Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cellar Door: Champagne Georges Laval Cumières

CHAMPAGNE GEORGES LAVAL / VINCENT LAVAL
CUMIERES
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  • Champagne Cumières Premier Cru Brut
  • Champagne Cumières Premier Cru Brut Nature
  • Champagne Cuvée Les Chênes
  • Champagne Cuvée Les Hautes Chèvres 
  • Champagne Cuvée Les Meunieres de la Butte
  • Cumières Rouge







Vincent Laval is justifiably proud of running the first certified organic domaine in Champagne. His father Georges (like everyone else at the family domaine that goes back at least five generations) had never used chemicals in his vineyard, and in 1971 decided to become certified. Today, Vincent is the head of the Vignerons Bio de Champagne. Champagne Georges Laval is of unmistakably strong characteristic, and unmistakably wine. 





Production is bordering-on-ridiculous small - the entire domaine is only two and half hectares, producing approximately ten thousand bottles each year. It's clearly an effort of passion driven by someone who is searching for quality and relationships with his customers. Vincent has no agent, and no sign on the door of his cave, a lovely courtyard home and winery in the center of Cumières, a premier cru village with south-facing slopes and a preponderance of pinot noir, though pinot meunier and chardonnay are also planted. 


When I called to make an appointment, I was expecting the typical professional welcome from a sought-after winemaker, my best arguments ready on why Vincent should take time to grant an unknown American caviste in Paris a highly coveted tasting appointment. Instead, I received a warmth and excitement that is rare even with winemakers I know well. Absolutely, Vincent said, no matter that he already had some other Parisians coming that same afternoon, we'd all join together and turn it into an apéro


We showed up a few minutes late, finding that the other group had telephoned to say they were still at their previous appointment and would be on their way sometime. We agreed to start the visit, explaining that we "only" had three hours before we had to be on our way back to Paris. Vincent laughed and said he doubted we would leave on time. 


Over the past several years, Vincent has been trading parcels with his neighbors in order to create a contiguous vineyard holding in Cumières so that his vines would have less exposure the chemicals sprayed by his neighbors. He's more or less succeeded at this point, and after a quick look at the traditional (but newly-constructed) basket press, he pointed out two vines that had recently ripped out from one of the vineyards he replanted. The two vines came from neighboring vineyards less than a few meters apart from each other, except that one was farmed organically, and the other not. The roots told the whole story-- the conventional roots spread horizonally just below the surface of the earth like a spider web, while the organic roots descended vertically into the earth. If you subscribe to the idea that deeper roots have the unique ability to transmit the terroir to the grapes, chalk up another winning argument for organic agriculture. 

All of the wines are aged in oak barrels and bottled as both Extra-Brut and Brut Nature (non-dosé). Though not marked on the labels, all of the cuvées are single vintage cuvées. Vincent also produces three single-vineyard cuvées. Les Hautes Chèvres, 100% Pinot Noir, comes from the oldest portion of the now-contiguous vineyard. Les Chènes, 100% Chardonnay, and Les Meuniers de la Butte, 100% Pinot Meunier from a vineyard that was exchanged, and thus is no longer produced (though there are a few bottles kicking around the cellar if you really want some). 


Our visit with Vincent was an excercise in every tasting every possible combination of dosage from several different vintages in both disgorged and nondisgorged bottles. Suffice it to say that we left Cumiéres many hours later, after our expected arrival time in Paris, with a memory of having tasted many excellent wines. The two wines that stuck in my mind were the Brut Nature 2005, and Les Hautes Chèvres, which I had to insist several times before a bottle was finally opened. I was glad I did, since it was easily the best wine of the tasting, a wine that stays in the memory for months afterwards. 



To give a sense of house style: all the cuvées are rich, intense wines that have the typical crisp "dryness" of low-dosage champagnes. Tasting them later, I was actually surprised how much they pleased people without lots of wine experience- I expected the wines to only appeal to hard-core champagne geeks, but turns out that everyone loved them. 







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