Champagne Vincent Charlot

Alert to All Champagne Geeks

 

Location: the village of Mardeuil, just west of Epernay, Champagne, France

Owner & winemaker: Vincent Charlot

Vineyard area: Vineyard area: 4.4 hectares (~11 acres) spread over 39 different plots and 6 villages (Mardeuil, Vauciennes, Epernay, Moussy, Pierry 1er Cru, Ay Grand Cru), estate-owned

Vineyard management: certified organic (Ecocert) and biodynamic (Demeter), both since 2013

Soils: very diverse depending on the site – chalk, clay, silex (flint), sand, limestone

Main varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier + the ancient ones like Arbanne and Petit Meslier

Annual production (approx.): 30,000 bottles, all single vintage

Winemaking: Each parcel is vinified separately in order to showcase its uniqueness. Spontaneous fermentation in amphoras and seasoned barrels; the wines are left to go through malolactic fermentation as they choose (or not). Secondary fermentation in bottles with concentrated grape must, long aging on lees. Little to no SO2, very low dosages (around 4g/l, Extra Brut)

 

Fun facts:

  • Vincent is a true terroir geek: he vinifies each of his 39 parcels separately and releases between 17 and 27 (!) different cuvées each year in order to showcase the unique personality of his highly diverse soils and expositions.
  • These plots are all cultivated in biodynamics, and represent a biodiversity oasis with some 90 species of plants and animals thriving; many of the plants are edible, so a little vineyard snack is never too far away!
  • As his vineyards are tiny (average plot size is a mere 0.1ha), there’s sometimes as little as one barrel (300 bottles) of one wine, and never more than 5,000 bottles
  • Most of the wines decide not to go through malolactic fermentation – liberty that Vincent is happy to give them, as the resulting wines are balanced between richness and acidity
  • Vincent went to winemaking school in Alsace in the early 1990s, along with another iconic French grower in our book, the local trailblazer Christian Binner.

 

Jump to wines | Vincent Charlot’s Website

 

“When I drink wine, I want to taste its terroir – this is what I’m in it for. I want to see the personality of the place where it was born, I want to be moved, to create emotion,” Vincent Charlot explains with so much passion that you suddenly feel the need to get your hands on a bottle of good grower Champagne and drink it, NOW. A passion that’s easy to fall for, especially once you discover the natural richness that he’s the shepherd of: the Charlot estate consists of no less than 39 different plots with extremely diverse soils and expositions. “The heavier clayey soils give wines of exotic, vinous generosity; silex translates into tangy gunpowder notes. And my chalk-borne cuvées, such as the L’Or des Basses Ronces, can transport you to the beach at low tide, so strong is their iodine grip and mineral energy,” Charlot poetically praises the virtues of his variegated vineyards.

His dedication to this mosaic leads him to vinify each parcel separately and release up to 27 (!) different cuvées each year, with quantities ranging from one single barrel (~300 bottles) to 5,000 bottles per wine. In a region where the grandes marques count their nonvintage bottles in millions, Vincent firmly stands on the geeky grower side, releasing only vintage wines. He is the breed of Champenois that reminds you that, although sparkling, Champagne is wine above all–and we love that.

An essential step on this terroir-showcase route is farming: Charlot proudly calls himself “the peasant of terroir” instead of winemaker and all of his plots are cultivated organic and biodynamic. (Only 2% of the Champagne vineyard are farmed biodynamically, btw.) Vincent has grown into this approach gradually, with foundations laid during his apprentice years in Alsace (he was in school with the local natural trailblazer Christian Binner that we also import). There, many vineyards were already organic and covered with grass back then in the early 1990s; when Charlot returned to Champagne and took the domaine (selling grapes to the local co-op back then) over from his parents at the turn of the new millennium, he was looking for ways to harmonize his new finds with the family heritage.

“I have never tilled the soil since then–mixing the layers destroys biodiversity, in my opinion,” he asserts. His trust in a natural balance is so strong that he even avoids seeding the plants himself, save for an occasional lavender or rosemary to “keep the bees happy in summer if there are too few flowers otherwise”. Convinced that the plants are there for a reason, and they allow the grower to read the soil, Charlot prefers to guide his farming by observation and the natural mycorrhiza happening under his vines. 

