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The Champagne Society December 2022 Selection: Champagne Fleury

 

Champagne Fleury ‘Notes Blanches’

2015 Côte des Bar Brut Nature

Special Price for members of the Champagne Society is $97.


The Season of Sparkles is upon us, and as has become our holiday tradition at Elie’s, this year we will showcase the wines of a favorite grower/producer. Jean-Sébastien Fleury of Champagne Fleury is an innovative young winemaker who uses the subtle alchemy of art and technique to highlight the unique terroirs in Champagne’s up-and-coming ‘Deep South’, the Côte des Bar.

In addition to pioneering ‘vines-to-wines’ biodynamics, Domaine Fleury has shaped a rigorous blending process that creates synergies from different grape varieties (some heirloom) and 40 plots in some of the lesser known terroirs of Champagne. Along with his brother Benoît and sister Morgane, Jean-Sébastien is rising to the challenges of a changing climate and an evolving market by breathing new life into old traditions.

South Rising: Aube’s Côte des Bar

There is a certain ignominy in being Aube. Ninety miles south of Épernay, there have been times when its very inclusion in the Champagne appellation has been cast into doubt: In 1908, for example, Champagne Viticole was defined as 37,000 acres in the Marne and the Aisne, with the Aube département excluded. The effervescent French do not take such face-slaps lightly, and after a series of riots, a new legal delimitation of Champagne was drawn in 1927, delineating its modern boundaries—85,000 acres that this time included the Aube and its most heralded subzone, the Côte des Bar.

Even so, the échelles des crus ranking offered none of Aube’s villages the prestige of Grand Cru or Premier Cru ranking. This didn’t help in removing the stigma of being Champagne’s Pluto, and it has only been fairly recently that progressive—even iconoclastic winemakers— have thrust the region into the spotlight. Today, the Côte des Bar makes up 23% of Champagne’s output, and the past 20 years have seen its vineyard surface grow by more than three thousand acres.


Champagne Fleury

“Let Nature and Its Rhythms Express Themselves.”

If any estate is anchored to the Côte des Bar it is Champagne Fleury, whose Courteron vineyards span 38 acres on a clay-limestone hillside along a tributary of the Seine. But, as the first Champagne house to convert to biodynamics (1989), Jean-Pierre Fleury proved that a producer can have roots in the earth while raising the mainsail to innovation.

Today, his son Jean-Sébastien Fleury has taken the winemaking rudder, and is tacking toward the future with respect for the unique situation of the Côte des Bar, which is closer to Chablis than to Reims. “The key is soil health,” he says. “We must keep the earth healthy. The structure of the soil gives back the essence of the terroir.”

In this endeavor, he is joined by his younger brother Benoît, who came on board in 2010 to manage the vineyards, intent not only on maintaining biodynamics, but also researching soil biology, biodiversity and experimenting with agro-forestry. A third sibling, Morgane, initially studied to be an actress and a sommelier in Suze-la-Rousse, runs ‘My Cave Fleury’ in Les Halles (made famous by Émile Zola’s famous novel of the same name) where she specializes in biodynamic wines.

The estate encompasses ten plots planted primarily to Pinot Noir, the oldest planted in 1970, and new cuttings are established every year to maintain the vitality that younger vines bring to Champagne. The ultimate goal, according to Jean-Sébastien is a wish “to let the nature and its rhythms express themselves.”

Appreciate the Balance and Share the Mysteries of Nature

The Japanese have long espoused a mystical connection between the earth and sky; a spectacle of nature and the subtle balance that prevails between tradition and modernity. That is a philosophy that winemaker Jean-Sébastien Fleury grew up with. His father, Jean-Pierre, who originally wanted to be an astronomer, embraced the concept that every human on earth has a small but essential role in maintaining the harmony of the universe, and fell in love with cultures founded on principles of equity, between people and with the land, and decided early to raise his family in physical and spiritual health.

Champagne is especially suited to this thought process; at its core, it is an attempt to find a nearly magical equilibrium between nature and man’s ability to enhance it. An understanding of the microcosm and the macrocosm is essential to a biodynamic vision, and as an homage to the interdependence of earth and sky, Fleury vineyard practices seemed—in the last century—as almost druidic, although they are now being embraced throughout France.

