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Champagne Uncorked: A Visit to Roger Coulon

“The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn't matter which road we embark upon. Maybe what matters is that we embark.” ― Barbara Hall

The year 2017 has come to an end, for many thankfully and for others, it was a year of drastic uncomfortable changes. For me, it has been fun year getting to know a bit about my new surroundings here in Oregon. It's a significant change for me, but I'm embracing it enthusiastically. Since many of you ring in the New Year with Champagne, I'll leave this post from my 2013 adventures in Champagne as the last post of the year. I hope every one of you has a fantastic 2018; I'm looking forward to the many new and exciting adventures just waiting to be uncorked in the new year.  

When I stepped off the plane in Paris and headed over to the train station, conveniently located in the airport, boarded the train to Reims, I knew I was in the right place. I was about to embark upon another wine discovery adventure, my destination laid just ahead of me. After getting my luggage situated above me, I sat down, across from a young lady, who spoke perfect English, she was from the area, she told me I was going to have a great time. She explained that she was a big fan of Champagne herself, but lamented that many of peers were not, but she was glad to hear of Americans interest in her favorite libation.

I was puzzled by her response, but then again, when you live in a country such as France, with a wine culture that spans the centuries, it's easy to take something even as beautiful as Champagne for granted. Perhaps there's a bit of rebellion running through their young minds when they smirk at the ways of the older generation. I can quickly recall, when I was a young boy, there were a plethora of items I turned my nose up at, foods that both my parents consumed with great enthusiasm. Now that I'm the "old-guy" those foods I once despised and took for granted as a child, I now hold dear and consume with great enthusiasm.

I love how the trip was structured, we met with the big guns, the well-established houses, whose names are as familiar, as the blue sky above the vineyards and then we also met with grower producers like Eric Coulon who you see in the picture above. His wife Isabelle, who met us upon our arrival at the cellar door, her English was so much better than my French, which to be honest is pretty much non-existent. But she was a good sport, entertaining our questions and doing her best to answer until Sebastian, one of their employees showed up to give us a quick vineyard tour and who thankfully for us, had a superb grasp of English. But apparently he was a bit unfamiliar with Mrs. Coulon's vehicle, it took more than a few minutes to get it going. But eventually, we headed up a few hills and dales until we landed at the spot you see above with the incredible sweeping views of their vineyards.

If you do visit, realize, they're quite far off the beaten path; when even Edward Champagne didn't recognize them immediately, you know you're on an infrequently explored territory. When the group heard, Roger Coulon is represented by none other than Neal I. Rosenthal; we were all thrilled for this opportunity to sample some excellent grower champagnes. The tasting room, the show barrel room you see below, the offices, conference room, and a gorgeous B&B were all recently updated and modernized. Staying at their B&B is a great idea, a beautiful spot to get away from the drum-beat of everyday living and soak in the Champagne lifestyle.



Great sparkling wines come from all over the world, but only #Champagne comes from Champagne, France 

Upon our arrival, our group of wine writers was introduced to both Eric and Isabelle Coulon. They represent the eighth generation of the Coulon family to be working as recoltant-manipulants [a grower who makes champagne from grapes they grow] who produce Champagne from Vrigny, and they also source some grapes from the surrounding village, some 7500 cases on average. You can find them located in the northwest corner of the Montagne de Reims. 

One of the more unusual things to point out about Champagne Roger Coulon is the fact they have some 'old vine' vineyards of the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay which is used to produce some of their Grand Crus; I say unusual because in Champagne most vines rarely live longer than 25 years. This is something most folks in Champagne consider a curse, rather than a blessing. Continuing with that theme, at Roger Coulon they use something called selection massale to help maintain a consistent flavor profile. You can read more about that process here. I'm not sure we tasted them all because we were short on time, but RC produces six cuvées of Champagne, the grapes are hand harvested, they rely solely upon indigenous yeast, and no herbicides are used to subdue vineyard pressures.


"So I waited with high hopes, and she walked in the place, I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face, if you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain and dig the feel of the ocean and the taste of champagne" ~ Rupert Holmes

Champagne is a fascinating and different wine growing region than most of us are familiar with, especially folks who have grown up here in the states, understanding the basic winemaking model. Here the wines are generally [meaning, yes there exceptions to the rule] produced by winemakers who own their own vineyards and make wine from those grapes they harvest, bottle it, market it, and sell it. In Champagne, things are run quite a bit different. But there are some commonalities. 

Before my visit, I had not really given it much thought, but once there, I realized that in Champagne there something like, 19,000 growers [give or take] who serve a handful of houses. These 'growers' as they've come to be known are responsible for growing and selling grapes to the mega international brands we've all come to know and love, Champagnes like Veuve Clicquot for example, which is sold and wonderfully known around the world. But a few growers thought, hmm, I could cut myself in for a piece of that pie as well, and become not only a grower but a producer. This is just an infinitesimally small summary of the story; so for those really interested there are many fabulous books on the subject, like this by Edward [Champagne] McCarthy, any dummy can easily find here

"A single glass of Champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred, the wits become more nimble." ~ Winston Churchill

The tasting portion of our visit was cut a bit short, and I had to furiously taste, spit and make a few notes about these fantastic Champagnes I was tasting. They were very bright and fresh, not even a hint of that funky monkey oxidation style which I'm not really a fan of too much. These wines were crisp, spoke of the place they came from eloquently and delicate, tasty fruit shined through wonderfully. As I tasted these wines, my first thought was, 'wow' now this is how you do it, and when I got back to the states, I immediately looked for a place to buy their wonderfully, well crafted Champagne.

Roger Coulon Réserve de l’Hommée Premier Cru: All three grapes were present in this fantastic cuvée PN, PM and Chardonnay from the oldest part of their vineyards, aged five years on cork after disgorgement [date found on back label] and before release. The nose was magic, golden apples, vivid pear, a bit of tartness on the mid-palate, a blaze of zippy acidity, dense, tight bubbles, a bit yeasty, more brioche, bright pear, layers of complexity and the finish is sumptuous, like you were drinking the stars. My score for this beauty: 94 points. 

Roger Coulon Brut Millésimé Blanc de Noirs: A gorgeous 50/50 blend of PN and PM, sourced from vines planted in 1953 not on American root-stock, so the production for this bottling is smaller by comparison and a bit more expensive as well. No malo what so ever and just 5 grams of RS dosage, Extra Brut territory. This wine is a sharp, crisp golden color in the glass, orange rinds aromas hover above, light red berries, honey, spices and zippy minerality, the length is long and lasting, a very memorable wine. My score again 94 points, positively outstanding.


I truly was hoping to spend a bit more time with these folks, but as I said earlier, we were running late for our next appointment and sadly needed to leave early to stay on schedule. But now that I know where I can find these wines, I'll be sure to secure a few more for further exploration and research. Until next folks have a great New Year, all the best to you on this Champagne Day, remember life is too short to only drink commodity wines and house Champagnes, explore, try new things; as always slurp long and prosper cheers!

Comments

Nice write-up. I almost felt like I was with you on the tour. Thanks also for the links embedded to help me along my learning journey. Hey, now I know about selection massale!

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