Charlot wasn’t sold on biodynamics right away, though, he admits; he had multiple training sessions with Pierre Masson, one of the French pioneers of the philosophy, but only fully adhered to it when he saw the results live in his own vines. “I just felt great in my vineyards, witnessing the incredible biodiversity,” Vincent recalls what led him to apply for the Demeter and Ecocert certification in 2010. After some initial disputes with his neighbors over their use of helicopter spraying (not allowed in organics, of course), he succeeded in obtaining the seals and has been enjoying the resplendent ecosystem of some 90 different species ever since: “There’s lamb lettuce, wild mint, forest strawberries, mushrooms, pheasants breeding…” he muses and a vivid image mixing Rousseau’s canvas, an all-seasons farmer’s market and David Attenborough’s documentaries arises in our heads; a late spring / early summer view of Vincent’s vineyard fully backs this fantasy. 

Given his precious natural material, the cellar work is kept to a minimum in order to showcase it: the grapes are harvested manually at optimum ripeness, and then spontaneously fermented, since Vincent believes that the yeast is like a “little mushroom selected by the terroir to express it”. Very often, the wines decide not to go through malolactic: “I don’t know why, to be honest, my cellar isn’t that cold,” Vincent laughs, “but I leave that to the wine and the results are beautiful, with balanced alcohol and pronounced acidity.” The vins clairs spend usually about 9 months on lees in seasoned barrels from Bordeaux and Burgundy: “I always use 3- or 5-year-old barrels, since I’m not interested in getting tannins from the wood. I already have these, perfectly ripe, from my skins and seeds,” Vincent describes.

Once the wines are bottled, the secondary fermentation is started with grape must concentrated by evaporation, mixed with 5 neutral organic yeasts, never sugar. The wines then spend several years on lees – some around four, some up to eight, and after disgorgement, they are topped up with the same champagne and dosed with no more than 4 grams per liter, i.e. falling under the Extra Brut category. Some of the wines are released as “Charlot-Tanneux”, a family label that Vincent uses for wines coming from smaller parcels that aren’t officially certified due to their small size (and proximity to conventionally farmed vineyards of his neighbors) but enjoy the same biodynamic care and minimal winemaking as the Vincent Charlot wines.

The resulting wines in both cases are sensual, serious, and sensitive, all at the same time. Terroir notes, fruit, elegance, energy, acidity, body, creaminess… all the elements necessary for an outstanding wine experience are in poised balance here, and the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts: opening a bottle of Charlot is a highly recommended ritual to enjoy in a big enough glass, with or without food. And preferably with some like-minded friends who will be equally happy spending the night discovering layer after layer after layer of these incredible terroir bijoux, courtesy of Monsieur Charlot.

 

 

Wines


Vincent Charlot Fruit de Ma Passion Extra Brut 2015 — Back to the top

The so-called entry level wine but make it Charlot: single-vintage and grapes coming from two plots only, the 2 “biggest” ones that Vincent has. 2015 was a really sunny, warm year for Champagne.

Grapes: around 55% Pinot Meunier, the remaining 45% consist of a roughly equal proportion of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Certified biodynamic

Vineyard: blend of „La Genette“ (0.55 ha) and „La Chapotte“ (0.55 ha). Both certified biodynamic and located in Mardeuil. Clay-limestone, clay, flint, chalk.

Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and gently pressed, then ferment spontaneously in neutral barrels. No malolactic fermentation, the wine rests in barrels for about 9 months. Bottled with liqueur de tirage and aged on lees for 42 months for the secondary fermentation (prise de mousse), disgorged, and topped up using the same wine, with a dosage of 4g/l (extra brut). 

Personality: this wine has everything! There’s saffron, flowers, delicate spice touch (nutmeg and white pepper), light brioche, sweet wood, wonderful roundness held by acidic grip… layers just keep on coming, you’ll have fun swimming in them.


Vincent Charlot Rubis de la Dune Rosé de Saignée Extra Brut 2013  — Back to the top

Grapes: 20% Pinot Noir, 80% Pinot Meunier

Vineyard: 0.28ha plot called “La Dune” in Mardeuil. Vines planted in 1955 on clay with iron, sand and flint. Certified biodynamic

Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and macerated for around 14 hours on skins. Once pressed, the wine ferments spontaneously in neutral barrels. No malolactic fermentation, the wine rests in barrels on fine lees for about 9 months. Bottled with liqueur de tirage and aged on lees for at least 36 months (usually more) for the secondary fermentation (prise de mousse), disgorged, and topped up using the same wine, with a dosage of 4g/l (extra brut). 

