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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Champagne Uncorked: A Visit to Champagne Louis Roederer

“I'll drink your champagne. I'll drink every drop of it, I don't care if it kills me.” 
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby Girls

My first trip to Champagne, was for me, a complete success. I came away from the trip with a brand new appreciation and a deeper desire to get to know it so much better. With each trip to France, I come away with a profound new respect for a country and its people. A place, I barely knew or understood twelve years ago, back before I started this wine journey I'm currently on. I know this will sound cliched, but I like to think of wine as a journey, it's not a destination.

Each stone you overturn on the path way to discovery, develops greater understanding and appreciation not only for the wine, but for the great folks behind these labels, who bring great traditions and passion to the table. It's evident in what they say, how they say it and oh-so evident in the final product, passion sells and it's contagious. As a result, I'm drinking more Champagne myself, than I ever have before. Perhaps, it's just a bit of carry over from the trip, I did bring three bottles back with me. I'm so glad not a single one of them had an issue, contents under pressure and all. Honestly, since I've been back, Mrs. Cuvee and I've uncorked and enjoyed three or more bottles to the delight of us both. 


I went to Champagne with a great group of fellow explorers, two who had been there before and have written about it extensively. While the rest of us were first timers, exploring this fine region up close and personal. You can see some of them in the image above, meeting up with the LRC communications lead, while I straggled behind to capture this scene. 

A gorgeous marbled hallway greets visitors and employees alike each day, and welcomes you into the grandeur that is Champagne. But of course not all Champagne houses are created equal; Louis Roederer Champagne has to be one of thee most well known and regarded for its consistent quality and passion for only giving the very best effort to produce World Class Champagne. I want to type bubbly, but after a visit to the region, I don't it's right to just refer to it simply as bubbly, that is just too generic in by book, thus Champagne. 

We [LRC] don't make Champagne, we make a wine of Champagne!" ~ Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Louis Roederer’s Chef de Caves

Our group was quickly met by none-the-other than Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Louis Roederer’s Chef de Caves who pointing to the map of the region, he quickly gave us the run down on the vineyards they own versus those grapes which are purchased from growers. Lecaillon explained to us, "Roederer owns 70 percent of its production. We are more of a grower, but we are also négociant, as well."

When we asked about developments in viticulture at Roederer Estate, Lecaillon explained that, since 1996, LRC has been on its own root-stock, supplied from its own nursery. The reason being, we wanted to control our own destiny, we have narrowed our diversity, micro vinafication, it's a true root-stock story, LRC now produces more root-stock then what can be found in the south of France. We now control nearly the whole process, except for the fruit from the growers, who are not willing to take the same risks that we are, especially when it comes to farming biodynamically. 

When asked about biodynamic certification and their use of it at LRC, Lecaillon stated, "We see bio dynamic as a tool. which allows our people to stay hands on with our vineyards. He went onto to say; "We currently have 65 hectares [of 240 plus hectares] we are farming Bionyamically and are certified. When asked if that included the wine making process as well, "he admitted that facet was much tougher to incorporate, but he said they [LRC] are attempting to bring it into the winemaking as well, that is was a long term goal".


While we were there, buckets of grapes were being furiously tested for ripeness levels, but not necessarily to find out when they would pick, because the first allowable date to pick is set by the CIVC and then communicated to the various houses and growers. When asked about brix, a term they don't use, but understand, Lecaillon stated, "Sugar ripeness means nothing to me, in determining the best time to pick", Reorderer is a vineyard driven story, our winemaking is soft ended". 

Regarding the grapes being brought into the wineries crush pad, it's very much a house divided, purchase grapes on one crush-pad and the purchase or contract grapes on the other side. Even the winemaking team which handles the grapes is diverse, but divided, the men are with the purchase grapes and the women work only with estate fruit. 

Why it is divided up as such, Lecaillon explained that men, in general are fixers and will work better with the contract fruit and women, listen, they listen to the voice of the harvest, and to what the grapes are attempting to express. He went on to say; "we match our feeling as a grower and a winemaker in the bottle and keep the two worlds separate, but in control".

Does that recipe of a house divided, but yet still very much equal work, um, well I'll let you do the math, but I think their reputation speaks loudly and proudly on the world stage of wine. I welcome your thoughts below, if you feel so inclined to share them. 


The tasting of the grapes—the direct contact with the earth and the soul of the fruit—dictates future harvests. ~ Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon



At LRC the oval tun remains a classic, in their Brut Premier, because of its subtle woodiness it imparts to the wine, what many recognize as neutral oak; this size of barrel has little impact. This process provides an efficient and authentic solution for maturation and barrel ageing of aromatic white wines like Chardonnay. A grape found in Brut Premier typically compromising 40% of the blend, and although this varies, its typical blending partners are Pinot Noir at 40% and 20% Pinot Meunier.


The Brut Premier is blended from fifty different crus. It is aged for 3 years in LRC cellars and then left for 6 months after the dégorgement or as we were told "the operation". And after an operation, one needs time to convalesce, so does Champagne. This is a delicious
Champagne, which is generous in the mouth, but crisper and cleaner then it use to be seeing it's down to 9.5 grams of RS and it use to be 12. Apples, pears and a snap of citrus, a very pure expression of the Champagne, that's not oxidized, and over delivers on the SR price point of $40, this folks is a no-brainer. 


From the crushing of the grapes, to the aging, the racking, the riddling and as you can see in the image above, even the bottling line is completely done in-house. There is nothing left to chance, there's nothing like controlling your own destiny, and for me personally, it reminds me of something I say often "If you want something done right, then do it yourself".

 Riddling: This daily and delicate operation enables the deposit to gradually settle in the bottlenecks. 

Way, down deep in the underground tunnels of LRC you find bottles of Cristal in what are called Riddling Racks, this tunnel, goes and goes as far at the eye can see. Without the light of my flash, only two lights sources will shine on the bottles which have not been disgorged and are waiting to be turned, the head lamp from the riddler and of a dimly lit lamp above, emitting a yellowish glow. At LRC, they have two full time riddlers for whose only job is to work with the Cristal, it takes them about 6 months to complete the process by hand, where as a machine can get the job done in as little as two weeks. I felt bad flashing these developing wines with my flash, but it was the only way I was going to get the image. 


After a tour of their facilities and formal tasting of a majority of the Champagne they produce, it was time for lunch, where we were treated to 2002 LRC Cristal, my first time having exposure to this much celebrated Champagne, I now see the attraction and why it's price point priced the way it is. I was quite impressed with it's overall profile and flavors, Though to be honest at this point in the day, my pencil was down and I was just enjoying the moment. 

There is more to come about my experience with LRC and I refer to this amazing Champagne house this way, because that is how I see it on the browser tab. I still need to detail, all the tasting notes from 5 other bottles I experienced that fine afternoon. Also are host Frédéric Rouzaud who is head of family-owned Louis Roederer, broke bread with us and had many interesting insights to share with us, things I attempted to write down between bites, sips and slurps.
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1 comment:

Martin Redmond said...

What a great post Bill. I especially appreciate your wonderful photography and your ability to distill the essence of our visit to Champagne Louis Roederer! And like you, it was pen down bottoms up for lunch for me too;-)

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