On the Trail

Working Hard on the Edge of Champagne

Gary Westby

Charly-sur-Marne is the last village of any size on the western edge of Champagne, and very close to the end of the AOC itself (the appellation that controls the Champagne name). Today I visited with Eric de Brissis, who some of you know from his many years of coming to our Champagne tent events, as well as Ignace and Sophie Baron. This brother and sister team are tireless workers, with Sophie taking care of the vineyards and Ignace the wine production. When I arrived at the winery, I had a hard time getting Ignace down off of the fork lift for a picture—they had been disgorging bottles and he was putting away the boxed up and palletized Champagne. When the big boss is driving the fork lift, I know that the connection to the real work is strong. This is not an absentee owner giving the occasional order from Paris!

Sophie was busy meeting with her vineyard team, and took some time out to talk to me about the 2016 harvest. While other growers that I have met have lost as much as 90% of the crop to a combination of spring frost and summer mildew, they were luckier with the weather in Charly-sur-Marne and had both good quantity and quality. The northern wine regions of France have felt climate change very strongly. Sophie also explained she is happy that 2017 is going smoothly so far. Her team is done with pruning and can now work on tying the vines.

I tasted with Eric, and was struck by the “Esprit” part of their range, as well as the outstanding value of their Grande Reserve. The Grande Reserve is K&L’s most accessible Champagne, and despite the shockingly-low price, it's a very high quality product. The legal limit for Champagne ageing is at least fifteen months on the lees, but the Grande Reserve is aged for three years and has a generous 30% of reserves added. It is made from a combination of estate fruit and other parcels that are purchased on the vine and picked by the Baron Fuente team. It has a great combination of toasty warmth and citiric refreshment, and is a must try for any fan of Champagne. The Esprit Blanc de Blancs is made from the very last vineyard in the farthest west part of Champagne—the Chantemanche in Saacy-sur-Marne. This site is one of the very few so far west that they are actually in the Paris district, Ile-de-France. The current release is based on 2009 with 5% barrel fermented reserves from 2008. It is a very creamy style of Blanc de Blancs, with an excellent Chablis like earth character and a bright finish to contrast the richness of the mid-palate. 

Not many Americans make it out to this part of Champagne, but I encourage anyone reading to make the trip. This is the place that many Parisians come to buy their Champagne and it's very convenient for anyone staying in that beautiful city to get to. Drop me a line at garywestby@klwines.com if you would like to see it for yourself. I will put you in touch with the team at Baron Fuente!

-Gary Westby