Enhancing and Understanding Terroir’s Character

Reims lies at Latitude 49°5, and Épernay at 49°; in the northern hemisphere, it is generally considered difficult to obtain quality grapes at the 50th parallel and above. The ninety mile cushion enjoyed by Côte des Bar has a pronounced effect on the grower’s ability to ripen Pinot Noir; as a result, 86% of the vineyards are planted to this varietal. Despite this, the soils of the Côte des Bar is closer to that of Chablis—Kimmeridgian marl topped by Portlandian limestone, whereas the vines near Épernay and Reims tend to be planted in Cretaceous chalk. Chablis, of course, is ground zero for Chardonnay, and it is humidity coming from the Atlantic in the west as well as continental influences with higher temperatures that make the Côte des Bar Pinot Noir country through and through. That said, local climate conditions, slope and orientation are extremely varied throughout region, and produces many individual micro-climates, so each vigneron needs to be fully attentive to his own terroir in order to make the most of it. Côte des Bar features a host of small producers whose output varies almost as much as the local landscape.

The Biodynamic Principles: Respecting Earth’s Life Forces

The Fleury family looks at the estate as a living organism and pampers it as one might a beloved family pet. “We have been cultivating our land in line with its habitat for more than thirty years, acknowledging nature’s rhythms and the influence of terrestrial and cosmic forces. At first, this agricultural principle may seem demanding and esoteric, but it is truly a virtuous circle. We envision wine as a support of nature’s creation that undeniably enhances the product we bottle. All wines are labeled ‘Organic Agriculture TM’ and ‘Biodynamic.’”

Fleury delves deeper: “A vineyard is a monoculture, so our work is directed toward increasing biodiversity. Our viticultural work is focused on both the soil and the plant. Cultivation is done by hand in addition to the application of biodynamic preparations. Vine work is synchronized with planetary and lunar cycles; this is based on the effects these heavenly bodies have on root, leaf, flower and fruit development. For example, vine suckering, de-leafing and de-budding is done on ‘leaf day’ in the lunar calendar. The grafts and harvest is done in accordance with the lunar spring, when the moon is rising, a time that favors heavy sap flow. The lunar fall, when the moon is descending, is the best time for pruning.”

Vinification at the Winery: Producing Earth’s Best

“Our slow aging process is a symbolic return to the earth,” says Jean-Sébastien Fleury, referencing the biodynamic methods that result in wines with an improved balance between sweetness and acidity compared to other wines. “In our Domain, these characteristics allow us to leave the bottles to age in our cellar for a longer time of 3 to 5 years for the Blanc de Noirs, Fleur de l’Europe and Rosé, and 6 to 10 years for the Millésimes. This slow aging process that is an essential step before revealing the wine during the tasting. Aging before beginning a new life symbolizes another cycle of nature and of the cosmos.”


Champagne’s Three Primary Grapes

The vast majority of Champagne is made from one or more of the Big Three, chosen in late 19th century as grape varieties that offer the best balance of sugar and acidity to complement the effervescence. First, Pinot Noir, which dominates the holdings in the Côte des Bar, where it is sometimes called Précoce, as it ripens early. When allowed to thrive in cool, chalky soil, Pinot Noir endows Champagne with body, punch and structure. Chardonnay is also an early ripening variety, particularly well-suited to terroirs which lie on an outcrop of chalk, and yields delicately fragrant wines with floral, citrus and mineral notes and produces wines that age well. The trio is rounded out by Meunier, a hardy grape that is compatible with soils containing more clay, such as in the Marne Valley, where it is frequently considered an insurance grape against poor vintages since it buds later and is more accepting of cooler mesoclimates.

In Pinot Noir Country: Taking Cues from Burgundy

So obsessed was the Aube on becoming part of Champagne that they fought back; 40,000 French soldiers were required to quell the violence. Still, like a child who denies his roots, the flavors of Burgundy can be tasted in most aspect of the region—traditions, architecture, cuisine and winemaking.

Most growers in Aube’s vineyard acres trained in Burgundy, and the luxurious Champagnes the region is capable of carry both the precision and minerality of Kimmeridgian limestone—often so close to the surface that no soil is evident and the vines appear to be planted in lunar bedrock—which is the identical foundation for the Grand and Premier Crus of Chablis. Puligny-Montrachet barrels are often used in cellars and biodynamics—much more prevalent in Burgundy than in Champagne—are becoming increasing indispensable to young winemakers in the Côte des Bar. It is, in part, this tension—the tug of war between Champagne and Burgundy—that creates the marvelous electricity of Côte des Bar wines.


