Region: Montagne de Reims
Cru sites in Merfy, Chenay and Saint Thierry
Total vineyard holdings: 11.68 hectares
Annual production: 6,700 cases
Vines: 50% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay, 10% pinot meunier
The vineyards of Merfy, seven kilometers north of Reims, lie on the southern slopes of the Massif de Saint-Thierry in the Montagne de Reims. These slopes were planted shortly after the arrival of the Romans and monks of the neighboring Abbey of Saint-Thierry expanded the vineyards in the 7th century. By the 9th century, the vines surrounding the abbey represented the single largest concentration of vines in Champagne and the wines from Merfy earned a great reputation and found their way to the Royal table.
Today, Chartogne-Taillet remains the only RM producer in the village and under Alexandre Chartogne’s guidance, the wines of Chartogne-Taillet are some of the most sought-after Champagnes being produced. Alexandre worked with Anslem Selosse, who he describes as “my wine father”, returning home in 2006. The first wine that he produced was the 2006 vintage of Les Barres, a very special parcel of ungrafted Meunier, planted in 1952. The soil in this parcel is sand for almost 3 meters before the roots reach the chalk bedrock, allowing the vines “to live in two environments”.
In 2007 Alexandre assumed control of the entire estate. In the early years, Alexandre experimented with lots of different vessels for fermentation and elevage, including amphorae and concrete eggs. Watching the wines, vineyards and Alexandre himself evolve over the last 10 years has been extraordinary.
“When I think back to my ancestors, I think that they knew what they were doing. There was nothing bad in the vineyards and the wines were made in oak. This is my direction after many years of seeing other things and watching the wines develop.” Says
In the vineyards, Alexandre does not follow any certifications; his goal is “to respect the soil populations as much as I can”. His work is followed by Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, the two foremost experts on soil microbiology. “I do not use chemicals, herbicides, insecticides … and plough half of my vineyards with my horses. Most of the work is made by hand, but … no certification.” Sheep and Chickens are used for fertilization and focus is put on the health of the soil as Chartogne believes that the transmission of terroir comes only though careful work in the vineyard. Horses are kept on the property and used for ploughing and a majority of the work in the vineyard is made by hand.
After careful selection and harvest, the wine is pressed in a 4,000kg pneumatic press. Fermentation is especially important at this address: “Everything is fermented with native fermentation in my house. The second fermentation have also native but selected inside my vineyards. I have my own yeasts. But for the first (alcoholic) fermentation, it’s always 100% native from the vineyards, without pied de cuve” says Alexandre. In a region where neutral base wines and clarity was favored over the heterogeneity that comes with native yeast fermentation, this philosophy is still at odds with the majority of producers in Champagne today. Fermentation is done mostly in wood: 228 liter barrels with some 600 liter French Oak. There is still stainless steel at the estate and reserve wine is held in large underground concrete tanks, but Alexandre is building a new cellar to store more oak and moving to this medium for his primary mode of elevage and fermentation. Normally base wines are aged for 9 months before assemblage and tasting. “Malolactic is part of the wines” Alexandre says. “The wines from my village makes it (malo) all the time, so (I am) malo friendly”.
Starting with the very first year back at home, Chartogne was experimenting with special, single parcel bottlings. Today, he produces wines from 8 different parcels: Les Barres, Beaux Sens, Le Coarres, Couarres Château, Heurtebise, Orizeaux, Les Alliées and Chemin de Reims. In each parcel a different variety planted, but Chartogne is adamant about the variety not being important. “It is the soil and the place that is most important. The variety is just the transmission of the feeling of that place” says Alexandre. In addition to the very small production parcelle wines, he produces a Rosé, which he considers to be the wine that carries the biggest imprint of the winemaker, as well as a non-vintage called Saint-Anne, which expresses the different terroirs of Merfy. Ste. Anne is a village wine, and an excellent lesson in just how fine wine from “cru normal” made with expertise and care can be.
“I wasn’t surprised when Alexandre assumed the estate, and I wasn’t surprised that he was ambitious. What did surprise me, and continues to surprise me, is that he is the most passionately curious vigneron I know, not only in Champagne, but just maybe anywhere. He is pursuing something that doesn’t take the form of accolades though these will surely come—and hardly even asks for answers. It’s a quest for a kind of immersion, an unquenchable desire to experience.
I believe that Alexandre Chartogne is the most exciting young producer in Champagne. And I also believe he drank from the fountain of wisdom when he said to me, “I do not feel good when I’m sure about something.” Because that’s how you measure the hunger in a man’s soul.”
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