Visiting Roederer with Jean Baptiste Lecaillon

Assessing positive impact of grower Champagne (see video)

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

16 April 2016

What a great visit to Louis Roederer, at first guided by Maria Garcia Gragera, pictured below, who seemed as if she had been with this famous Champagne house for ages, as she conveyed so much knowledge. As turns out only for a few months. Nice job! It was great to talk with her about the house’s relatively low key publicity approach, when compared to, say, Maison Veuve Clicquot and all its glitzy marketing campaigns like Scream Your Love and sponsorships.

In focus at Roederer

I arrived on 29 February, as part of my research for an article on Champagne sales to appear in the next issue of Meininger’s Wine Business International. This is what I call fun research!

Back in 1845, Louis Roederer acquired 15 hectares in the Grand Cru vineyards of Verzenay. The idea – which was quite unusual at a time when grapes had little value – was to become a wine grower in order to master the entire process of creating his vintage wines, according to literature provided by the estate. Ever since, every Louis Roederer vintage originates exclusively from their own vines, which is rather rare among major Champagne producers.

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Founded in 1776, an auspicious year for certain former British colonies, the estate was inherited and renamed by Louis Roederer in 1833

Today, Louis Roederer remains an independent, family-owned company, managed by Frédéric Rouzaud, who represents the seventh generation of the lineage. Louis Roederer exports some 3 million bottles around the world made from 240 hectares of vineyards divided into 410 parcels, located in three classic Champagne districts: the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne, and the Côte des Blancs. A very wide palate from which to choose. Because the Louis Roederer does not own enough Pinot Meunier, it purchases these grapes from others, to be able to make its classic Brut non vintage.

Director Jean Baptiste Lecaillon describes himself as a wine grower – and praises the grower Champagnes that gave the region a “wake up call” he said. “Many grands lieux dits are part of our soils, so we talk all the time about viticulture and quality of grapes,”Lecaillon said. “Before we preferred to talk about changing labels, and being showcased in nice hotels.”

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Maturing in oak (well, these were being cleaned when I visited)

Lecaillon had worked in Australia and in the U.S. and has an open mind about all things bubbly. Unlike some who scoff at other sparkling regions in the world as inferior, he understands that consumers can find serious fizz outside of Champagne. In any case, he is making superb wines at Roederer (while supervising other estates belonging to Louis Roederer; for example, he supervised blending the 2015 vintage at Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande).

Tasting notes – when bold I liked in particular, when red and bold even more and when underlined, too, a kind of wine nirvana!

A single flight, the strongest was Cristal, weakest was a 2009 vintage Blanc de Blancs

  • NV Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier – France, Champagne
    Here this follows to the letter the wishes of director Jean Baptiste Lecaillon, a NV that is not as vinous as, say, Bollinger, but not too light either. So this blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (40% each) plus Pinot Meunier – based on the 2009 harvest plus other vintages including 2008, 2007, 2005 and 2002 – has a fine freshness. Lecaillon explained no need for malolactic fermentation, as 2009 was already “rich enough”. Fine brioche notes, coming from the Chardonnay, and the Pinot Noir lends structure. There is admirable tension and the bubbles are fine, leading to a lifting finish. Disgorged after some three years in bottle (it had been bottled in 2010). Dosage if I recall correctly about 9 grams, but very well integrated. Delicious! (89 pts.)
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Simply gorgeous, if expensive

  • 2010 Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Rosé – France, Champagne
    Jean Baptiste Lecaillon, director here, considers himself a wine grower above all else and talks up the concentration and fruitiness of the Cumieres Pinot Noir, in the Marne Valley, part of the UNESCO world heritage site area, as named last year. Indeed, the rich strawberry notes are endearing, and I love the acidity, briskness, perhaps coming from the 2010 vintage, fresher than the 2009 for example, that was largely making up the NV Brut I tried just before. The blend is 70-30 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay. Great stuff! (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Vintage – France, Champagne
    This is such good news for anyone wondering (still?) about 2008 in Champagne. Low yields at 45 hectoliters per hectare, 25% malolactic fermentation given the high acidity of the vintage, with 9 grams of residual sugar, all balancing things nicely. The result is a bright wine, with complex aromatics and flavors including white flower, ripe pear, toasted brioche, rainfall on a stone, seashell like freshness. Of course there is citrus verve, coming from the acidity of the vintage. The bubbles are very fine and there is a mid palate richness that keeps you coming back for more. (92 pts.)
  • 2009 Louis Roederer Champagne Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne
    This was tasty and rich, there were fine bubbles but I just was missing a bit the verve from the 2008 vintage tasted just before. (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut – France, Champagne
    Well, everyone knows the origin of this cuvee, dating back to Tsar Alexander II who asked Louis Roederer back in the later 19th century to make him an “exclusive” wine. The best parcels were selected back then to do so, the best are used today as well: mainly from old vines from grand cru vineyards owned by Roederer and often cultivated according to biodynamic principles and vinified parcel by parcel. 2007 was a “fresh” vintage, no malolactic fermentation however, with 9.5 grams of residual sugar. Aged for six years in bottle before disgorging. An amazing balance of power and precision, this blend of around 58-42 Pinot Noir-Chardonnay, because the flavors and aromatics are so much more vivid than the other cuvees I tried on my visit to Roederer. White stone fruits, vibrant lemon aspects, meadow field freshness, mid palate concentration, ultra fine tickling bubbles, a long finished marked by subtle almond notes. Yes, this is expensive, but I see that it is superior to the others. If you have the cash, go for it. (95 pts.)

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