I first visited Champagne Paul Launois in 2019, since then I’ve watched tentatively from the sidelines as Julien and his partner, Sarah, iteratively crafted what is a considered, artistic and exciting project. Their winery, once a press house belonging to Billecart-Salmon, can be found nestled among the tightly-packed ruelle of grand cru village, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a stone’s throw from Krug’s iconic Clos du Mesnil. Having traditionally sold their grapes to the village cooperative, three generations of the Launois family have tended to a little over 6.5 hectares of Chardonnay vines. Following nine years working abroad, in 2015 Julien and Sarah completed their first harvest together. A year later Julien began working on the single-barrel project, a personalised and intimate expression of Champagne shaped together by winemaker and wine lover. Following my first visit, it was the nature of their project that had left me enthralled. In a contracting market of growers, Julien and Sarah stood out to me as being among a small number who may well buck the trend. Though the project had impressed me in 2019, this time around the wines took centre stage and Julien’s evolution as a winemaker was clear. Though growing in volume, their range of 4 cuvée is each year entirely outstripped by demand with strong interest from keen buyers the world over. I spent a late-summer morning with Julien tasting from his single-barrel library and discussing the future.
As a wealthy, mercantile nation, England had a marked influence on the development of sparkling Champagne. On both sides of the channel, the roots of the modern Champagne industry were laid during the Industrial Revolution. Most notably, the British method of coal-fired glassmaking contributed to stronger bottles able to withstand higher pressure. By the end of the 19th century, Champagne was making its mark and embedding itself into popular culture. Since 1950, global sales have grown steadily, with 13 million bottles sold in 2019 in the UK alone. To the surprise of many, there are almost 16,000 individual growers and 320 houses in Champagne. However, those 320 houses sell almost 70% of the regions total production. Only around 2000 of these growers continue to grow and produce their own wine. A concentration of powerful conglomerates raising the price paid to growers for their crop has made bottling one’s own wine economically unfeasible and increasingly unattractive. In 2018 alone, 120 growers disappeared. Despite being the second-largest consumer of Champagne, here in the UK, we import only 130 growers with the vast majority of sales achieved by the 5 largest houses. Lack of visibility in such an important market makes the prospect of surviving as a grower all the more daunting. Sip Champagnes is the brainchild of friends Daniel Blatchford and Peter Crawford. Together, photographer and tech-wiz Blatchford, and longstanding Champagne enthusiast and collector, Crawford, aim to platform underexposed artisan producers by providing customers with a unique exploration through a subscription model and standalone bottle shop. I spoke with the pair about this exciting project.
1981 was a fairly average year in Champagne. Harvest was small and the wines were somewhat thin and austere. Following World War II, both the popularity and sales of Champagne had once again surged. Despite this, the region had not seen a new house for over 100 years. Bruno Paillard had been working as a broker since 1975, his lineage of brokers and growers in the villages of Bouzy and Verzenay dating back to 1704. Champagne run thick in Bruno’s blood and during his time as a broker he acquired a deep and extensive knowledge. At just 27 years old, without a penny to his name, Bruno sold his vintage Jaguar for 50,000 francs to satisfy his burning desire. A desire to create a different Champagne. Almost 40 years later, he and his daughter Alice direct one of the most prestigious houses in Champagne. I spoke with Alice about beginnings, relationships, challenges and the future.
Selecting a date upon which to begin harvest is arguably the most pressing, influential and troublesome decision required of any vigneron during the annual growing cycle. There is the romantic notion that growers arrive at this decision as a result of intuitive tasting of selected grapes picked randomly from a particular plot or row. Whilst intuition often proves invaluable, particularly in tough vintages, times are changing and the role of technology in tracking optimum grape ripeness is proving increasingly valuable. In no region are they pursuing optimum ripeness quite as comprehensively than in Champagne. I got to grips with just how this pursuit is evolving with Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de Cave at Ruinart.
The most fantastic of experiences often occur out of chance encounters. After being impressed by the several great reviews I had read about Champagne Paul Launois, his philosophy and his wines I decided to try my luck and request a last-minute visit with him.
Fantastic evening with Dom Perignon at the Michelin starred Simpsons in Birmingham. During the evening we tasted DP Vintage 09, Rosé 05, DP P2 2000, 99 and 98. Check out this post in which I explain exactly what the Dom Perignon P2 series is and also share my tasting notes from the evening.