On the Trail

On the Trail at Ruinart

Gary Westby

Champagne Ruinart is one of France’s real monuments. It is the region's first Champagne house and started selling Champagne in 1729, a full forty-seven years before we even became a country. Today on my visit to Ruinart, I was once again overwhelemed by the medieval crayeres (chalk pits) that are still in use today for storing their Champagne, some of them ninety feet below the surface of Reims. After another inspiring walk tour through the caves, I met with Frederic Panaiotis, who goes by Fred "le chef de cave," to taste through the current releases. I showed up on the right day, as he was preparing an evening event with all of the best sommeliers in France to show his two new vintages, the 2006 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and the 2004 Dom Ruinart Rose. These won’t be in the US for at least a few more months, possibly not until the end of the year, and it was nice to taste them ahead.

Some of you have met Fred at special events we have done together in the past, and he is wonderfully direct, honest, and outspoken. Most big executives from the LVMH group that Fred is a part of are very “on message” and never stray far from their scripts. Fred could not be more different and he gave us a very honest appraisal of the difficulties in 2016 in the vineyards. The challenges were many. Spring frost hit the vineyards hard doing the most damage in Champagne since 2003. A full 7% of the crop was destroyed overnight. Because of wet weather in the late spring, the flowering was spun out and they had mildew problems that were hard to treat because of the muddiness of the vineyard. Some farmers bought tractors with tank tread just so they could get in the vineyard to work! When August finally came, it was so hot that they lost some grapes to sunburn. In the end, the weather turned around in September and they were able to get some grapes of non-vintage quality into the wineries, but Fred says he has never had to work so hard to get it done.

As for the finished wines, we tasted the brand new 2013 base Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Ruinart Rose along with the 2006 Dom Ruinart and 2004 Dom Ruinart Rose. All of them had the super fresh, reductive style that Ruinart is known for, with extraordinary purity and precise flavors. The non-vintage wines carry a premium price for a reason: they are among the best of the Grand Marques in this style. The 2006 was very rich and full of Chassagne-Montrachet power, a big change from the chalky, leaner 2004 that we have on the shelf. The 2004 Rose was my style of rose- savory red fruit flavors and almost endless chalk on the finish. What a treat!

Fred is coming to K&L Redwood City in April to do an invitation only tasting. Write me at garywestby@klwines.com if you are interested in coming and I will send you the details. Space will be limited, so please don’t wait.

-Gary Westby