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. It was 22:54, my ferry was booked for 06:00 and my iPhone began to vibrate under the pillow of my squeaky Air B&B bed; it was the reply I had been hoping for! Julien Launois had invited me to visit him the next day at 14:30; what followed was one of the most captivating wine experiences I have ever had.
I was greeted at the door of the Launois property in Le Mesnil sur Oger by Julien Launois. Julien is a stylish, suave individual and alongside his wife, is the current winemaker. Alongside the work in the winery Julien’s wife is also a graphic designer, Julien told me that she had completed the bulk of the interior design work that we were privy to in both the winery and the bed & breakfast herself and believe me her talent is not only evident but strikingly good.
Champagne Jean-Pierre Launois (having existed for 3 generations) is today a winery that maintains traditional values and respect for its duties whilst also evolving with the times. Julien and his wife aim to carry on the family tradition as stewards of the family vineyards (6.5 hectares over 19 plots) located in the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil sur Oger in the heart of the Côte des Blancs.
Since it was conceived the winery has sold its wine through the co-operative method under the label Champagne Jean-Pierre Launois. Julien plans to change this and will not only soon be removing himself from this method of making and selling wine but also plans to rebrand under the name Champagne Paul Launois. In 2013, to facilitate this change, Julien and his family moved the business in to new premises (purchased from Billecart Salmon) to enable for further expansion to his Champagne label.
As we strolled through the winery, past the beautiful wooden press, down the stairs in to the vat room, where Julien ferments wines from various Grand Cru parcels, my excitement grew for what I knew was next. Julien guided us toward a large industrial lift, he slid the door shut and we descended in to the darkness of his cellars. We were lead by torch light through the cellars to a long, narrow hall where we were greeted by Julien’s unique creation; the Single Barrel project. Adorning each side of the narrow hall are ten beautifully crafted artisanal oak barrels laser engraved with the branding of Champagne Paul Launois.
Julien explained to me that he purchases the barrels from one of the only remaining local artisanal coopers and each pair of barrels is toasted to a differing degree. Amongst each pair he also experiments with differing levels of battonage, these experiments (including battonage dates and plot names) are written in chalk on the walls; he even stirred on Christmas Day, now that’s dedication! Furthermore Julien is hesitant to intervene too much with his wine and therefore allows full malolactic fermentation to take place. His philosophy is that the terroir somewhat determines the vinification method one should employ with a wine and I agree entirely. Julien is also amongst a relatively small number of producers (compared to the whole) in Champagne who do not blend, he believes there are no bad vintages, indeed there are troublesome vintages, however the wine simply expresses itself in a different fashion; a belief I also share.
What Julien does, and is doing, with this project is an incredible example of maintaining tradition whilst embodying entrepreneurial spirit. He allows customers to purchase a barrel (216 bottles) of unique wine which they, the customer, can alter the character of (offering a truly personalised experience) through amongst many other things, the choice of barrel toasting and vinification.
After exploring his cellars Julien took us back upstairs where we made our way to the beautifully designed tasting room where his wife’s impressive art work hung on the wall. Here we were lucky enough to taste one of Julien’s cuvées, Champagne Paul Launois ‘Monochrome’ which is a Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc.
The wine was really quite special; crisp and insistent nose with well defined white flowers, citrus peel and a beautiful salty backbone that is supported by a generous autolytic structure. The low dosage is fantastic and really allows the wine to show its true personality. Full and rich mouthfeel with a mouthwatering mid-palate of grapefruit pith and juicy acidity. Had I not been driving I would of happily sunk the entire bottle with Julien as we talked about his philosophy, the nature of the wine industry and what we did and did not like.
Unfortunately for me (but not so much for him) Julien had no wine to sell me, demand for his relatively small production are through the roof and almost all of it is sold far in advance, particularly the single barrel project.
Prior to us leaving Champagne Paul Launois Julien was also kind enough to give us a whistle stop tour of the bed and breakfast that he and wife manage on the property (link to reserve below) The rooms (again, designed by his very talented wife) are simply fantastic, the decor is a modern but retains authenticity and the quality of the finishing is extremely good with very attractive bathrooms and decor. I have since checked the price of the accommodation and believe me it is an absolute bargain! Highly recommend to anyone looking to stay in the region and really experience what Champagne has to offer.
I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Julien for so kindly welcoming me to his property and giving up his time to share with me his passion and knowledge. I have absolutely no doubt that he and his wife will be able to do great things with their wines and I encourage you whenever you may be fortunate enough to get chance to taste these wines, you will not be disappointed. PS if in the future you have any spare bottles PLEASE LET ME BUY THEM!