Damien Hugot—New Grand Cru Direct Import!
It tickles me a little to write that Damien Hugot is our new producer from the Grand Crus of the Côtes de Blancs. His family has been growing grapes in Champagne since at least 1660, and probably before that. He has an incredible collection of vineyards, almost entirely in the Grand Crus of Chouilly and Cramant, the two northernmost villages of the Côtes de Blancs. The total surface is twenty acres, with a touch of old-vine Meunier that he uses to make the red wine for his rosé that his grandfather planted just at the border of Chavot and Monthelon south of Epernay. The most impressive thing about the vineyards is their age. The average for his Grand Cru Chardonnay is over forty years, with many plots planted in the 50s and 30s, all to old, high-quality massal selections.
Damien and his wife Miwa are tireless workers and do almost all of the vineyard work and all of the winery work themselves. Miwa runs a tight ship in the winery, which is in the very southeastern corner of Epernay, just meters from the vineyards of Chouilly Grand Cru. The place is spotless, modern, and filled with gorgeous oak foudres and small temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks.
The three of us tasted nearly every tank and barrel in the place, as well as the full range of current Champagne when I visited this March. The impression I left with was one of richness and generosity. His style is very Meursault like, with fabulous texture, hints of pineapple fruit, haunting nuttiness, and naturally very high quality supporting acidity and minerality. The 2018s from the old-vine, mid-slope parcels were exotic and Rubenesque—completely unlike any other vin clair that I have tasted. Given that 2018 was the warmest harvest in the entire history of Champagne, and my visit with him was at the end of the trip, I was expecting the wines to be bigger and softer than usual, but his were by far the richest of the trip.
His entry-level brut, the Damien Hugot Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru ($34.99) is no ordinary “BSA” brut sans année. I premiered this wine last week for Champagne Friday, and I was impressed by the generous, creamy, white fruit character of the wine. It is composed of 70% Chouilly Grand Cru and 30% Cramant Grand Cru, with 30% reserves from his solera style foudre of older vintages. The back end has not only the chalk that one would expect but also a very nice chestnut flavor. This is top class blanc de blancs, and no one that enjoys this style should miss it given the extraordinary price.
We drank the Damien Hugot Brut Rosé ($39.99) together at the Royal Champagne, the newly refurbished hotel and Michelin one-star restaurant just between Epernay and Reims. This is a clean, refreshing style of rosé that gets hints of richness not from the small percentage of ancient vine Meunier that is added, but rather from the Cramant and Chouilly base of Chardonnay that makes up more than 90% of the blend. This is “rosé all day” rosé, with bright red fruit and racy minerality, along with top-notch chalk on the long finish.
These Champagnes are an affordable luxury, and I could not encourage fans of Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs to try them strongly enough.
A toast to you!