12 Jul Champagne Emmanuel Brochet: when small is big
I popped in for a drink at the new Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden this weekend to see to my delight on the champagne list Le Mont Benoit of Emmanuel Brochet.
Le Mont Benoit is following me around. Made from the classic champagne trio of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, it was also on the drinks’ list at Timberyard in Edinburgh.
Whereas Krug produces 500,000 bottles of champagne each year, Emmanuel Brochet produces a mere 7,000-8,000. And that’s from 2.5 hectares (6 acres) of vineyards on the east-facing slope of Le Mont Benoit, a small hill outside Reims, in the Premier Cru village of Villers-aux-Noeuds.
When Emmanuel took over the family parcels in 1997, all the grapes were sold to one of the big champagne houses. He then started to make his first champagne, and switched to organic about ten years ago. This was the second time I had visited him; the first was in January 2016, when the thermometer dipped to -7º.
The 3 Emmanuel Brochet champagnes
We tasted the 3 cuvées in Emmanuel’s office, adjoining the fermentation room. I was with an importer from Hong Kong, where Emmanuel Brochet champagne has gained fame.
A scented candle was burning, the chairs were low and comfy, and the walls lined with artworks gifted by friends. Luckily I asked whether the big upturned ceramic snail shell by my feet was a crachoir before I spat into it. No, it wasn’t; it was a present made by his children.
Le Mont Benoit includes 20% reserve wine (aged still wine) mixed with the still wine of the youngest vintage; it then undergoes the second fermentation in bottle to become champagne. This is the champagne to drink all day, and is especially good with the likes of anything slightly fatty as well as with sushi.
Les Hauts Meuniers and Les Hauts Chardonnays are both vintage champagnes, produced from grapes from one harvest and, in the case of Emmanuel, made from grapes from the oldest vines, at the top of the hill.
Road trip with Clos Driver Wine Tours
Emmanuel was one of ten producers I visited in my two and a half day road trip in Champagne with Clos Driver Wine Tours. I’ve done a separate post on Emmanuel as his path is not a conventional one, and I am not a conventional person. He started his career selling tractors rather than studying wine; he’s a self-taught artist, and looking at the walls of his study many of his friends are artists and creative types too; he makes rocking chairs out of old barrels; and his idea of a day off is to race old bangers (cars).
His passion is the craft and art of making champagne. That’s why, and he is not the only one, the talk is about ‘allocations‘ – wine importers need to keep on the good side of the best growers to ensure their ‘allocation’ of bottles. The lack of fear and the focus on his passion liberates his creativity and craftsmanship to produce truly great stuff.
Inspiration from the pylons
Marketeers like to talk about a ‘sense of place’. Pictures of Champagne show rolling hills of vineyards that turn rusty red in autumn and open to fresh green in spring. Emmanuel’s vines have a backdrop that echoes their proximity to the town of Reims. One of his most popular champagnes, in terms of the label, featured the nearby pylons, he told me. He would now like to put the motorway toll on one of his next cuvée labels – too far away to hear the hum, or at least on the day we were there, but close enough to see.
The experience of meeting Emmanuel, tasting his champagnes and visiting his vines on Le Mont Benoit was for me a moment of luxury… it was about craftsmanship, uniqueness, a sense of purity and discretion about what he produces.
As Franca Sozzani, the great Editor of Vogue Italia, who has now sadly passed away, added: luxury is about “the chance to experience new routes”. Yes, she was referring to fashion, but this can also be applied to the world of wine and wine experiences.
My visit in January 2016
For my other blog posts on champagne, and for my trip to the region in February 2016, updated July 2017.
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