Toorak Cellars, for those who don’t know, is a Melbourne institute when it comes to wine cellars. The concept of being a cellar, bar, restaurant and bottle shop all in one, is something Melbourne has come to perfect. Ever since opening their doors to all wine lovers, Toorak Cellars have staged events to shine a light on grower Champagnes, and this year celebrates the 8th anniversary of this successful event. Hosted by Robert Walters, the author of ‘Bursting Bubbles’ and ‘Champagne – A Secret History’, we get the chance to hear another side of this historic region and learn why the grower Champagnes deserve to be in the spotlight, just as much, if not more, than the mighty maisons. With 25 years of experience in the wine trade, Robert’s abundance of knowledge and undeniable passion for grower wines has even the most experienced wine drinkers learning more about what’s behind the labels they drink. This event is a real treat for those, who like myself, are always wanting to learn more. I have to admit, Roberts’s passion and incredible technical knowledge on the topic can sway even the most dedicated maison fanatics.
The event kicked off with Lyndon Kubis, a self-proclaimed wine nerd who is one of a few who have opened not one, but six venues dedicated to the love of boutique bottles, including the Toorak Cellars. Lyndon addressed the guests and spoke of his love of Grower Champagnes. Those who adore Champagne know that when you try a truly great bottle, the taste stays with you long after the glass is gone. On that note, Lyndon said something that I think will always stay with me –“they are haunting in their persistence”– and that is what truly makes a great bottle of Champagne.
The idea of these events is to not only learn, but to create a platform to openly discuss the wines. The line-up consisted of comparing 2 different glasses from four different grower houses – eight glasses in total.
The first bracket we experienced was ‘Laherete Freres Extra Brut Ultratradition’, part of their ‘Special and Original Cuvees’, and their ‘Les 7’ from their ‘Terroir Fundamentals Cuvees’. Laheret Ferres, began its story in 1889 where Jean-Baptiste Laherte created the family estate in the village of Chavost, which was to become Chavot. Today the estate owns 11 hectares throughout the Champagne region. The sixth and seventh generations of this incredible house continue to create divine, powerful and distinctive Champagnes that clearly display in the glass.
The second flight was ‘Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc’ next to ‘1st Cru, Terre de Vertus 2011’. This Estate is meticulously run by Pierre and his wife Sophie Lamindier. They take a classic minimalist approach to create their Champagnes using indigenous yeast, long slow ferments, very low dosage and in some Champagnes none at all, such as the ‘Terre de Vertus’. The family have owned vineyards in Cote de Blanc since the revolution and now own 15 hectares predominately in Vertuse. They also only use biodynamic methods. These Champagnes are some of the purest examples of what can be created when the vines and care of the vineyard is the first priority. Everything they do is to maximise the expression of the vineyard and create Champagnes that are completely terroir driven, dry, mineral, complex and powerful.
The third bracket was ‘Vouette & Sorbee Blanc Blanc d’Argile NV’ next to the ‘Fidele Champagne NV’. Bertrand Gautherot’s ‘Vouette & Sorbee’ is one of the youngest grower Champagnes in the region. He founded the house in 1986 in the Buxières-sur-Arce but didn’t release his first commercial cuvee until 2001. With 5 hectares, this house is again completely biodynamic, as Gautherot is first and foremost a grower devoted to the method. He was very fortunate starting out, as his good friend Anselme Selosse, a master of biodynamic farming (as his wines clearly showcase), was there to help him and give him the advice he needed. At first his neighbors thought he had gone mad, and found his biodynamic methods in the vineyards entertaining, particularly the music he played to his vines. But once they tasted the wines and saw the incredible quality he was producing, I don’t think they had much to question about his methods.
The fourth and final bracket was one of my personal favourite growers, Egly Ouriet. We looked at the ‘Grand Cru Tradition Brut NV’ and the ‘Grand Cru VP’. Between Selosse, Larmandier-Bernier and Egly Ouriet, they make up the holy trinity of incredible grower Champagnes. The house was founded by Charles Egly in 1930, who mainly sold grapes to Negociants and made a few thousand bottles, although not on a commercial level. This was not until his son Michael began working with him in the 1970s and increased their estate bottlings by more than 15,000 each year. Today the estate is run by Michael and his son Francis, who is one of the most exceptional growers in Champagne. Based in the Grand Cru Village of Ambonnay, Francis Egly’s vineyards span out to Bouzy and Verzenay, all following the biodynamic style of viniculture. They have been one of the leaders in the belief of site specific wines, as Francis challenges traditional Champagne methodology. The natural viniculture, low yields and the high percentage of reserve wine used are the main reasons why the Egly-Ouriet wines taste so different – so fruit-pure, complex, rich and powerful.
There is a lot to be said about all the technical notes and history that was divulged by Robert Walters. The room was completely engaged and the discussion flowed just as much as the Champagne. For those who love grower Champagne or for those who want to learn more, this event is one I highly recommend. As this is only a yearly occurrence, I suggest that you read Robert Walters’ books as you will gain a much better understanding on why grower Champagnes are as so special.