Why is this Wine so Yummy?
Disgorged March 2019. Minéral is blended from two adjacent vieilles vignes plots (50+ years old) of similar, chalky, Grand Cru soils on the border between Avize and Cramant. The fruit from Le Champ Boutons in Avize is fermented in tank, while the component from Bionnes in Cramant is vinified in 600-litre oak casks. Dosage is 3 g/L and the wine has spent some 70 months on lees. This is always the saltiest, racy, mineral wine in the Agrapart range and the 2012 is no exception. As you might expect from such a great vintage, this is a sensational Minéral and fans of this wine should not hesitate. In a few years, with time on cork, it will be even greater.
Pascal Agrapart is a grower at the top of his game. In France, he is now routinely compared to his neighbour Anselme Selosse, even though the style of wine produced by these two men is markedly different. If you were looking for a Burgundian analogy, you could think of Selosse as Lafon to Agrapart’s Coche. Both in the same village, both exceptional quality, yet both growing wines that are very different. In short, Agrapart picks earlier, uses larger, older wood and bottles earlier, resulting in wines that are less influenced by oxygen. Stylistic differences aside, the quality is on a very similar level which is why La Revue du vin de France is now giving both growers the same three star rating (their highest classification, handed out to only seven Champagne producers in total). Avize has always been a special village, and today, thanks to Agrapart and Selosse, it is at the heart of the great grower movement in Champagne.
• Vineyards are ploughed (some by horsepower), no chemical pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides are ever used and the fruit is, of course, harvested manually.
• Production is tiny, with no more than 6000 cases produced in any given year, and vine age is among the oldest in the Côte des Blancs (between 35 and 60+ years old with around 70% of the vines at 40+ years. Yields are kept very low.
• The average potential alcohol at harvest is very high for the region, normally around 11 degrees, and Agrapart almost never has to chaptalise.
• The grapes are pressed with a traditional Coquard vertical press, and fermentation is carried out with natural yeasts, which Agrapart feels is crucial to the expression of terroir. Malolactic fermentation is completed for all the wines, and aging is for the most part in old, 600-litre demi-muids.
• Dosage, which is done with a traditional liqueur d’expédition of cane sugar, varies from wine to wine, although it is usually around 3/4 g/L. Cuvée Venus is non-dosé.
I don’t know who coined the term “Grower Champagne”, when you see it, make sure you take a second look before you move on. Champagne producers are split into three groups:
- Houses that make over-cropped boring fizz, battery acid with bubbles and a bit of alcohol.
- Bigger houses that are pushing hard to make yummy wine, own some of their vineyards, buy a lot of grapes and have some exceptional super cuvées (top wines – think Dom Pérignon).
- Grower producers that grow 100% of their grapes themselves and make wines that have bags of personality.
Agrapart sits comfortably in the Grower group. Doing all the little 1 percenters in the vineyard and winery that make the difference between a drink and a pleasure fest!
Visit the vineyards and you’ll see horse-drawn ploughs and during the pruning and harvesting seasons the same faces year after year. That kind of continuity just makes for deep knowledge and empathy for the vineyards that = great wine.
In the winery, the effort goes in with the use of old oak barrels and foudré, large format barrels reaching into the 1000’s of litres each. Lees stirring, re-suspending yeast from fermentation that has settled to the bottom of the barrel to add extra creaminess and complexity. Use of carefully crafted reserve wines in the blends. Reserve wines are older wines that are a blend of several different years, often stored in foudré. Their use imparts complexity and generosity that you wouldn’t see in the wine until it had been aged for much longer in bottle were it not for their use.
All of these things only have a positive impact when the fruit is of quality, has the depth to handle oxygen contact and be improved by it rather than fall apart.
Combined the effort in the vineyard and winery result in layered, complex, yummy wine, with bags of personality.
Where in Champagne are Agrapart’s Vineyards
Based in Avize, Agrapart works an astonishing 70 micro-plots in the Côte des Blancs, mostly in Avize yet with plots in Cramant, Oiry and Oger as well. These villages are home to many of the best Chardonnay growing sites in Champagne.
The map below shows the main sub-regions of Champagne
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From left to right Champagne vineyards by Soil Type, Aspect and Dominant Varietal
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