence of the place. Like Selosse, Eric Coulon believes in balance and harmony in the vineyard as in the winery. He feels we have to adapt ourselves to nature and work towards biodiversity to preserve the unique ecosystem through which the terroir can express itself. This is also why he uses indigenous yeasts in the wine making process. His terroir wines (Emprinte) are pure, with excellent mineral notes and a great tension on the palate.
Pierre Larmandier is another cult figure when one talks about Champagne de Terroir. He took over the family business in 1988 and that same year created his first single vineyard wine - Les Vieilles Vignes de Cramant. Since 1995, Larmandier produces a second single vineyard wine - Terre de Vertus non dosee - which is the pure expression of Chardonnay in Vertus in a specific year.
The common tread remains with the working of the soils and a balanced ecosystem. In 1992, Pierre started to work the soils and eliminate chemicals in the vineyard. He started farming bio-dynamically from 1999. Pierre's approach consists of really trying to understand every aspect that may affect the vine and hence the fruit. In the winery, natural wine making techniques prevail. The wines are fermented with their indigenous yeasts and remain 8-10 months on their lees, as Pierre believes that the lees in the still wine (rather than in the sparkling wine) are what will define and characterize his wines. The Larmandier wines are fresh, pure and very linear with slight saline and umami notes on the back palate.
Champagne Jacquesson is the only "negociant" in the Trait-d'Union group. The house was established in 1798 in Chalons-en-Champagne and was purchased by the Chiquet family in 1974 and moved to Dizy. For the last 20 years, the house has been run by Jean-Herve and Laurent Chicquet, who work in style very much like the other members of Trait d'Union and focus on a healthy ecosystem in the vineyard and minimal intervention wine making. Jacquesson manages and farms 30 HA of vineyard and has reduced grapes purchases to 20 percent. All grape suppliers have worked with the family for a long time and are located in villages from where Jacquesson farms as well. Besides their excellent non vintage Champagne, the only NV Champagne for which the name changes from year to year, Jacquesson produces four different single vineyard or Lieu Dit Champagnes if the vintage allows it. These wines are often aged longer and are opulent, complex and layered, but still amazingly fresh.
The other two members Champagne Egly-Oriet and Champagne Jerome Prevost. Both make Champagne in the same style and of a similar quality. Both are known for their excellent Pinot Meunier wines, which I have included in my Trait d'Union Champagne list. The wines on this list are some of the most sought after wines for many a Champagne lover, as they are pure as well as rare. The six producers of Trait-d'Union have inspired many a younger generation of Champagne grower to follow in their footsteps. And slowly, at least partly thanks to them, a more Burgundian notion of terroir has been developing in Champagne.