If Champagne's history has been the story of the Grand Marques, perhaps its future will give more space to the growers, récoltant manipulants, who own their vineyards and make some of the region's most distinctive wines. Champagne's marginal climate and labour intensive techniques mean making wine on a small scale is not for the faint hearted. But in the right hands, and with the right philosophy, the level of independence enjoyed by these growers can allow the production of exceptionally fine wines; thrilling, terroir driven, individual and offering superb value for money.
Without the marketing or scale of the larger firms, many of these small growers remain under the radar and require a little detective work to find.
About Le Brun Servenay
We were lucky enough to find time to visit this domaine. Unfortunately we missed meeting Patrick, but were taken through the range by his endearing son, Gauthier. With each cuvée presented to us, we were blown away by the shear quality of the wines. These wines have been flying under the radar for too long.
The Brun family have been growing grapes in the Côte de Blancs, famous for Chardonnay production, for four generations and is now run by the ever-energetic Patrick Le Brun. Not only has Patrick been instrumental in the success of Le Brun Servenay since 1991, but in the past he also managed to find time to preside of the Syndicat General des Vignerons, a position he was elected into by fellow producers. The house was established in 1933 with only 8ha, predominantly in the Grand Cru of Avize and small parcels in Cramant and Oger.
Stylisically, these wines are of defining purity with a nervous energy and minerality. You will not find any oak barrels in the cellar, with all wines being fermented in tank and never going through malolatic fermentation. Patrick is looking for freshness over ripeness and is not a fan of oxidative components in his wines (unlike some other producers of Azive such as Selosse or Agrapart).
About Marc Hébrart
Marc Hébrart was our last stop on our whirlwind, two day visit to Champagne. We had visited over eight producers during that time and were quite exhausted by the time we knocked on the door at Marc Hébrart. After a brief discussion with the very laid-back and stylish Jean-Paul Hébrart about the background and history of the domaine, our palates immediately overcame their exhaustion when served the first wine in the line-up.
Jean-Paul took over from his father, Marc, in 1997 who created the domaine in 1964. Jean-Paul farms just under 15ha from 65 different parcels in the Vallée de la Marne region, all which are vinified separately. Predominantly growing Pinot Noir, Jean-Paul experiments with barrel fermentation and puts all his the wines through full malolatic, giving the wines additional dimension and complexity.
The domaine has been a member of the Special Club since 1985. It is an exclusive club of only 28 growers all dedicated to improving the quality, and terroir expression, of the Champagne region. Each year, members are able to submit what they believe is their best cuvée to be tasted blind and approved by the board members. If approved, they are able to bottle the cuvée under the Special Club label.
(Above: Will from the Trade Team taking lots of notes!)