Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 25

PHOTO OF DOMINIQUE MOREAU BY CLAY MCLACHLAN

ing agent that Champagne mak-
ers customarily add at the end of
the aging period. They label the
wine Extra Brut when they add
less than 6 g/l, or Brut Nature
when they add no dosage. This is
an increasingly common practice,
particularly in the Côte des Bar,
in the warm southern reaches of
Champagne. One delicious suc-
cess is Champagne Marie Cour-
tin, where winemaker Dominique
Moreau does not use any dosage
outside of her small production of
rosé, yet her wines offer a creamy
texture and lots of richness. Brut
Nature is not limited to grower
Champagnes from the Côte des
Bar, however: Louis Roederer
has introduced two Brut Nature
Champagnes in partnership with
designer Philippe Starck. The
first vintage was 2006 (released in
2014), and the current releases are
from 2012.
Other growers prefer to modu-
late the freshness of their Cham-
pagnes by blocking malolactic
conversion, a process that trans-
forms malic acid into lactic acid
and tends to soften the wine. In the sort of growing sea-
sons once considered classic, in which temperatures began
falling in August, the wines naturally retained a lot of tart
malic acid. However, the heat spikes common to recent
years have caused malic acid to drop at the end of the rip-
ening season. Fourth-generation winemaker Nicolas Jaeger
at Champagne Alfred Gratien prefers to keep the malic acid
intact by blocking malolactic, then balancing the wine as
needed with a bit of dosage. The results can be convincing,
as in his 2009 Blanc de Blancs Brut, a wine that maintains
a crisp, refreshing character despite the heat of the year.
Another way to adapt is in the vineyard, farming some of
the "heritage" varieties in Champagne. Nearly all contem-
porary Champagne is produced from chardonnay, pinot
noir and pinot meunier. These "big three" each account

for approximately one-third of current plantings in Cham-
pagne. However, pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbane and petit
meslier are also permitted. Although these varieties rep-
resent less than two percent of the planted area in Cham-
pagne today, many growers are paying more attention to
arbane and petit meslier, in particular, due to the lively
acidity they can offer a blend. At Champagne Bollinger,
assistant cellar master Denis Brunner reports that, in the
hot, early vintage of 2018, Bollinger harvested these two
grapes at pHs below 3.0, which may help them sustain the
acidity they so prize in their Champagne.
Pascal Agrapart, in Avize, is also experimenting with
these varieties. Agrapart replanted a half-acre vineyard,
La Fosse à Bull, in 2003 to chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot
blanc, pinot meunier, arbane and petit meslier, which he
harvests as a field blend. His most recent release, based on
the 2016 vintage, includes 20 percent reserve wine from
the 2015 vintage. The wine shows the advantages of this
approach through its vibrant freshness.
Agrapart is bullish on the latest season: "The 2020 vin-
tage is along the lines of the greatest years for the grow-
ers who knew how to wait for ripeness (as in 2007, 2011
and 2017). Maturity and acidity are excellent; the grapes
are very healthy, and everything has come together." As
growers seek to meet the challenges of global warming,
Champagne's once marginal climate has turned to their
advantage. n

AT HER ESTATE IN
THE COTE DES BAR,
DOMINIQUE MOREAU
HARVESTS GRAPES RIPE
ENOUGH TO PROVIDE
RICH CHAMPAGNES
WITHOUT DOSAGE.

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

A problematic season that ended well.
Floods and drought,
frosts and sunburn,
downy mildew everywhere. The rain
stopped at the end of
July and the balance of
the season saw warm,
dry weather, preventing the spread of rot.

A challenging year with
rain and rot at harvest.
Few finished wines
have been released
yet, but some show
considerable promise,
despite the conditions.

A new record for heat
and sun. Huge yields,
big alcohol, low acidity. No wines released
yet; however, the base
wines show promise.

The year was warm early on, then frost hit, followed by cold weather just before flowering. In
mid-June, fine weather returned. Two heat waves
over the summer saw record temperatures of
more than 107° F and led to sunburn. Although
sorting was necessary, good results are certainly
possible.

The harvest was earlier than ever before. It
was a scorching year,
but although there
may be issues with
low acidity, the outlook is positive, especially for those who
waited for true ripeness in their grapes.

WINE & SPIRITS

DECEMBER 2020

25



Wine & Spirits - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Wine & Spirits - December 2020

Contents
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover1
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover2
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 1
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 2
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Contents
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 4
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