On the Trail

The Terroir of Champagne

Gary Westby

Champagne is a place with an incredible depth of history, but also a place of innovation and excitement. Today, visiting Champagne Pierre Paillard in the famous Mountain of Reims Grand Cru of Bouzy, I was treated to a telling experience exhibiting both of these elements. The Paillard family has history of growing grapes in this village dating back to 1799 and today I met with two generations of the family, Benoit Paillard and his son Antoine. They're working with a very clear goal: to make terroir-driven wines from the village of Bouzy. Antoine explained that the most important step is to take care of the soil and they have been working on a complex natural composting project towards that end. Next year they should have the certification for organic viticulture. When we arrived, Antoine was still toiling away in the vineyard, where the work is never done.

We tasted some of the 2016 vin clair from the vat room, where they keep a collection of exotic fermentation vessels, and tasted three versions of their old vine pinot noir from Les Maillerettes: one from a concrete egg, one from a ceramic globe, and one from a terracotta urn. They were all very different expressions and Antoine explained they were searching for the one that best told the story of the terroir. Even after sixteen vintages of tasting vin clair, I am always amazed at how the Champenois can look into the future by tasting these still wines. We also sat down and tasted the current releases and they were absolutely singing. These are wines that are not only the product of great vineyard sites, they are imbued with generations of know-how and tireless work. Although they are more expensive than many of our grower Champagnes, I believe strongly that they still represent great value in fine wine on the world stage considering what went into them.

We started the tasting with the Pierre Paillard "Les Parcelles," which is a blend of plots, sourced from eleven hectares of vines in the Grand Cru of Bouzy. This is one of the best selling Champagnes that we have at K&L amongst our employees and tasting with Antoine today I was reminded as to why. It has the powerful savory bing cherry fruit that Bouzy is famous for, fantastic concentration, complexity, and it sacrifices no freshness or chalky minerality to get that power. The Pierre Paillard "Les Terres Roses" Rosé is one of the lowest in sugar that we have ever carried at K&L at under under 4g/l of dosage, but it has so much lovely fruit that you would never guess it was an extra brut. The very light tannin of the Bouzy rouge used to give this wine its color integrates so well into the chalky finish it is hard to tell where one starts and the other finishes.

The two real standouts of the tasting were the single vineyard Champagnes. The 2010 Pierre Paillard "Les Maillerettes" Brut Blanc de Noirs is made from a mid-slope plot of pinot noir planted in 1970 to the family massal selection. They still propagate pinot noir from here for new vineyard plantations. After years of working with these wines, I was not surprised at the Corton like power and structure of this wine, but I was blown away by the effortless texture and fine bead of this bottle. I do not understand how they can get both elements in one little 750ml! Its sister wine, the 2010 Pierre Paillard "Les Mottelettes" Blanc de Blancs comes from their mother plot of chardonnay that was planted in 1961. This bone dry, chalk laden wine is usually a lazer beam, and I love it with oysters. In 2010, it has an extra element that almost reminds me of the subtle pineapple character that you get in the best Meursault. With the terroir-driven aspects Paillard is showcasing in these wines, anyone who loves both Champagne and Burgundy would do well to taste them all!

-Gary Westby