Updated: Apr 25, 2020
On 9 april, we were lucky enough to jump online with Etienne Calsac who streamed lived to us from his cuverie in Avize. We tasted his flagship cuvee L'echapee Belle, as well as his single vineyard blanc de blancs Les Rocheforts. There were many great questions from champagne lovers in 3 different continents, and here are some of the wisest answers that Etienne shared.
1. RM and NM status are taking on a different meaning
10 or 20 years ago die hard grower champagne drinkers used to look down on a bottles made by a Negociant Manipulant (NM). The idea that a producer would buy in grapes from different grape growers (instead of growing all the grapes themselves - Recoltant Manipulant - RM) was often interpreted as a wine that didn't represent a specific terroir and meant a large disconnect between growing the grapes and turning those grapes into a great wine.
Etienne is proof that this is no longer the case. When he and his mother decided a few years back that it would be a better idea to blend their grapes together Etienne became a NM. He owns around 3 hectares and his mother has a hectare next door to his vines, and although they are almost identical in terms of terroir and viticulture, the simple fact that he was using grapes from 2 owners meant he had to change his status.
This is often the case with small producers who want to expand, but cannot afford to buy more land. It just makes much more sense financially to buy in a couple of tonnes of grapes from your neighbour than take on dept that you might pass on to the next generation. This is the case with the likes of De Sousa, Fleury and Pierre Paillard who have recently become NMs.
2. Petit Meslier is the Champagne grape of the future
With global warming and the impact on the vines of the region, producers are experimenting with different clones but also different varietals. The 4 ancient varietals of Champagne (Arbanne, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris & Petit Meslier make up a microscopic part of the plantings of the region, but are slowly increasing in popularity due to their ability to flourish in warmer weather. With less than 0.3% planted of these 4 varietals Etienne believes that we are moving towards almost 200ha, which is a great thing especially for Petit Meslier. Petit-Meslier is the result of Gouais and Savagnin being crossed and has a high potential alcohol and higher acidity than it's counterparts. It tends to keep its acidity during warmer vintages and will show great balance and ability for ageing.
3. The silver lining of COVID-19 will be expressed in wines with a 2019 base
Unfortunately due to security restrictions in France during the lock down, bottling champagnes has had to be postponed. Bottling or 'tirage' would be unsafe as it requires several people in a small space filling each bottle with the 'vins clairs'. The advantage of it spending an additional few months in oak or in tanks is that there will be more developed characters and more complexity in the wines. So look out for Etienne's releases of 2022, with base vintages of 2019.
Or in the meantime, pick up a few bottles from his official importers;
In Singapore through Artisan Cellars : pricing here
To order contact Valentin Krug at email@example.com
Attendees of the masterclass will receive 10% off Etienne's wines.