The Champagne region in France might be known for, well, champagne, but there’s also a healthy number of still wines coming from the appellation. Known as Coteaux Champenois, these wines often feature the primary champagne grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – only vinified without a secondary fermentation. These wines recall the days of the region before sparkling wine was discovered – and are oftentimes of excellent quality. After all, it takes good still wines to make good champagne to begin with.
While oftentimes produced by smaller estates, Coteaux Champenois has caught the imagination of many in recent years – including Louis Roederer. While perhaps best known for its prestige cuvee Cristal, Louis Roederer has recently released the 2018 vintage of their first commercially-available still wines. Christened Homage a Camille (homage to Camille), the 2018 release was named after the great grandmother of 7th generation owner Frederic Rouzaud.
Two single-vineyard wines, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir, make up the collection. The former comes from a 55-acre plot in the Volibarts lieu-dit in Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger; while the latter, a 43-acre plot in Charmont lieu-dit in Mareuil-sur-Ay. The Peak speaks to cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon about the estate’s efforts in bringing its first-ever still wines to the market.
Why the decision to make still wines?
We decided to produce Homage a Camille wines for a few reasons. In the late 90’s, we did extensive soil analysis on the Louis Roederer vineyards and found that while most of the land was chalk, there were a few plots of clay, which was suited for the production of still red wine. So we used these plots to explore creating still reds.
Then in the early 2000s, we decided to adopt organic and biodynamic farming methods in order to make more terroir-driven wines. This gave our wines a stronger sense of place, and we felt that we could explore new expressions from our viticulture.
At the same time, climate change has resulted in increasingly earlier harvests. This gives the grapes better ripeness with lessening possibilities of rot, so we had fruit that was better suited for maceration (and thus the production of red wines).
What made you start with the 2018 vintage? How long has this been in the plans?
The above mentioned conditions all came together, and we felt that the time was right to start a still wine project. We had the idea of going back to our roots – to a tradition before 1960 where Louis Roederer produced still wines. The last vintage of this was 1961. Camille Olry-Roederer, (current CEO) Frederic’s great grandmother, used to serve those still wines at all the Roederer lunches or dinners until late 60ies.
Which cuvees would the Camille plots otherwise have gone in?
The chardonnay was planted in 1997 in Mesnil-sur-Oger, Volibarts; while the pinot noir was planted in 2002 in Mareuil-sur-Ay, Charmont. While the Volibarts plot used to go into Cristal and the Charmont plot would go into the Brut Premier, we’ve since changed our farming methods on those plots. The viticulture is customised to create still wines, and we had to wait for the vines to be well-rooted before our first attempt. The first vintage we made was 2014, but we were only ready to launch in 2018 after some fine-tuning.
Will the Camille be made every year?
We have produced Camille 2018/2019/2020 in roughly the same volumes. If the 2021 vintage is of sufficient quality (ed’s note: the French wine industry was fighting a severe frost early in April 2021) we will make wines out of three plots: Volibarts, Charmont, and Milnon, a new plot of Pinot noir planted in 2009.
Other plots will join the project in the future, but these are currently too young. We aim to produce the wines every year – bar difficult and rainy vintages – and by doing so, can fine-tune the wines to reach a precise style unique to the terroir.