Field Trip – Nothern end of the Cote de Blancs June 3
After my trek to the top of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, I hopped in the cute blue car and realized I that I still had hours until my next appointment at Pierre Gimmonet. I decided to do what any serious Champagne scholar would do with hours to burn, I drove around the vineyards, ate a light lunch and took a nap(in the vineyards). I say this in only partial jest, I really did take a nap, but before that I drove around Chouilly, Cramant, Oiry, and Cuis. These four villages are the ones I didn’t spend much time in during my 2014 trip, and I’ve had lots of questions about them. Along with my you’ll find links to Google maps showing the villages, make sure to toggle to Google earth as well to actually see the vines versus the other crops.
Oiry, as it turns out is rather flat, and is a bit of an agricultural industrial area with lots of farm supply stores, one producer of bulk champagne – probably what Costco uses for their Kirkland label, and a really super fancy Moët tank farm. As I would later learn, Oiry actually produces some good fruit, most of it is just snapped up by the big guys so it never sees the light of day. It shares a border with Cramant to the south and west, and with Chouilly to the north and west. Keeping in line with a theory that I’m barrowing from Terry Theise, Oiry makes some sense as a Grand Cru. Its not the choice upper/mid slope that is sought after in Burgundy. Rather, it’s the mid to lower slope that producers a bit riper fruit in Champagne that producers really want. For example both Krug Clos du Mesnil and Clos du Ambonnay are lower slope, and are considered to be some of the best wines in the world.
Cramant is a village that, despite visiting and tasting with a producer, I still don’t feel like I have a great grasp of it. Its certainly worthy of its Grand Cru status, but I also feel like it’s a split personality. The village sits on two hills, one is the start of the east facing hill of the Cote de Blancs. The other is the Butte de Saran, which is home to Chouilly and Oiry as well. The Cramant section of the Butte is the southern end wrapping around to the eastern side of the hill. Different micro climates and exposures make me want to taste more single parcel wines from Cramant to compare, but interestingly of the Grand Crus of the Cote de Blancs, I find Cramant has few single parcel wines. Clearly more investigation(drinking) is necessary.
Chouilly is huge village with about 500HA under vine. I didn’t really get a sense of what was going on there until I spoke with Didier Gimmonet, who like pretty much all producers had opinions on Chouilly. Most producers that have vines in Chouilly feel its too big, and there are a few great areas and a lot of good but not Grand Cru areas. Looking on a map, the best part is the eastern facing side on the Butte de Saran where Chouilly intersects Oiry and Cramant. The vines continue around the Butte to the north, and a bit on the west. The also continue off the Butte far to the northwest, which is pretty much the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay. Understanding the size and various expositions of Chouilly helps me understand why the quality of the wines from here are variable, and why the wines are often perfectly enjoyable but rarely exceptional. I wouldn’t write off Chouilly entirely, but if you’re looking for a fantastic bottle of champers, I might look toward another address.
I’ll save my discuss of Cuis for the Gimmonet write up as its their home village and Didier insights are what helped for my thoughts rather than just seeing the vines.
I hope this quick discussion of the places helped you with Champagne geography!