Derot-Delugny: Growing the Rare Stuff

On Saturday, for the very first time, I visited the village of Croutes-sur-Marne. This village at the western edge of the Marne is home to famous growers like Francois Bedel, but somehow it took me 31 visits to Champagne to finally make it here. I came to visit Claire and Laurent, the brother and sister team at Champagne Derot-Delugny. I met them after tasting their cuvée Fondateurs, which is still the only 100% Pinot Gris Champagne that I have ever tried.


The weather in Champagne is beautiful, and it was a perfect day to see the vineyard. We went directly to the Mont Clere parcel where they grow 1 and 2/3 acres of Pinot Gris at the top of the slope of this precipitously steep commune. The first experimental portion was planted nearly 20 years ago, and the rest in 2005. I was surprised to see vines of this age  as almost all of the plantings of the exotic Champagne varieties are very young.

When we returned to the cellar, I had a surprise lesson in the soil of Crouttes-sur-Marne. Instead of a traditional cave, the cellar is dug into the side of the steep hill. The back of the cave, where they keep the bottles ageing sur-lee, is 60 feet deep. Here you can see the schist in the soil, and throughout the cellar they have cutaways showing the diversity of the different layers. The top layer is the rockiest I have ever seen in the region, almost like Châteauneuf-du-Pape!

During the tasting, we tried the new batch of Fondateurs, which is based on 2015. We still have a few bottles left of the 2014 base in the stores, which has been selling very quickly. Both batches share a profound Pinot Gris exoticism on the nose that reminds me of tropical fruit, but on the palate, they are dry and completely free from the oily texture that one finds in Alsace. This is a dry Champagne, with a very nice bead, and a clean mineral finish. I love the contrast between the aromas and the finish, and I think this is a great non-vintage Champagne first—and not just a curiosity!

The other stand out was the non-vintage Coiffe Blanche, which is made entirely from Meunier. The warm bread and tarte-tatin aromas and flavors give this some power for people who like a toastier style, but without going over the edge into heaviness. Again, the bead and texture are spot on, I expect partially due to the cold, dead consistent temperature in their hillside cave.

A toast to you from Champagne!

Gary Westby