Our New Champagne

Yves Ruffin, with only three hectares of pinot noir and chardonnay vines, is one of the tiniest grower estates in one of the most sickeningly beautiful parts of the Champagne region: Avenay Val D’Or.

Any Frenchman will tell you that the southernmost part of France’s Champagne region is notoriously wet.  As such, every year winemakers in the region are faced with the same problems: spring bud-eaters, mildew, grape caterpillars, and bunch rot.  While the idea of treating these problems using organic methods boggles a commercial winemaker’s mind, there are a handful of young Champenois who are showing the traditionalists that while it might be extremely difficult, it’s possible. And the result is some of the best champagne in the world.

Using only compost to enrich the soil, rakes and rotovators to manage weeds, sulfur and copper to deal with mildew, and soil bacterium and spinosad to treat bunch rot and caterpillars, the Ruffin family has been certified organic since 1971 making them one of the most progressive wine makers in the country.  The family pick their grapes (a mix of chardonnay and pinot noir) in summer and use a traditional 4000kg press. 

“Our entire wine-making process is carried out in wood (oak and acacia); we do not use new wood, because we are looking for micro-oxydation and not tannin from the barrel,” explains Sylvie Ruffin. 

The vineyard only produces about 20,000 bottles per year and Master Sommelier Sebastian Crowther’s favourites from among those is the Cuvée Preceiuse – a very dry sparkling that French critic Jean-Marc Carité has described as ‘superb’.  Sebastian praises this blend of 2002, 2003 and 2004 pinot noir and chardonnay for its fragrant nose and rich creaminess.

Vincent Couche is another second generation wine maker proud not to be riding on the silk-lined coat tails of his region’s tradition. 

Vincent describes his job as his priesthood and inherited a love of champagne making from his mother.  What he didn’t inherit was a certified organic status and this is something that has taken ten years, countless hours of study, and advice from France’s leading agricultural engineers to achieve.

“I am especially interested in new experiments, I like to push my limits,” says Vincent Couche. “This is why I took a risk in my vineyard in Montgueux; I did not use any copper during the growing season of 2010, even though the weather was very rainy. Successful bet!”

Vincent has gone bio because his preference is for terroir over formula and nowhere is this clearer than in his Perle de Nacre champagne.  This organic blanc de blanc has been cellared for six years and its flavour has been described as akin to apples, pears and even a Viennese pastry. 

“My wines are assembled with meticulous care, and matured to allow the full development of my various vintages,” says Vincent. 

That’s why it’s best to open the Perle de Nacre and leave it on ice for 20 minutes before being drunk and served in wide-brimmed champagne saucers to allow its disciples to taste every year of its maturity.

There’s nothing else like it in the world.

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Yves Ruffin's Cuvée Precieuse champagne and Vincent Couche's Perle de Nacre champagne are both available now.