September 5, 2013
The Aube’s Finest
Had the political powers in the Marne gotten their way in the early 20th century, we wouldn’t even be talking now about these producers, or any Champagne produced in the Aube. As Eric Asimov wrote in his article in the New York Times, “If the evolution of the Aube seems a bit of a Cinderella story, it’s with good reason. A century ago, in 1911, riots tore through Champagne as, among other issues, the big houses in the Marne tried to exclude the Aube from the Champagne appellation. Eventually, a compromise was reached in which the Aube was granted second-class Champagne status. Even after the Marne finally, if gingerly, embraced the Aube as a full part of Champagne in 1927, none of its vineyards were designated grand cru or even premier cru, marks of quality reserved only for the Marne.” Thankfully we can now savor the success of these resilient growers; in the Champagnes of Vouette et Sorbée and Marie-Courtin.
Where the Chalk Meets the Limestone
Unlike its more heralded neighbors to the north and their bedrock of Cretaceous chalk, the Aube shares much more in common with the terroir of Chablis, whose vineyards are closer in soil type and proximity. The primary soil type is Kimmeridgian limestone, though several outcroppings of Portlandian limestone do exist, as well as tiny pockets of chalk. The Aube offers vinous Champagnes of intense personality, and the vehicle for these superb Champagnes is more often than not pinot noir. The combination of its more southerly climate and clay-inflected soils gives the fruit from the Côte des Bar, the tenderloin of the Aube, a combination of elegance, richness, and clarity.
Two of the shining lights featured heavily in Mr. Asimov’s article and at the forefront of the Aube’s current march to fame and renown are Dominique Moreau (she of Marie-Courtin fame) and Bernard Gautherot(Vouette et Sorbée’s farmer-in-chief). Both now certified organic and making extraordinary and individual Champagnes.
Marie-Courtin: a Granddaughter’s Homage
Modesty and commitment to both history and her craft drives Dominique Moreau. In 2001 Dominique took over the farming of her 2.5 hectare Kimmeridgian parcel in Polisot. By 2006 she began bottling her own Champagne and immediately began the four year conversion towards organic certification. Not one for self-aggrandizing, in a bow towards history, Dominique chose to honor her grandmother with the naming of the winery. Such has been the worldwide response that in just 4 vintages the small production of Marie-Courtin is counted among the elite of the so-called ‘recoltant-manipulants’.
Résonance hails from a hillside vineyard of 35-40 year old, massale-selection pinot noir. The combination of low yields, Kimmeridgian soils, and an east/southeast exposure gives the wines both power and a delicate spine of acidity, with an intense brininess and minerality at their core. The base 2009 is expressive and composed, with renowned Champagne authority Peter Liem giving it two out of three stars writing, “made entirely of pinot noir and vinified in enameled-steel tanks, this is exuberant and energetic, its ripe flavors of red cherry and wild strawberry feeling vibrantly expressive and inviting. It’s perfectly balanced as a non-dosé, showing the richness of the vintage while remaining sleekly focused and taut, and it finishes with long, succulent length, acquiring hints of fresh ginger and lime zest. Above all, it’s saturated by an earthy, stony minerality that seems to permeate the entire wine, contributing further to its impression of vinosity and tension. [And] like Moreau herself, it’s confident while being discreet, having a great deal to say without needing to express itself loudly.”
Marie Courtin Resonance Extra Brut NV  ($59.95) $39 special
Wine Advocate 92 points “The appropriately named NV (2009) Extra Brut Resonance emerges from the glass with deep layers of textured fruit. There is a pure energy and vibrancy in the 2009 that is striking. Sweet floral notes, dried pears, red berries, mint and spices are all layered into the focused, taut finish. At the same time, the warm 2009 vintage gives the Pinot Noir a level of richness that balances the non-dose style beautifully. This is a great introduction to the wines of Dominique Morneau and Marie-Courtin.”
The Birth of Vouette et Sorbée
Growing up in Buxières-sur-Arce a young Bertrand Gautherot dreamed of being the boss of the local cooperative. After a sojourn in industrial design Bertrand returned to the 4 hectares of family vineyards in 1986. When the sales representative from the local agribusiness supplier wrote out the order for his vineyards he dutifully followed what his father had done before, fertilizing and spraying with the latest and greatest, producing bumper crops then selling to the négoce. It was the birth of his son that finally brought about the sea change. The way Bertrand tells it is like an epiphany. While bathing his newborn he realized that the chemicals he was treating his vineyards with had most certainly leeched into the well water, and pesticides and herbicides had no place near the nascent life of his boy. Vouette et Sorbée was certified Biodynamic in 1998, and produced it’s first Champagne for commercial release in 2001 (a mere 3000 bottles). For Bertrand organic and biodynamic certification echoes the “trust but verify” axiom, feeling that those unwilling to be certified should not be offered casual membership. Bertrand is constantly looking to make his farm and winery more self-sufficient. Just last year he installed a small wind turbine at the top of the Vouette vineyard, which he says produces enough electricity for his family home.
The primary wine of the estate is a blanc de noirs called Fidèle (named to remind him to be true to his soil) which comes from the Kimmeridgian based soils of Vouette and Biaunes. It is derived primarily from of a single year, with the addition of just three to seven percent of reserve wine, stored in a perpetual blend that Bertrand started in 2001. From press to bottling, the entire production is handled as little as possible and all work performed by gravity. Other hallmarks of Bertrand’s methods are ambient yeast fermentation in neutral barrels, no fining, no filtration, no cold stabilization, no dosage, and very little sulfur use. In his hands this Pinot Noir is redolent of ripe red fruits and intense stony minerality. With the base 2009 release Bertrand finally achieved the perfect harmony of fruit and structure. It is a triumphantly complete Champagne, and with some air the flavors fold into each other and expand.
Vouette Et Sorbee Brut Fidele NV  ($79.95) $59 special
Wine Advocate 93 points “The 2009 Extra Brut Fidele (Pinot Noir) is rich, exuberant and powerful. Dried pears, white orchard fruit, flowers and spices burst from the glass in this intense, head-spinning Champagne. Clean veins of minerality frame a huge, powerful finish imbued with the essence of Pinot. Weighty, rich and powerful, the 2009 impresses for its fabulous balance and inviting, utterly irresistible personality. This is a great showing for the Fidele.”