Twilight Over The Montagne de Reims
Racing along the D3 route after a three and a half hour drive from Burgundy, I’m catching the sun setting far behind the Montagne de Reims. The big hill halfway between Epernay and Reims, famous for some of Champagne’s most prized vineyards. The sky is ablaze with red, pink, purple and blue. Outside the temperature is nearing zero and the forecast for the next three days is that it will to get colder still. Luckily for me, the sky stayed blue for most of that December week.
I’m on a tight deadline on this trip. First, get to my base in Epernay, where I’m due to meet this evening with Peter Liem, a wine writer, originally from the U.S who made his home here, in the heart of his beloved Champagne hills. We are due to meet for a chat and a recording for the podcast. I’m particularly interested in his views about grower champagne and where this movement is likely to lead. Peter is the author of the book titled “Champagne’’ which he published to high acclaim a couple of years ago. The book is simply beautiful. It tells the history of the region, the people and the wine in a simple yet detailed way. The history of the wine is particularly interesting from still, to sparkling, the evolution of a beverage and the culture that surrounds it.
Listen to our chat here
Jean Baptiste Geoffroy smiles. The full stop is fully intentional. He is a happy person that put you at ease in his company. His beautiful winery with a set of beautiful gates is on Rue Jeanson, one of Ay’s most celebrated roads.
We meet early in the morning and JB is quick to update me that since my last visit, 4 years ago, he now started making honey from hives placed high on the roof of the winery. We waste no time and climbing there we pass a series of demijohns filled with a mysterious golden liquid. ‘’My experimental Ratafia’’ he proclaims proudly… the honey conversation can wait for now… Tell me more I ask and JB obliges. Olivier Decelle, owner of Mas Amiel in the Roussillon is a personal friend. Visiting him a few years ago gave JB the inspiration to age his Ratafia in the open air and to start him off, Mr Decelle gave JB two of his famous demijohns of 60 litres. Ratafia if you are not familiar with it, is a fortified grape juice that is used as an aperitif or a degistif. Years ago not many producers paid any particular attention to the ageing process and many would bottle the Ratafia soon after fortification (typically 18% ABV).
JB says that his rooftop Ratafia is staying here on the roof for 2 years, in ALL weather conditions. He is proud to note that in the summer of 2019 the liquid reached 48 degrees Celsius. ‘’It’s Madieira that you’re making’’ I announced!
Going back down to his comfortable tasting room (temperature on the sunny roof was barely above freezing), we tasted the new wines, for me, the 2006 ‘’Terre’’ was a new addition to his Millesime range and since I have a soft spot for the 2006 (my daughter’s year of birth) my mind was somewhat swayed. Saying that I can tell you objectively and professionally that the 2006 is a superb wine! Made using old vines and only free run juice, the blend is 53% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 17% Meunier. Made with used wood but with keeping of tradition of his house, no Malolactic. The wine is a picture of Cumieres best vineyards. Deep gold, with strong ripe white fruit aromas, laced with vanilla, roasted nuts and red berries pie and some wood. Mineral development occurs on the palate midway through and the apple, brioche and smoke appear in a long and satisfying finish.
A few bottles of that beautiful creation will find their way to the ‘2006 corner’ in our cellar.
We move on to his barrel room, a modest cave in the winery, to taste some vin Claire, which is simply the still wines before they ferment again in bottle to start the long process that will eventually see them under 6 bar of pressure. Tasting vin Claire used to be a difficult assessment reserved for the winemakers alone. Now, maybe as another by product of global warming, the wines are easier to try young and as is the case of one of his Chardonnay barrels that has undergone spontaneous Malo, we taste a wine reminiscent of a great Puligny Montrachet. Racy acidity, yet ripe, tropical and mineral note. Already showing superb length and balance. JB is not going to make champagne out of that, instead he will bottle it as still wine (Coteaux Champagnois) and sell all 500 bottles to his loyal clients.
We recorded a beautiful chat for the podcast, talking about bio diversity in the vineyards (he recently planted apple trees in amongst the rows of vines), his passion for his still red wines, the rooftop honey, Ratafia and plans to integrate the next generation into the winery (his eldest daughter, Sacha, is currently working in Burgundy post Oenology studies).
Listen to the episode here