Personality: Vincent calls this rosé’s character “en dentelle”, lacy, referring to its elegant nose. Reserved at first but give it a bit of time and air in your glass and you’ll be wowed by its vivid red fruit playing ball with creamy minerality and lip-smacking acidity for days. Perfect with roasted free-range poultry or, for the truly indulgent, fried chicken…


Vincent Charlot L’Or des Basses Ronces Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2014 — Back to the top

One of Vincent’s top cuvées, a single vineyard vintage white in which old Chardonnay vines showcase a unique terroir whose limestone character is like “drinking from the memory of the ocean”, as Vincent says. 

Grapes: 100% Chardonnay

Vineyard: 0.4ha plot “Les Basses Ronces” in Mardeuil, north exposure. Two clones with different root depths giving different expressions of this unique chalky terroir, hidden only 30cm under the topsoil layer. (Different type of chalk than in the Cote de Blancs) Certified biodynamic

Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and gently pressed. The wine ferments spontaneously in neutral barrels. No malolactic fermentation, the wine rests in barrels on fine lees for about 11 months. Bottled with liqueur de tirage and aged on lees for at least 42 months (usually more) for the secondary fermentation (prise de mousse), disgorged, and topped up using the same wine, with a dosage of 4g/l (extra brut). 

Personality: a grand, serious Chardonnay that owes nothing to its Burgundy colleagues, with everlasting fine bubbles as a bonus! Very fresh and saline, almost “making you feel like walking on a beach at low tide, taking in gulp after gulp of fresh iodine air”, as Vincent puts it. Super fresh and bright, with acidity that lasts forever (way longer than this irresistible bottle will on your table). 


Vincent Charlot L’Extravagant Extra Brut 2014 — Back to the top

Made completely without added sulfur, this wine is born each year from two of Vincent’s top plots, as rosé or white, depending on the year. Only around 600 bottles made each year, bottled with low dosage (3.5g/l maximum).

Grapes: The 2014 vintage is a blend of 95% Chardonnay & 5% Pinot Noir.

Vineyard: blend of “Les Basses Ronces” (Mardeuil) and “Clos des Futies” (Epernay) plots, both with chalk subsoil. Certified biodynamic

Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and gently pressed. The wine ferments spontaneously in neutral barrels. No malolactic fermentation, the wine rests in barrels on fine lees for about 11 months. Bottled with liqueur de tirage and aged on lees for at least 36 months (usually more) for the secondary fermentation (prise de mousse), disgorged, and topped up using the same wine, with a dosage of 2.5g/l (extra brut). 

Personality: wow. Serious Champagne, serious love affair. And a long one, with the endless layers of flavors and hints to discover here: there’s a touch of wood, some toast and honey, creaminess of both bubbles and terroir, yeasty note giving away its unmasked natural pedigree, freshly grated citrus zest, a handful of meadow flowers, a saline note and irresistibly razor-sharp acidity… we don’t know how he does it but we can’t get enough. (Too bad it’s so limited.)


Charlot-Tanneux Rosé de Saignée Extra Brut 2014 — Back to the top

Grapes: 90% Pinot Meunier, 10% Pinot Noir

Vineyard: blend of several clay-limestone plots in Moussy, a village south of Epernay dedicated to Pinot Meunier

Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and macerated for around 14 hours on skins. Once pressed, the wine ferments spontaneously in neutral barrels. No malolactic fermentation, the wine rests in barrels on fine lees for about 9 months. Bottled with liqueur de tirage and aged on lees for at least 36 months for the secondary fermentation (prise de mousse), disgorged, and topped up using the same wine, with a dosage of 4g/l (extra brut). 

Personality: a pleasant, easy-drinking, fruity style of rosé, very aromatic and long. Perfect aperitif or with light starters and finger food, like goat cheese


Charlot-Tanneux Elia Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2014 – Back to the top

This wine is named after the sister of Vincent’s grandmother who was supporting him a lot in his winemaking vision – and Vincent offered her this cuvée as a thank you.

Grapes: 100% Chardonnay

Vineyard: clay with a lot of flinty stones in Pierry 1er Cru

Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and gently pressed. The wine ferments spontaneously in neutral barrels. No malolactic fermentation, the wine rests in barrels on fine lees for about 11 months. Bottled with liqueur de tirage and aged on lees for at least 42 months for the secondary fermentation (prise de mousse), disgorged, and topped up using the same wine, with a dosage of 4g/l (extra brut). 

Personality: the warm, stony terroir brings a lot of solar energy to this wine. It’s round and vinous, with a lot of generous exotic flavors (mango, passion fruit..), underlined by signature Charlot zesty energy.