• Is the Cru System a 'Cru'cial guide to quality?

    The Échelle des Crus vineyard rating system was introduced in the early to mid twentieth century to categorise individual grape producing villages “crus” in Champagne, providing them with a percentile score.

    The intention of the system was to ensure growers received a fair price for their grapes. However, since its inception just 17 villages have received the 100% rating and therefore classification as Grand Cru. Forty-four villages have attained a rating between 90% - 99% gaining Premier Cru status, even if this is just for their Chardonnay or Pinot Noir variety. According to our original Larmat Vinicole Atlas dated from 1944, the cru system descended as low as 6th Cru with a rating less than 50% in an area of the Vallée de la Marne farmed by the excellent biodynamic producer Françoise Bedel who is producing truly wonderful cuvées.

    Each harvest-time a price was set for a kilo of grapes and the villages received their percentage of that price according to their rating on the Échelle des Crus. For example, the Premier Cru village of Écueil was rated at 90%; therefore growers received 90% of the set price for their grapes.

    Whilst we do not know to what extent this practice exists today (we imagine contracts between the Négoces and Récoltants relate more to quality), it does seem that despite its clear unfairness and outdated inadequacies, much is still made of the Cru system – even by champagne houses and producers, with many displaying Grand Cru or Premier Cru on their labels.

    How an entire village can be given the same rating when it consists of multiple plots with differing geology, farmed differently by people with different methods and skill levels is clearly no longer suitable for a modern champagne. Surely the fairest system would be to rate each plot individually according to its own merits and the manner in which it is tended? Only then can the Cru system maintain its validity and integrity.

    The overriding factor which determines grape quality must surely be the vision, endeavour, methods and skill of the grower? Yes geology can play its part but it is not the single defining factor. Likewise, a plot may have everything in its favour and deemed as Grand Cru but farmed poorly will yield poor quality grapes.

    To have no Pinot Meunier villages or any villages from the southern regions of the Aube, Côte des Bar or Sézannes classified as high as Premier Cru is quite frankly insane.

    So according to the Échelle des Crus the following villages which are home to some excellent and often World Class domaines are apparently not even worthy of Premier Cru status. On the Montagne de Reims and Petite Montagne de Reims: Gueux – Jérôme Prévost, Courmicy/Cauroy-lès-Hermonville – Francis Boulard, Merfy – Chartogne-Taillet, Villers-aux-Nœuds – Emmanuel Brochet. In the Vallée de la Marne: Baslieux-sous-Châtillon – Franck Pascal, Cerseuil – Dehours et Fils, Villers-sous-Châtillon – Collard-Picard, Crouttes-sur-Marne – Françoise Bedel, Oeuilly – Tarlant, Fossoy – A. Robert. Épernay and the Côteaux Sud d’ Épernay: Épernay – Janisson-Baradon, Chavot – Laherte Frères. Aube/Côte des Bar and Sézanne: Celles-sur-Ource – Roses de Jeanne/Cedric Bouchard and Cheurlin L & S, Buxières-sur-Arce – Vouette et Sorbée, Montgeux – Jacques Lassaigne, Les Riceys – Olivier Horiot, Buxeuil – Vincent Couche, Talus-Saint-Prix – Jeaunaux-Robin, Fouchères – Cœssens Largillier, Congy – Ulysse Collin. These are just a handful of examples of talented vignerons who clearly produce top-quality grapes and indeed superb champagnes.

    So whilst many houses and producers still adorn their labels with Grand Cru or Premier Cru, this alone is not an indication of quality. It is therefore important to do ones homework and get to know the domaine and their cuvées.

    After all, the crucial factor is the vigneron!

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  • The Cost of Making Champagne

    We all have a good idea of the price of all sorts of different bottles of champagne but have you ever wondered what costs are involved in champagne production?

    A state of the art press could easily set you back over €1m for example. However, stock items such as a custom made foudre; is still a hefty €15,200.

    This is the cost facing Francis Boulard and daughter Delphine who require a new 25 hectolitre cask in order to increase storage capacity for their cuvée Petræa. This incredible wine is produced using the perpetual blending method. This involves building up a base wine whereupon 25% of the cuvée is created using the new harvest whilst part of the old wine is drawn out. This continues year on year, thus creating a complex and multi-layered wine.

    Cuvée Petræa is an absolute delight, produced from plots in the Vallée de la Marne and Montagne de Reims which are farmed biodynamically. The soil here consists of clay and limestone and the assemblage is 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. It is a brut nature, meaning there is no dosage.

    In order to raise capital for this venture, Francis; a keen user of social media has found an innovative solution by means of “crowdfunding” through the Fundovino platform, a crowdfunding website for vignerons.

    Crowdfunding is essentially a way for people to financially support a project on behalf of the project owner, sometimes for little return. Francis’ project gives the donor a myriad of bubbly options for their financial support.

    For example, some of the options available:

    €5 will earn a thank you on the Champagne Francis Boulard et Fille website.

    €20 will earn a five cuvée tasting at the Boulard domaine.

    €35 will earn a bottle of “Les Murgiers” extra brut.

    €50 will earn a bottle of Millésime 2006.

    €80 will earn a bottle of “Les Murgiers” extra brut and a bottle of “Les Rachais”.

    €150 will earn a bottle each of “Les Murgiers” extra brut, “Les Rachais” and “Petræa”.

    €300 will earn six bottles of “Les Murgiers” extra brut and six bottles of “Rosé de Saignée plus a five cuvée tasting at the domaine.

    €500 will earn three bottles each of “Les Rachais 2009” and “Petræa” (last harvest 2007), plus a five cuvée tasting at the domaine.

    So in this case, the donor not only gets to support a great champagne producer to continue their work but can choose a package which gives back value for money in return.

    Francis and Delphine are 35% toward achieving their goal. To see our review of their champagnes, click on the drop-down tab under the “In Focus” heading and if you would like to support Francis and Delphine, please log onto www.fundovino.com/en/projects/16

    *****UPDATE*****

    As of 15th September 2014, Francis and Delphine are now 60% towards acheiving their €15200 target.

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  • Welcome to Champagne Discovery

    Welcome to our website. My wife and I are Champagne enthusiasts who love both the wine and the region. We have been touring the area for the last fifteen years, as often as our funds have allowed! We are not professionals but ordinary, working people who have simply become immersed in our passion.

    For the last ten years, we have been focusing our attention on the hidden gems, the artisans of Champagne. Those smaller, quality conscious producers and grower-producers (domaines) who create excellent wines that are also great value for money.

    Like many people we are becoming more interested in the provenance of our food and drink and champagne is no exception. It is now quite commonplace to find producers who work organically and biodynamically.

    We are always on the look-out for the next new houses and cuvées to excite our senses. This website will hopefully share some of our experiences and arduous tasting expeditions!

    Regular contributors to the Champagne-Ardenne forum on Tripadvisor, we can be found hiding behind the moniker: PsychoWarthog.

    We hope you enjoy the site and will follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also contact us via the ‘Contact & Links’ tab on the homepage. We will endeavour to respond as quickly as possible and are happy to answer any questions or help with trip ideas.

    Santé

    Lee and Gita

    "Don't wait for that special occasion to drink champagne. Create that special occasion by drinking champagne".

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