The region of Champagne has a long-standing tradition on how winemakers conduct their craft. However, despite tradition, or rather in respect of it, it is often necessary for one to reinvent themselves. A new generation of wine drinkers are on their way, and many young wine lovers are looking back to tradition, the Old World. They want a story, a product with an artistic touch, something different, but with regards and respect of our environment.
In speaking of the new generation of wine consumers, there is also a new generation emerging on the other side of the fence; the producers, the growers and the winemakers. The region of Champagne and its EU wine laws will always hold true to tradition and how their bubbly is made. However, the new generation of winery and estate owners who find themselves inheriting estates in our new world, are finding some wiggle room to express their artistic side while conforming to tradition.
To make Champagne, winemakers must first craft a base wine. Each Champagne house has their very own recipe. These are recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation, an estate’s signature. It is after the blend of the base wine, which has been made and finished, that the bubbles can then be added. The newer generation is changing things up on that base blend.
A New Generation of Champagne
At Champagne Dosnon & Lepage, the two proprietors found themselves with inherited vineyards from their family, a modest two hectares in Avirey-Lingey. They also purchase fruit from other neighboring growers in the same region. The pair is new on Champagne scene, starting only around 2005, but this is where they grew up. Dosnon studied winemaking and viticulture and has worked at reputable Champagne houses, and Lepage was studying criminal law in Paris, but decided he would return to his hometown and the two would make Champagne.
Dosnon & Lepage are among a few others in their region who want to express their terroir through their Champagne. When tradition was much about the region and the grapes used and expressing fruit through the blended wine and fine bubbles, the new generation is looking more at showcasing their roots, their terroir.
It all begins in the vineyards and many Champagne houses, that of Jean-Paul Hebrart, D&L, Champagne Fleury and Champagne Person in Vertus are going organic, or even a bit further into biodynamic. The use of pesticides for these estates are a thing of the past and they look towards more eco-friendly and progressive ways to meet the challenges they face working with Mother Nature. After even a few years of going organic or biodynamic, they are already seeing changes in their fruit. More natural nuances not presented before with conventional farming are showing themselves as are more balanced fruit with more present acidity. It is the objective of all to have the least amount of impact, and it is paying off. D&L go just a bit further with some of their profits going towards 1% For the Planet.
The Organic Champagne Movement
With improved fruit of organic and more conscious growing practices, there is a little more room to work with the fruit and how it is made into the base wine. While fruit nuances for the new generation of Champagne are something of secondary appeal to enhancing terroir, both D&L and Jean-Paul Hebrart make a base wine in which they age in oak barrels for a time before the wine is bottled and then put through their secondary fermentation to add the famous bubbles. While this practice and special touch may take some extra time, it is much appreciated. The oak aging adds a layer of complexity to the acidity and minerality from their terroir. It is a touch of savory and spice to wines which traditionally are known for bright citrus and crisp acidity. The layer of oak also compliments with nuances from the soil and natural minerality of the wine. These layers can be experienced before the wine even reaches one’s lips. As the bubbles travel up the glass and expel their perfume upon popping, aromas of terroir and spices from oak are sensed, which makes for a very interesting first sip.
How does one enjoy the new generation of Champagne? Well, unless it is a vintage Champagne or that of a fuller-body, most traditional bottles are best when served as chilled as possible. Warmer champagne often only makes for harsh acidity and discomfort of the bubbles on the palate. Some of these new versions are being recommended for decanting before serving, according to Vincent Couche of Cote des Bar of the Champagne region, who is also branching out into other styles of blending and artistry with his wine. Wines with more character and more body, should be served at around 54-57 degrees F (12-14C). Pair them with slightly aged or semi-soft cheeses or enjoy them even with a main dish like pastas with cream sauces or slow-roasted pheasant and the like, or just enjoy them as they are, and experience what they have to offer. A second bottle with an orchestrated meal can be arranged later on.