Raw, or French cru, is not necessarily a positive category in traditional French high culture. Uncooked foods such as salads or raw ham are only available “hors d’œuvres” in the menu, i.e. outside the actual meal. Raw stands, not only since Lévi-Strauss, for nature and wilderness. The cooked on the other hand for civilization. In this sense, classical winemakers find silly the idea that the creeper vine can produce “natural wine” on its own, that is, without human intervention. In fact, in hardly any nation is the conviction of the importance of culture as strong as in France. And our neighbor has always regarded Champagne, the most difficult product to produce from grapes, as the highest expression of this civilization. So between sparkling wine producers and a “Raw Wine” fair there is a priori a tension.
On the other hand, the intellectual countermovement was also proclaimed in France. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s motto “Back to nature!” has created countless disciples. And today Paris, of all places, is the epicenter of the European natural wine movement. So when Raw was first held in Berlin in 2015, a number of leading Champagne winemakers, such as Laherte, were also represented. The thread quickly snapped, with one last Mohican remaining in 2018, after which there was an obvious gap in Raw. Under the banner of the Association des Champagnes Biologiques (ACB), a dozen champagne winemakers found their way to Berlin this time. For the press, there was also a top-class themed seminar on biodiversity in the vineyard and climate change in the region.
The return of Champagne to the Raw Wine Fair Berlin
Which “diplomatic efforts” are ultimately responsible for this is, of course, difficult to judge from the outside. Certainly it will have to do with the fact that the fair has softened the ideological sharpness of the first years – keyword zero-sulfur. Today, under the umbrella of Raw, natural wine apologists of the pure doctrine, but also biodynamically as well as “merely” organically working winegrowers find together. As long as they they share the guiding principle of the lowest possible intervention in viticulture. This is only to be welcomed in view of the immense tasks facing viticulture in the future.
In fact, the intensive agriculture of the 1970s and 1980s had devastated the vineyards of Champagne to an extent hardly seen in any other wine-growing region in France. At that time, shredded plastic waste from the greater Paris area was scattered over large areas of the Champagne vineyards in order to loosen the soil. The blue pellets can still be seen today in many of the region’s vineyards.
Pioneers of the “New Champagne”
The “New Champagne” we celebrate today owes much to the advocates of a return to traditional, pre-industrial agriculture and a commitment to protecting the ecological basis of wine production. The fact that this year pioneers such as Pascal Doquet and Jean-Sébastien Fleury, as well as the young visionary Jérôme Lefèvre, were on hand to answer questions from the German capital’s press was therefore a powerful statement. Precisely because it combined the commitment to viticulture as close to nature as possible with an uncompromising awareness of quality. Last but not least, this also strengthened the relevance of the Raw Wine Fair itself.
However, the visitor would like to see the masses of visitors organizationally tamed. In London, the fair is divided into two days (trade visitors and normal public). Would that also be feasible in Berlin? The Bar Convent Berlin had to pay tribute to its success and moved from the halls at Gleisdreieck to the Messe Berlin. Raw has to take a similar step, as painful as the move from Markthalle Neun is. But in the end, it’s not about the scene, it’s about the thing.
Philippe Lancelot Cramant Grand Cru 2018 Extra Brut
Lancelot is a common name in Cramant. No less than five winemakers bottle champagne under this name today. The house of Philippe Lancelot is the successor of Champagne Y. Lancelot-Wanner, founded by the grandfather in 1961 and finally taken over by grandson Philippe in 2008. The latter, after studying viticulture and enology in Avize, had begun a collaboration with Hervé Justin, a pioneer of biodynamics in Champagne, in 2009. Since 2012, all vineyards are farmed biodynamically. The AB organic label was awarded in 2014, followed by Demeter certification in 2015 and Biodyvin in 2020. He does not use sulfur or copper sulfate.
Apart from that, Philippe Lancelot pursues a micro-cuvée approach in order to bring out the individual terroirs of his plots in Épernay and the Côte des Blancs in the best possible way. This can mean bottlings of just 450 bottles. The Cramant Blanc de Blancs, an assemblage of different parcels from this outstanding Grand Cru community, with its 3,024 bottles and 491 magnums already belongs to the “popular” products in the portfolio. Very fine and dense, with good acidity despite the hot 2018 vintage and the typical saltiness of Chardonnays from the best sites.
