The meunier revival
Although the second most planted varietal in Champagne, the Meunier has suffered from a lack of popularity. But it is now back with a bang thanks to a few growers and champagne houses, keen to see it revived and vinifying it pure.
A traditional linchpin varietal, the Meunier has been the most widely planted grape in Champagne for some 20 years and currently accounts for 30% of the plantings (11,000 hectares). This is a surprisingly high percentage given its lack of popularity. But times are changing. A handful of diehards, led by Éric Taillet, set up the “Meunier Institut” in 2015 with the aim of putting the varietal back on the map by vinifying it pure.
“It has long been underrated and is most commonly used as part of a brut blend. It’s also suffered at the hands of certain producers more interested in quantity than quality”. Its high production capacity has not done it any favours either, as this rustic vine, hardy in the vineyards yet fragile in the vat room, is particularly well-suited to marlyclay soils with a high loam and low limestone content, cool land at the bottom of the slopes, and the white soils of the Surmelin valley. “It needs clay!” explains Eric Taillet who grows 6 hectares and produces no less than 5 extra-brut Meunier cuvées. In the past, it struggled to reach maturity, but it now benefits from a warmer climate. “We harvest it at perfect ripeness, a week before the Chardonnays even!”
This is the case for the brut 1er cru blanc de Meunier by Leclerc-Briant, Terre de Meunier extra-brut by Dehours & Fils, La Vigne d’Or by Tarlant and Les Murgiers extra-brut by Francis Boulard, all of which have been a big hit with champagne fans.
A growing number of producers are championing a 100% Meunier blend. Francis Egly (Egly-Ouriet) did not wait for the varietal’s recent surge in popularity. Les Vignes de Vrigny 1er cru, a meunier from 2 hectares of old vines, is one of his iconic champagnes. Although it is mainly the family champagne houses driving this revival, some of the bigger names, like Gosset, are also starting to take note… The wheels are in motion!