Late this March, I visited Mr. Louis Brochet of Champagne Louis Brochet on a beautiful, sunny spring day. We started our appointment by visiting his beautifully situated vineyards in the Premier Cru village of Écueil on la petite montagne between Reims and Epernay. The buds were starting to push because of the unseasonably pleasant weather and the birds in the village added a great soundtrack. They had spring fever.
Louis Brochet is the 4th generation winemaker and his family has been growing grapes here since before 1882. He has a diploma of oenology from the University of Reims, and worked as a consultant winemaker for ten years before returning to the family farm. He has thirty-two acres of vines, spread across more than forty-five parcels. The vines are a combination of massal selections and clones, but he is replanting only massal now, working with a pepinierest on propagations of Pinot Noir de Écueil from the oldest vines on the property. We started out by visiting Les Crossats, a small plot of twenty-five year old massal Pinot Noir, where he explained to me that his vineyards and winery just received its first level of sustainability certification - the HGV durable - this past summer. They will go for the next level next year, and have purchased a new mowing and plowing machine that has helped eliminate almost all of the herbicides that they used in the past. After touring several more plots, we returned to the winery to take a look around.
In the winery, they use both a modern pneumatic press for their larger vineyard parcels, and an old Coquard basket press for the oldest, smallest vineyards. Louis only keeps the cuvée or first juice from the press and sells the rest to negociants. The best parcels are barrel fermented, some even in oak coopered from trees felled in Écueil and the rest of the juice goes into temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. He is flexible when it comes to malolactic, and is currently blocking it on 10-20% of the harvest depending on conditions.
Louis has a very large stock of reserve wines, which is the key to the high quality of his non-vintage wines. He keeps the equivalent of a year’s production in reserves, much of it in a solera that he started in 2010. The production hovers around 100,000 bottles per year here, and the youngest wines are aged for at least three years on the lees. He likes to use slightly lower pressure, about 5.5 atmospheres as opposed to six for his non-vintage Champagne, and this, combined with the high percentage of reserves gives a great silky texture to the wines. After extensive testing, he has settled on a combination of solera reserve wines and beet sugar for his dosage. He finds that beet works better than cane or MCR (rectified grape must) for his style of Champagne.
We sat down to taste the wines in the family kitchen that has a great view of the vineyards through huge windows on two sides. Here are my notes:
Louis Brochet 1er Cru Brut Champagne: This is composed of 80% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay and 5% Meunier and dosed at 9 grams per liter. The blend is half reserves, with 35% from the previous two harvests and 15% from the solera that Louis started in 2010. The red cherry power of top Pinot Noir jumps from the glass and is framed by classy sourdough toast. I love the texture of this lighter style Pinot based Champagne, and the very high proportion and quality of reserve wines give it great texture, a fine bead and elusive complexity. This is hard to beat at the price.
Louis Brochet 1er Cru Extra Brut Champagne: This is the same as the Brut bottling, but dosed at 5 grams per liter instead of 9. The lower dosage emphasizes the Chardonnay in the blend, making it seem like there is more than just 15% in the bottle. While quite focused and dry, this is not screechy or harsh like so many extra brut styles can be. I drew a piece of sushi and an oyster next to my note for this one! It is also available in half bottle- our only extra brut in this size.
Louis Brochet 1er Cru "Extra Blanc" Champagne: This blanc de blancs comes from the two best Chardonnay plots of the Brochet estate, Mont Benoit and Vognes. Although it is 40% barrel fermented, the oak only comes through in the richer than normal texture of the wine. I did not pick up any barrel aromas or flavors in the wine. This is clean, refreshing mountain Chardonnay, and since although we only have five cases, I already drank one with sushi! If you love pure, white fruit and great minerality, but also demand fine texture in your Champagne, this is one not to miss.
Louis Brochet "Extra Noir" Extra Brut Champagne: This all Pinot Noir blanc de noir is the smallest production Champagne for Brochet. They only make it when the Pinot Noir is great and then 2000 bottles at most. We were lucky enough to get five cases. It is sourced from two old massal selected plots, the Hautes Vignes and Les Chaillots. I couldn’t believe the crazy complexity of this wine; it had Chambertin like dark cherry power, but was still super easy to drink. The Pinot power was framed by fine brioche toast and the finish goes on forever.
2005 Louis Brochet Millesime Brut Champagne: This super toasty Champagne has fabulous beurre d’Isigny creaminess from over ten years of ageing on the lees. If you like your Champagne broad and brioche like, this is one of the best in our stock in that style. They only held back 3550 bottles for extended ageing, and we were only allocated three cases. It is composed of half and half Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The dosage is only 5 grams per liter, keeping this super rich Champagne dry and refreshing.
1996 Louis Brochet Millesime Brut Champagne: The Brochet family held back a tiny amount of their great 1996 vintage for extended lees ageing, and this has more than fifteen years of time on the yeast. It is composed of half each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and is a great example of this classic Champagne vintage. Not only is broad and phenomenally toasty, it is etched with minerality and has an unstoppably long finish. Sadly, only three cases were made available to us, so by the time many of you read this, it might already be gone.