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Single Vineyard Verzy with Alexandre Penet of Penet-Chardonnet



At the heart of the Montagne de Reims, La Masion Penet is a beacon of modernity and innovation with four centuries of winemaking, exemplified by fourth-generation winemaker Alexandre Penet. An engineer by training, educated at the prestigious Ecole des Arts et Métiers and the University of Chicago, Alexandre's return to Verzy in 2009 marked a shift from automobile mechanics to oenology. With an oenology degree in hand, he embarked on the mission of preserving tradition while introducing modern precision to the winemaking process. Supported by his wife Martine, Alexandre carries forward the family's commitment to their 6ha of multi-faceted terroir, crafting champagne that marries tradition with the exacting standards of today. Here he shares some of his innovations, the specificity of his terroir and vision for tomorrow.




Do you remember your first glass of champagne?


No, I have no recollection at all, because it was during my baptism. It is common practice in champagne for the babies to be baptised with the dip of a finger in a glass, and this is what I also did with my two daughters.




Verzy and Verzenay are some of the most known villages of the Montagne de Reims. Can you tell us about the terroir of your vineyards, how they compare to their neighbouring vines, an what makes them so special?


The villages of Verzy and Verzenay neighbouring villages and are often lumped together. Even though there are very similar soil types, Verzenay is North facing so fruit has the luxury of longer hang time and ripening. In Verzy our grapes make wines that are not as round, and therefore non-malolactic wines are less forgiving. The soil is more or less chalky depending on the slope, which means that vines produce very different wines from one plot to the next, akin to the terroirs of Burgundy.


When I started 14 years ago, people didn’t understand the parcellaire approach. Many Champenois were confused as to why I didn’t blend all my wines into a classic assemblage. But I persisted and even claimed that in the future all great winemakers will make single vineyard wines. And maybe 6 or 7 years ago, we hit tipping point: the market had seen enough examples of great parcellaire wines, and winemakers really started paying attention.


Today, I am able to create vintages from our lieu-dit vineyards every year. The high-quality grapes from these selected terroirs retain water due to ample chalk which acts as a sponge, ensuring we can produce a vintage every year.



What are your thoughts on grape quality and lowering dosage?


I was an early advocate of the extra brut category, a practice that is now widespread.

This is not necessarily because of the quality of the grapes, but more the consumers’ palate. And perhaps climate change has made it easier to ripen grapes, as 20 years ago if you were not in the grand crus, you struggled to get proper maturity most years. But this isn’t the reason for lowering dosage.


I think our wines are rich enough to express their complexity and purity without having to add much dosage. The idea is to keep the identity of the plot, and this cannot be obtained with a high dosage. For my wines, balance is nice between 0 to 4g/l dosage. Any more would overpower the wine.


And as I really believe in transparency, I have always added all the technical details on the back labels, as early as 2010.



Some of the greatest growers of Champagne have experimented with Perpetual reserves over the past decades, and now this is becoming common practice with maisons such as Roederer and Palmer. Can you tell us about your transition to solera?

When I took over 2009, one of my most important investments was introducing oak. After a little bit of experimentation, I discovered that Solera would be an excellent addition to my wines. Now I age my vins clairs for 1 to 5 years in oak before it goes into stainless steel vats for further aging as "perpetual reserve" wines (solera style). This gives me lots of flexibility with my multi vintages and I add up to 50% of reserve. It adds lots of richness and means I don't necessarily have to age them for too long. Even though some of my wines may only have 2 or 3 years on lees, they end up being at least 4 years in the making, from harvest to disgorgement.



What can we expect from Champagne Penet Chardonnet in the future?


Some new exciting vintages, and who knows perhaps some more single vineyard champagnes!

Also, since we were the first to propose augmented reality on our labels two years ago, innovation is in our blood, and we will probably continue to innovate in the future on many aspects.


 

If you would like to seek out Alexandre's wines, and follow his journey, you can find more information here:


Facebook: La Maison Penet

Instagram: lamaisonpenet


Member of L'Association Les Mains du Terroir www.les-mains-du-terroir.fr





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