September saw the launch of the latest Cuvée from Maison Piper-Heidsieck: Essentiel Blanc de Noirs Extra-Brut. It is the maison’s first Champagne innovation for which Émilien Boutillat, Piper-Heidsieck’s cellar master since 2018, is responsible. The house is thus expanding the Essentiel line launched in 2009 – previously Essentiel Brut as well as Essentiel Blanc de Blancs – to include a Champagne derived exclusively from red wine grapes. Even though the Essentiel Blanc de Noirs does not bear a vintage year on the label. It is in fact a Vintage Champagne from 2019. The house has created a so-called solera or “perpetual reserve” with some of the base wines, into which wines from coming vintages are to flow continuously.
Courmas: The vineyard as a lab
Essentiel Blanc de Noirs is not a single varietal, but a blend of 80 percent Pinot Noir and 20 percent Pinot Meunier. In the case of Pinot Noir, the classic Ambonnay and Aÿ crus are complemented by grapes from the Côte des Bar (Fontette, Meurville, Neuville-sur-Seine). Meunier, on the other hand, comes from the right bank of the Marne (Cuchery, Verneuil), the Massif de Saint-Thierry (Cormicy) and the Val de Petit Morin (Villevenard). And finally, from Piper-Heidsieck’s own 16 hectares of vineyards in Courmas, southwest of Reims. This site serves as amodel farm and laboratory for the Maison. Here, a number of best practices on the subject of sustainable farming are being developed. This is where CEO Benoît Collard, Chef de cave Émilien Boutillat and Chef de culture Aurélia Jamain had invited to the vineyard walk on the occasion of the celebrations for the presentation of the new Cuvée.
In fact, much has changed since Piper Heidsieck became part of the luxury group EPI in 2011. In 2015, sustainability was deeply implemented into the Maison’s self-image and virtually no stone left unturned. The vineyards in Courmas are now permanently greened and cultivated naturally without the use of herbicides and insecticides. They carry the dual certification of “Farm with High Environmental Value” (HVE-3) and “Sustainable Management in Champagne” (VDC). Since 2022, the house, along with the sisters Charles Heidsieck and Rare, was the first in Champagne to be awarded the “Benefit Corporation”, or “B Corp” certificate for its positive social, economic and environmental impact.
In addition to the Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir vines, which come from mass selection in the Montagne de Reims, there are also those from experimental cultivation, such as an area of 0.5 hectares with the hybrid grape Voltis. Together with NaturAgora by Evelyne Ratte, Piper-Heidsieck is currently compiling a flora and fauna inventory of the plots in Courmas. A variety of measures such as hedge planting and wildlife corridors are simultaneously increasing biodiversity. But Piper-Heidsieck is also at the forefront of technical innovations. This is shown by a demonstration of the fully electric and autonomous vineyard robot VitiBot, in whose development the company is involved as an investor. The vehicle can work for up to ten hours a day. It is therefore predestined, for example, for the time-consuming task of combating downy mildew.
40 years of history in a vertical tasting
Even more impressive was the master class at “La Villa,” the Maison’s headquarters in Bezannes on the outskirts of Reims. Three sessions focused on Non-Vintage cuvées from Piper-Heidsieck (Essentiel Brut and Cuvée Brut) – from the previous year down to 1985. “This,” said Émilien Boutillat, “is the perfect way to truly get to understand the style of Piper-Heidsieck.” That said, Boutillat, who joined Piper from Cattier in 2018, made clear how many parameters had changed over time. For example, he said, the proportion of reserve wines now reaches 30 percent. Whereas in the past it was only 15 percent. The freshness of the fruit owes much to the stainless steel cuvérie of 1995 and the harvest from cooler sites such as Essoyes in the Côte des Bars. And the partial blocking of malolactic fermentation. A stylistic device for which Piper-Heidsieck was once known, but which was then strictly abandoned from 1989.
The first flight saw the comparison of tank bottlings of the Cuvée Brut and Essentiel Brut, based on the 2022 vintage, and the Essentiel based on 2019, also from tank. While the freshness of the Meunier fruit was eye-catching in the standard cuvée, the salty, almost Blanc de Blancs-like feel of the two Essentiels was impressive. Essentiels from the base years of 2018, 2014, 2012 and 2010 (the second ever bottling of the cuvée) followed. Three times the Champagne changed packaging during this period, and more and more information about the production migrated to the label. Here, the basic characteristic of the Piper style stood out. You may describe it as the simultaneity of reductive and oxidative elements, such as spicy toast next to a clear fruit aroma.
11 Champagnes, four cellar masters, 3 owners
The flight of four 2022 disgorged bottlings of Piper-Heidsieck’s standard Cuvée based on the 1998, 1995, 1989 and 1985 vintages was almost sensational. Thus, the 1995-based Cuvée had a conciseness and focused class. I would not have expected it in my life from a “simple” Brut from Piper-Heidsieck. “You can only keep your style constant if you permanently reinvent yourself”, Émilien concluded this impressive tasting. It included Cuvées from four cellar masters: in addition to Boutillat, Régis Camus, Daniel Thibault and Claude Demière. Under three different owners: EPI, Rémy Cointreau and François d’Aulan. It demonstrated the enormous care taken in Champagne, even for standard Cuvées, which wine lovers often misunderstand as “brands”. One should never underestimate them.
(c) Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images
More on the topic and introductory information:
240 pages, numerous illustrations.
Wiesbaden: Tre Torri Verlag, 2001.
Awarded the German Cookbook Prize in Gold as the best wine book of the year 2021.