AR Lenoble - Taking on Climate Change in Champagne
Friday, October 11, 2019 in News
AR Lenoble is rare in Champagne in that it has been family-owned and operated since it was founded in 1920. Sister and brother team Anne and Antoine Malassagne are the fourth generation of the family to run the company. Explore our AR Lenoble portfolio here.
Antoine is winemaker, sustainably farming 10ha of Chardonnay in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly, 6ha of Pinot Noir in the Premier Cru village of Bisseuil and 2ha of Pinot Meunier in Damery, in the Marne Valley, where AR Lenoble is based.
The Chouilly holding makes AR Lenoble one of a small handful of producers who can use 100% estate-owned Grand Cru Chardonnay in every single one of their wines.
All Champagne makers use reserve wines, held in a solera-like or ‘perpetual blending’ system. These are used to even out vintage variations so that the important NV wines can be made to a consistent style each year.
AR Lenoble’s reserve wines are held in used, 225-litre, Burgundy barrels and since 2001 also in 5000-litre casks called foudres. Antoine has become increasingly conscious of the freshness that reserve wines can add to the blend that is bottle-fermented to make his Champagne.
‘Climate change is a reality’, he says. ‘The challenge for the future of Champagne is to bring as much freshness as possible to our reserve wines. Acidity levels are much lower than they used to be. Reserve wines now need to add complexity and richness but also freshness’.
So since 2010, he has also kept increasing amounts of reserve wines in magnums, under natural cork, in order to preserve the freshness of the material.
The wines in this release are among the first to benefit from this policy, and the reactions and reviews indicate that Antoine is on to something.
It is salutary to note the time span involved -- nine years from the original decision to the release of the first wines that had reserve magnums included in the blend. It’s also worth noting that the proportion of reserve wines used to make these Champagnes is between 35% and 45% of the final blend.
The Chouilly holding, in one of the best parts of the Côtes des Blancs is the jewel in the AR Lenoble crown. It provides the finesse and elegant minerality which is at the heart of all Antoine’s wines. Ploughing the soil, grassing the alleys (for low yields) and near-organic viticulture and winery practices all make for intense fruit and fresh precision..
British Champagne expert Tim Hall, writing for Jancis Robinson’s website, says the whole Lenoble range is ‘hugely impressive’. He adds: ‘Commentators too often define Chouilly wines as slight, floral and soft but Antoine and Anne Malassagne seem to coax increasing intensity, structure yet featherlight texture and airy weight, with high levels of reserve wines, dosages all below extra brut and judicious oak’.
During harvest, the grapes are always picked by hand and taken quickly to the winery in Damery where they are sorted by variety and quality. The best grapes are used in the vintage champagnes and luxury cuvees. They use the traditional vertical wooden press and only incorporate the first run juice into their wines. Each varietal is vinified separately, mostly in vat, but about 15% is fermented in new oak barrels. The dosage is always light, producing wines with great freshness and ageing potential.