You've got to start any list with a bang, or a pop in this case. Benoit Lahaye is a grower Champagne from the town of Bouzy in the sub-region of Montagne de Reims. This zero dosage (no sugar added) is a fantastic example of dry, precise and complex Champagne under $100. It also happens to be on special throughout December so get your hands on it while you can. Brilliant! - Chris L
Benoit Lahaye is without a doubt one of the most sought after grower champagnes today. The global rarity of their wines is exacerbated by the fact that they farm only 4.8 hectares of low yielding vines and have a strong private client base and home market in France and Europe. They are below the radar of many 'champagne aficionados' simply because production is so limited. They barely even make it into the US! So we were delighted when Benoit and Valérie agreed to allow us to bring their wines to our customers in Australia, in tiny quantities of course.
'Lahaye's wines are intense without being weighty, showing a vinous, concentrated character that clearly announces an emphasis on quality work in the vineyards. They're always made from very ripe fruit, yet as with many naturally-grown wines, the dominant character is not one of fruit, but of terroir; ironically, even though most of these wines aren't 100 percent Bouzy, they have more of an archetypal Bouzy character than nearly anything else in the village. " Peter Liem, champagneguide.net
For those of us who care as much about the way our wine is grown and produced as it tastes then Benoit Lahaye's story will tick all the right boxes. Benoit studied viticulture at Avize, in Champagne, rather than oenology. This explains why the emphasis has always been on the vineyard rather than winemaking for Benoit. He took over the family domaine in 1993, which has been producing Champagne since 1930. In 1995 he stopped using herbicides and began to grow natural grasses and cultivate for aeration. He then moved quickly to organic farming following the natural farming philosophies of Patrick Meyer, the Alsace pioneer in this field,. In 2003 he converted fully to organic farming and production and was certified in 2007. Shortly after Benoit moved to a structured biodynamic regime, having already used compost and many tees and tonics, and the domaine was certified biodynamic in 2009. Biodynamics was the obvious next step for someone as obsessed about vineyard detail as Benoit. Today the vineyards are treated with tinctures and teas extracted from fermented plants, essential oils, sulphur and a minimal amount of copper. Since 2010 Benoit has led Tamise, an Auxois draft horse, to plough most of his fields in order to minimise soil compaction. Two donkeys are now also helping. The animals live on the estate, rather than being rented.
The wine making is very simple by Champagne standards. Obviously all the fruit is hand harvested and pressed according to Champagne regulations. All parcels are kept separate. There is no chaptilisation. Barrel fermentation and aging had been increasing and since 2010 all wines have been barrel fermented with natural yeasts and aged on lees for 10 months. Benoit performs 1 or 2 battonages while the wines are in barrel. Malolactic fermentation no longer needs to be blocked, as is common in this part of Champagne. Benoit says since converting to organics the grapes have retained more natural acidity despite the ripeness. This has allowed Benoit to dramatically scale back his use of sulphur and today the champagnes have less than 20 mg/l (ppm) added, and some have no additions at all. After élevage the vins clairs are racked and assembled in tank before being tiraged without filtration. Reserve wines are aged mostly in barrel with a little in tank. Tirage takes place on a mixture of crown seal and cork, depending on the character of the vintages and cuvées, with Benoit preferring cork for more structured vintages as it brings additional richness early. Dosages are low at between 0 to 6 gms/l depending on the cuvée, essentially making the whole range 'extra brut'. The sheer concentration and level of ripeness makes this possible.
Benoit's runs this small domaine with his wife Valérie and their two sons. The vineyards are spread across 3 villages situated on the south and south-west facing slopes of the Montagne de Reims ‚– Bouzy (3ha of Grand Cru), Ambonnay (1ha of Grand Cru) and Tauxières (0.6ha or 99% Premier Cru). There is also 0.2ha in Voipreux, next to Vertus in the southern Côtes des Blancs, which is farmed by Benoit's friend Pierre Larmandier, as it is too far from the main vineyards for Benoit to look after himself. The domaine's vineyards are 88% Pinot Noir with the balance in Chardonnay, apart from a tiny co-planted old vine parcel of obscure and unknown varieties. Vine age averages around 35-40 years of age with a few nice old vine parcels.
Outside of the natural farming, Benoit's other real talent comes in blending the wines from his various parcels to make a range of distinctly different champagnes while still maintaining a strong expression of terrior. This relates directly back to his intimate knowledge of the vineyards and their soils. This is true 'Champagne de vigneron' stuff. - Importer Note
|Product Type||Wine Sparkling Champagne|
|Winemaking Practices||Minimal Intervention|