The revival of old winemaking methods

Feb 24, 2021 • 4 mins

For some years now, a new generation of Champagne producers has been bringing the use of ancestral winemaking methods back into fashion.

How do I best transcribe the expression of the terroir into my own wines? That is the tricky question that many wine producers, in Champagne, as in other wine regions, are trying to find the answer to.

First of all, let’s try to define this concept of terroir. Often overused and put forward as a sales argument, terroir consists of a set of plots located in a single village with the same type of soil and within the same wine region.

Then, let's look back over our history. "Champagne is a blended wine" says Marie-Laure Copinet, a talented champagne producer from the Sézanne area. "We blend several to obtain a style that embodies a Champagne House’s savoir-faire".

Thanks to the work of a growing number of winegrowers who are deciding to launch their own champagnes, different personalities and styles are emerging. Etienne Calsac represents this bright-eyed generation who are currently shaking things up in the region.

Forget the lovely history-laden underground cellars dug deep into the chalk; here the cellar is modest and located next to a supermarket. "When I set up, I knew right from the start that I wanted to work with the forgotten grape varieties" says the young 30-something producer. The Arbane and Petit Meslier, old and still little-known grape varieties, are getting a new lease of life. So how are these different wines that take on their own unique style vinified? "For my Les Revenants champagne, I blend three varietals in a single barrel (600 litres)" Etienne Calsac explains. "After 7 months ageing, it will wait two more years in the cellar".

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The Copinets, Alexandre and Marie-Laure, prefer to use a foudre (large oak barrel) for better oxygenation and, more surprisingly, they also use an egg-shaped tank. "This year, we are launching a 100% Chardonnay champagne born in a clay soil and aged in a clay egg" Marie-Laure proudly tells us. This process allows the wine to evolve in its natural environment.

Let's continue our exploration of the old winemaking methods…

In the heart of the Montagne de Reims, a couple of self-taught and naturally experimental champagne producers are vinifying a little-known grand cru, that of Puisieulx. Aurore Casanova and Jean-Baptiste Robinet work and age the Chardonnays and Pinots separately. To prevent their wines from taking on an oaky character, they use old barrels and allow the first fermentation to occur naturally. "Through the intelligent use of barrels we can take the transcription of our soils further" explains Aurore, who used to be a professional dancer.

These men and women, who have gained experience working abroad, are now championing sustainable viticulture, creating a new taste experience that highlights the typical characteristics of the different soils. The big Champagne Houses no longer have the monopoly on “terroir”, and a new, fired-up generation is emerging determined to bring previously overlooked grape varieties back into the limelight.

Our favourites

Champagne Etienne Calsac, « les Revenants »

A stunning blend of three lesser-known grape varieties: Pinot Blanc, Arbane and Petit Meslier. This is a cuvée produced in a very small quantity (800 bottles) but which shows that a champagne is, above all, a fine wine. The nose is fresh and reminiscent of white flowers, the entry on the palate is incisive yet luscious, great elegance!

Price: around 80 €

Champagne Marie-Laure Copinet, « Argilla-Villonissa »

This champagne, respectful of the soil from which it originates, is a resounding success. Crafted from grapes grown in a clay soil, we find a champagne with a powdery and slightly smoky texture on the palate, along with fine bubbles. This wine made by craftsmen is an art unto itself.

Price: around 60€