1/31/14 Laherte Freres
This was my first appointment of what turned out to be an odd day with a lot of schedule shuffling. When I arrived at Laherte, I went to the wrong entrance which required phone calls, only to realize that Aurelian had forgotten I was coming, however it gave me ample opportunity to explain all of this in French with his mother as we waited for him. As we waited for Aurelian, she started me off on the tasting of finished wines.
It's always interesting to taste a broad line up of wines, and compare my thoughts this what my importer chooses to bring to Portland. In the case of the Laherte wines, I completely agree with the selections that Scott Paul brings in, while leaving a few off the order. However, I'm hoping that we can get a bit of Aurelian's troisieme vie, which was the best coteaux champanois rouge I had on the trip. The tasting was fascinating because the wines we great, but more importantly I'm gaining a better sense of how terrior impacts the wines in champagne. Laherte is based in Chavot in the coteaux sud d'Epernay. It's the intersection of the chalk of the cotes des blancs and the clay of the Vallėe de la Marne. This was most apparent in the blanc de blanc brut nature which had all of the vibrancy of the chalk with the richness of the clay. There was also a very compelling tropical tone to the wine that I hadn't experienced on this trip prior to this wine. The other highlight wine was Les Emprientes 2009, which in the past has showed well, but always been a bit overshadowed by it's siblings. This wine is all from Chavot and an equal blend of Pinot and chard. Absolutely fascinating, complex, and totally drinkable. I love it when intellectual and hedonistic traits are found in a single wine.
After the tasting we went down to the barrel room for a huge tasting of vin Clair which was fantastically compelling, as were Aurelian's thoughts on winemaking. He was just as opinionated as the other producers, but seemed happier about it rather than dogmatic. He is very happy that there is a new generation coming up and being more open and helping each other, unlike during his parents time when everyone was secretive. During the vin clair tasting he gave me both cuveė and taillet wines, or the first and second pressings of the fruit. Generally taillet is considered inferior and most producers sell it off. Aurelian keeps it, he feels it has good fruit that works for the ultradition, but it lacks the soul for the more serious wines. He also believes that new wines are like kids, if you only give attention to one of your kids the others suffer, so he tries to treat them all well including the taillet.
The other really great part of the barrel tasting was the discussion about the other grapes of champagne, all of which Aurelian uses. They are hard grapes, often ripening later than the last of his pinot, and they're really better blended than alone. That being said he likes them and has planted more. He feels the arbanne has a metallic note, Pinot blanc adds banana, and petit meslier adds green pepper. None of the flavors is particularly great, but when blend with the main grapes can produce fascinating wines. Aurelian has a demeanor that I truly liked and I would happily spend more time with him and his wines. Definitely one of the biggest nuts I've met so far though, biodynamics in Champagne is so hard, I applaud him and his results. In the vineyards he practices biodynamics, and has found great results. Interestingly he started not with his best parcels, but his hardest. The good parcels will always make good fruit, but when give attention to the hard ones he found the quality went up dramatically.