“Planet Pinot Noir”

Champagne Fleury ‘Blanc de Noirs’, Côte des Bar Brut ($54)

Fleury’s 100% Pinot Noir Champagne is a blend of 75% vintage 2017 with reserve wine from the Fleury ‘solera’, wherein each new vintage is added to the wooden casks to create a perpetual reserve. This cuvée then ages four years on sur lattes. The wine receives a dosage of 4.9 grams per liter.

Elegant, bone dry and fresh, it offers up classic notes of white peach and iris.

*click on image for more info

 

 


“Notes of Twilight”

Champagne Fleury ‘Boléro’, 2008 Côte des Bar Extra-Brut ($130)

Once called ‘Millésimé’, this vintage Champagne originally contained Chardonnay; in 2004, the decision was to change both the name and the content—it is now 100% Pinot Noir made from 25-year-old vines and receives no dosage.

The brainchild of Benoît Fleury, ‘Boléro’ is drawn from four plots—Charme de Fin, Champraux, Meam Bauché and Montégné. It exhibits complex scents of toasted almond, apricot and freshly-baked bread followed by a lengthy, mineral-driven finish.

*click on image for more info

 


“When Mars and Venus Meet”

Champagne Fleury ‘Rosé de Saignée’, Côte des Bar Brut ($74)

The grapes see a short period of maceration before pressing. This method of production is the saignée, or bleeding, that produces a light, lyrical sparkling wine whose dosage has been gradually reduced over the years; it now stands at 2 grams per liter. The wine is 100% Pinot Noir from the 2017 harvest, from vines with an average age of 30 years.

The wine is redolent of strawberry compote and vanilla, with a rich palate that maintains both elegance and delicacy.

*click on image for more info

 


“The Sun and the Moon on a Date”

Champagne Fleury ‘Fleur de l’Europe’, Côte des Bar Brut Nature ($59)

The first biodynamic cuvée in Champagne, the name references the Europe that witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wine is made from 85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay; 58% is vintage 2015, the rest a blend from the solera casks. Dosage is zero.

The wine displays silken notes of green apple and peach with warm brioche on the nose and persistent pinpoint bubbles throughout the palate.

*click on image for more info

 


“Cosmic Symphony”

Champagne Fleury ‘Millésime’, 2010 Côte des Bar Extra Brut ($110)

Using a traditional Coquard press and drawing fruit from vines over 30 years old, this blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay is vinified 60% in stainless steel and 40% in oak barrels. 4 grams per liter of residual sugar is allowed.

The wine has a honey-nut nose and rich, spicy palate with hints of smoke behind citrus/apple flavors

*click on image for more info

 


“Little Music of Time and Space”

Champagne Fleury ‘Sonate’, 2012 Côte des Bar Extra-Brut ‘Natural’ ($99)

A rather classic blend of 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay, ‘Sonate’ is the fourth edition of sulfite-free wine. From plots in Champraux, Valprune and Charme de Fin, the vines average 35 years of age and dosage is zero.

The wine is loaded with aromatic richness, opening with aromas of acacia, daffodil and citrus peel behind ripe peach and a characteristic note of quince jelly.

*click on image for more info

 


“Rainbow White”

Champagne Fleury ‘Cépages Blancs’, 2011 Côte des Bar Extra-Brut ($110)

100% Chardonnay, the vineyards blended to make this wine are planted in Kimmeridgian limestone in the lieux-dits of Champraux and Valprune old vines. The wine is made from the 2011 vintage and has 2 grams per liter residual sugar.

Displaying superb dried fruits aromas with licorice and praline, the wine is redolent of almonds, peach and white flowers

*click on image for more info

 


Heirloom Varieties

In terms of climate and attitude, no place in Champagne is more hospitable to heirloom grapes that the Côte des Bar; overall, more than 250 acres of vineyard is dedicated to Pinot Blanc (locally called Blanc Vrai), Pinot Gris (Fromenteau), Arbane and Petit Meslier.

“Return From Eclipse”

Champagne Fleury ‘Variation’, 2015 Côte des Bar Brut Nature ‘Natural’ ($130)

Planted in 2010, harvested in 2015, this wine is made without sulfites and after five years aging, receives zero dosage. It is the second release of this unique biodynamic Pinot Gris. The mouth is rich and alive with a bright mousse, shows apple notes, bright stone fruit, soft spice and salinity.

