The first wine was the Brut “sans année” of the house. There would be little to write about this if Roederer had not replaced its popular Brut Premier with the consecutively numbered Collection last year. The respective number corresponds to the order of the wines produced at Roederer. After 242 in the previous year (or 241 for large formats from the magnum upwards), now 243. “We are saying goodbye to the idea of a constant taste,” Lécaillon commented.
Act 1: the Collection
The step at the base from branded to multi-vintage champagne was an enormous move for Roederer and an immense signal to its competitors. Because each Collection can now be assigned to a vintage that dominates the blend, attention was high. 242 was dominated by the difficult “oceanic” 2017 vintage. 243, on the other hand, was dominated by the hot “continental” 2018 vintage. Accordingly, Pinot Noir dominates the new collection, Roederer’s “signature” grape variety. However, not from the southern exposed crus on the Marne, but from the cool sites of the Montagnes de Reims. The Champagne has more grip and creaminess than its predecessor, but also a softer acidity.
“The new Champagne is defined by the terroir.”Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon
So the vintage is becoming more important at Roederer, as is the provenance. Because “the new Champagne”, Lécaillon knows, “is defined by the terroir”. This concept is then also followed by the presentation of a new product line within the Maison’s vintage champagne portfolio: the “Late Releases”. First of all, the concept itself is remarkable. It places small quantities of vintage champagnes retained by the Maison on the market once again after a long period of maturation. A measure, as Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon remarks with a wink, that Roederer had taken in response to the accusation of presenting its vintage champagnes too early. In fact, the house is also reacting to the growing collector’s market for old champagnes, like the Cristal Vinothèque series. However, the Late Releases are “originally” degorged, while the latter have an extension of bottle fermentation.
Act 2: Late Release Vintages
In 2022, the five best vintages of the nineties made a start: 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995 and 1990. The champagnes presented in magnums were all wonderfully fresh and oscillated between ripe opulence (1990) and cool nobility (1996). They are all adorned with the line “Vignoble de la Montagne” on the label. A reference to the origin of the Pinot Noir grapes from the northern Montagnes de Reims, more precisely from the Grand Cru Verzy. This is where the Maison Louis Roederer acquired its first vineyards in 1841. That’s why they are “associated with the most emotion for the house”, Lécaillon emphasises.
These cool Pinot Noirs form the backbone of Roederer’s vintage champagnes, of course traditionally balanced by Chardonnays from Chouilly on the Côte de Blancs. In this respect, the reference to the “mountain location” is a little misleading and is actually only explained by the current development. While the share of Chardonnays was as high as 47 percent in the nineties, it has now dropped to 30, occasionally even only 20 percent. In the coming years, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon is convinced, it will be possible to make the Vintage as Blanc de Noirs, a pure Pinot Noir champagne. That would then be 100 per cent a wine from the Montagnes de Reims.
In 2023, the late releases of the vintage rosés from the noughties will follow as a counterpart. The label “Vignoble de la Rivière” will then refer to the dominant share of Cumières. The Blanc de Blancs vintages, characterised by the Cru Avize, are expected to close the arc in 2024. Under the title “Vignoble de la Côte”, these again date from the nineties. With his “Late Releases”, Roederer looks both to the future and to the past. On one side, they show how strongly the terroir approach shapes and will change the future portfolio of the house. On the other, they are also a retrospective, not least for Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon himself. After all, the 1990 vintage was the first for which he was responsible. And in 1999 he was appointed chef de cave. In 2000, with the conversion to organic viticulture, a completely new chapter was to begin at Roederer.
Act 3: Brut nature
In view of this news, the presentation of the latest Brut Nature vintages was almost a little overshadowed: 2015 and 2015 Rosé. Yet the project developed with designer Philippe Starck is the Maison’s real laboratory for the future. In fact, the grapes of this single cru from Cumières come from a single contiguous vineyard of 10 hectares (from the plots Les Chèvres, Les Pierreuses and Les Clos). It was originally owned by biodynamics pioneer Pascal Leclerc Briant, an important supplier of grapes to Roederer since 2000. After the tragic death of the winemaker, the Maison acquired the majority of the plot in 2011. Roederer takes here with the Brut Nature already an even further global warming in advance. Brut Nature comes from the probably hottest location of the Marne Valley and is produced only in “solar” vintages such as the premiere 2006 as well as 2009, 2012 (now also as rosé) and just 2015.
The antidotes are, among other things, biodynamic cultivation in the vineyard and the mass selection of old vines, which are planted here in mixed sets. From the 2018 vintage there will also be Pinot Blanc fruit from vines selected on Champagne Fleury. Later, the other “forgotten grape varieties” will follow. In the cellar, minimalist intervention, neither malolactic fermentation nor dosage. With their almost austere purism, both champagnes are the complete antithesis to the many vintage champagnes suffering from the 2015 vintage conditions that were presented at ProWein this year.