L & S Cheurlin L’Élegante Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut
L & S Cheurlin is also a start-up from an existing Champagne house, this time Richard Cheurlin in Celles-sur-Ource in the Côte des Bars. Here it was the siblings Lucie and Sébastien who began organic farming after returning to their parents’ vineyard and founded their own house in 2005. They now have 5 hectares of AB-certified sites and grow some Pinot Blanc in addition to the classic varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Chardonnay can be quite broad in the Aube, so they often plant north-facing sites as well. Cheurlin’s L’Élegante comes from such a single site, namely Dalivard in Celles-sur-Ource. One grape variety, one vintage (2015) and one site, that is Burgundian winemaking philosophy. The vinification and aging of the base wines in wooden barrels also corresponds to this – after all, it is only a stone’s throw to the neighboring region. The result is astonishing. A very vinous champagne with aromas of mirabelle plums and brioche, yet light on its feet and lively despite its creaminess.
Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Gru Diapason
Pascal Doquet was already represented on sur-la-pointe.com in the article about the Top 5 of the Falstaff Champagne Gala. Usually, in such a case, I present another, preferably more unknown house. But that would be unfair in this case. Not only because of Doquet’s importance as president of the ACB, but also because of the quality of the champagnes. Last but not least, the house presented by far the best overall performance. Although there was no Champagne from the Cœur-de-Terroir series this time, its classic line around Horizon (base wines from the Vitryat), Arpège (Vertus and Mont-Aimé) and the “Rosé de Saignée” Anthocyanes did excellently.
But the star was the Diapason, a mono-cru, that is, a Champagne whose base wines come from only one commune. In this case Mesnil-sur-Oger, for Champagne freaks virtually a place of pilgrimage on the Côte des Blancs, home to some of the greatest Chardonnay Champagnes of all. The Diapason is a blend and consists of about two-thirds base wines from the 2015 vintage and one-third reserve wines. Bottled for second fermentation in April 2016, it has a good 78 months of yeast aging behind it. Doquet handled the difficult 2015 vintage with ease. With aromas of white flowers and citrus notes on the nose, the Diapason is very classic and elegant.
Fleury Coteaux Champenois Rosé Pinot Noir
Champagne Fleury has made champagne history in some respects. But it is not based in the Marne department, but in the Aube in the south of the region. And their Champagnes were not always judged to be high class until very recently. This is now history, not least because the winemakers on the so-called Côte des Bars are extremely eager to experiment. Above all Fleury. Inspired by a classic of the environmental movement, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” Jean-Pierre Fleury started a first attempt at biodynamic farming in 1976, but it ended in disaster. The next attempt, this time successful, would not take place again until 1989. In 1992, the entire area of the estate was certified biodynamic – the first champagne producer ever to do so.
For the Raw, Jean-Sébastien Fleury, from the 4th generation and son of Jean-Pierre, had brought along the youngest baby in the portfolio, in addition to some classics. Côteaux Champenois Rosé Pinot Noir – a distinct specialty and quite rare with 1,500 bottles. Côteaux Champenois are still wines and have a tradition in Champagne much older than sparkling wine. The winemakers of the Aube have contributed a lot to the renaissance of these wines. Fleury has also a red and a white still wine in its range for years. That they added 2021 a rosé wine to the range is only logical, given nearby Les Riceyes, which has its own appellation for rosé wines. The wine was bottled from a solera with three vintages from 2017. Very delicate in color and with a fine bouquet of sour cherries and rhubarb, the wine surprises with good grip and delicate freshness on the palate.
Maison Jérôme Lefèvre Playing with Fire Rosé
The last pick also comes from a very young winery that emerged from an older one. In this case, the root is Élaine Delialot, who comes from a family of winemakers and owned a small champagne house in the very west of the appellation, in Nogent-l’Artaud. From the 1.07 hectares of vineyards, just 8,000 bottles of champagne were produced. In 2010, the winery became AB-certified, and in 2020 the son, who had worked in the art world for many years, took over. He simplified the name in Champagne Delalot and recently also produces as a micro-négociant with grapes from acquaintances as Maison Jérôme Lefèvre.
Among the countless start-ups in Champagne in recent years, this company is certainly one of the most reflective and ambitious. This starts with the radical purist vineyard management – philosophically underpinned from David Thoreau to Masanobu Fukuoka – which does not use any machines at all, continues with a rather contemporary brand image, and ends with a very French understanding of the product, which thinks of natural wines, luxury, and culinary delights as one. Perhaps Lefèvre’s champagne aspirations and reality do not yet fully coincide. But the Rosé d’Assemblage Playing with Fire (100% Pinot Meunier, with the addition of 10% Pinot Noir as a still wine) already shows the way: juicy but anything but trivial fruit, pale color and a vinous, creamy mouthfeel.
© of all images: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images