*click on image for more info

 

 


The Champagne Society: December 2022 Selection

“Memory of a Star”

Champagne Fleury ‘Notes Blanches’, 2015 Côte des Bar Brut Nature (Sold Out)

Emile Fleury, who founded the domain, was a champion of Pinot Blanc—a well-known varietal in Alsace and a hidden gem in Champagne. Morgane Fleury’s vision of creating a monovarietal cuvée using 100% Pinot Blanc is a rare and expressive experience.

Made from 25-year-old vines, ‘Notes Blanches’ is from the 2015 vintage; it shows creamy lemon and toasted bread on the nose. The palate is filled with tension and elegance, with a fine mousse and mineral finish.

*click on image for more info


 

VINTAGE JOURNAL

Single Harvest

In France, under Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) rules, vintage Champagnes must be aged for three years—more than twice the required aging time for NV Champagne. The additional years on the yeast is said to add complexity and texture to the finished wine, and the price commanded by Vintage Champagne may in part be accounted for by the cellar space the wine takes up while aging.

On the other hand, a Champagne maker might prefer to release wine from a single vintage without the aging requirement; the freshness inherent in non-vintage Champagnes is one of its effervescent highlights. In this case, the wine label may announce the year, but the Champagne itself is referred to as ‘Single Harvest’ rather than ‘Vintage’.

2015

A wet winter and mild spring gave way to an exceptionally dry summer from mid-May onwards, and hot weather prevailed until mid-August, when heavy rains fell. Rains gave way to fine, cool, yet sunny weather for the first two weeks of harvest, which began on August 29th.

2012

Like 2008, 2012 was a difficult growing season, with severe frosts in the winter. March brought warmth but early bud break made the vines vulnerable. Overall, the early growing season was wet, with mildew a serious issue, however, conditions improved dramatically in the summer months. An August heatwave resulted in a rapid accumulation of sugar, but the nights remained cool, which preserved acidity. Although yields were low due to the early frost, later hail and disease pressures, the 2012 harvest was exemplary in its maturity, acidity and grape health.

2011

Following a warm, early spring and a cool, damp summer season, 2011 was one of the earliest Champagne harvests in history. Patience and fierce selection at harvest time turned out to be the winning recipe.

2010

Dry conditions hindered grape development early in the season, and after a hot summer, torrential rain in mid-August caused widespread disease pressure. The ripeness of the grapes was good and the acidity remained high despite the warm season, but as a combined consequence of the challenges of the growing season, the global financial crisis and the cellars bursting with fine 2008 and 2009 vintage bottles, few houses declared 2010 a vintage. The ones who did, did so so for a reason.

2008

Initially a difficult, damp year with widespread mildew, expectations for 2008 were low. However, drier conditions in August and a fine, warm September with cool nighttime temperatures proved to be the saving grace. Harvest began on September 15th and it quickly became known as an outstanding year, due to the finesse brought about by the fine, saline freshness and purity of fruit. A dream-come true vintage in many aspects, 2008


Notebook …

Drawing the Boundaries of the Champagne Region

To be Champagne is to be an aristocrat. Your origins may be humble and your feet may be in the dirt; your hands are scarred from pruning and your back aches from moving barrels. But your head is always in the stars.

As such, the struggle to preserve its identity has been at the heart of Champagne’s self-confidence. Although the Champagne controlled designation of origin (AOC) wasn’t recognized until 1936, defense of the designation by its producers goes back much further. Since the first bubble burst in the first glass of sparkling wine in Hautvillers Abbey, producers in Champagne have maintained that their terroirs are unique to the region and any other wine that bears the name is a pretender to their effervescent throne.

The INAO defines the concept like this: “An AOP area is born of an alliance between the natural environment and human ingenuity. From that alliance comes an AOP product with unique, inimitable characteristics, a product so different that it complements rather than competes with other products, possessing a particular identity that adds further value.”

In 1927, the viticultural boundaries of Champagne were legally defined and split into five wine-producing districts: The Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. The CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne), formed in 1941, decreed that everyone who wanted to plant vines and grow grapes to be used in the creation of Champagne had to be registered, and if you didn’t register back then, there is no out, even now. Originally, grape growing was not a profitable business and was an afterthought meant to utilize chalky slopes where grain would not grow. As a result, many farmers at that time did not register, and today, a tour along the Route Touristique de Champagne, you’ll come across unregistered fields that lie fallow between two registered vineyards.

…Yet another reason why this tiny slice of northern France, a mere 132 square miles, remains both elite and precious.

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Posted on 2022.12.01 in France, The Champagne Society, Champagne

 

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