1/29/14 Pascal Doquet
My first full day in champagne was dedicated to the Cotes des Blancs. Doquet was my first visit, and Pascal and his wife were fantastic. Right off the bat Pascal took me out to the shed to see his tractors, which were clearly very important to him. These tractors are much lighter and designed to have a much smaller impact on the ground in the vineyards than conventional tractors.
After the tractors, we hopped in his van and went out to the vineyards in Vertus, which is just one of the villages he has vines. Pascal's vines were impressive, he takes great care of them using organic and biodynamic practices. When looking are his plots next to his neighbors' the results of his hard work were obvious. His vines have lots of vitality and plenty of ground crops growing between them. everything looked fertile and green relative to the other plots which were grey and brown with flecks of garbage from the poorly thought out 70's idea that trash could be used as fertilizer in the vineyards. Most of these poorly cared for plots are owned by growers that are just interested in quantity, but even the large houses are taking better care of the vines they own.
As we walked the vineyards and looked at different parcels, Pascal gave me a history of grape growing in Vertus and neighboring villages. Vertus has a lot of clay soils, making it distinct from it's northern neighbors, which are mostly chalk. Originally Vertus was a Pinot noir village, which Doquet feels that it should be still. He thinks that clay is better for Pinot, and it makes the chardonnay too rich. However, the maison and negociants liked the richness the clay gave the Chardonnay. It makes it easier to blend with Mesnil and other chalk driven wines that are less friendly on the palate. The governing body of champagne classified the Chardonnay of Vertus higher than the Pinot, so the grower received more money for the chard. They ended replanting most of the village with Chardonnay and now only about 10% of the village is pinot noir. Pascal and a few other like minded producers are trying to change that by making Vertus Pinot noir champagnes. These won't be out for a while, but should be exciting to see. From the vineyards, Pascal also pointed out his other vines in the neighboring Bergeres-Vertus, Mont Aime, Mesnil, and the lesser area of valley floor vines in Villeneuve.
We returned to the winery for a tour, and it's always interesting to see wineries and their state of cleanness. Pascals was not the pristine lab that some wineries are, but it suited his personality. He gave me a quick tour of his enamel tanks which he prefers over stainless and then we went to the barrel room which he uses for the better wines for fermentation and storage.
We tasted a number of vin Clair from 2013, which already at this young point in there lives showed typicity. Vertus was broad and round, Mesnil was chalky and lean, and Mont Aime was smoky and citrus driven. After the vin clairs, we tasted through his line up, which was quite compelling, and most certainly showed his hand in the wine along with the oak. However, this tasting was the most definitive tasting I've ever had to illustrate the quality between cru, premier cru, and grand cru in champagne. The vintage Vertus, Mont Aime, and Mesnil all showed their terrior, and the Mesnil was significantly better. All of them were good, but side by side was more compelling than any of them independently. Overall a wonderful morning full of learning and delicious wine.