Making the case for the Marne
For two decades, Jean-Marc Charpentier has worked to change the world's perception of the Marne Valley, an area he believes can be world-class. It's a tall order, but Jean-Marc savors a challenge. He quotes the 18th-century French polymath, Beaumarchais:
“La difficulté de réussir ne fait qu'ajouter à la nécessité d'entreprendre."
“The difficulty of the task only adds to the necessity that we get started.”
Building up the area's reputation has been a challenge for two reasons:
90% of grapes grown in Champagne are produced on farms that average less than 5 acres and few growers have the resources and ability to produce their own bottles. This general fact about Champagne is acutely true in the Marne. The status quo can create a disconnect between growers and the wines that are the fruit of their labor. For Jean-Marc, this is problematic as he works to produce the highest possible quality of wine.
The Marne Valley has historically been known as a source of grapes for big houses and their cheaper blends, not as a region producing terroir-driven wines. Simply put, few producers have focused on producing world-class Champagne in the area. Even today, no one really knows the potential of the region beyond a small handful of cuvées.
In response, Jean-Marc has spent the last 15 years creating the Terre d’Emotions collection.
It starts with the grapes. Jean-Marc’s grandfather foresaw an unexpected future on their south-facing, hillside parcels, and today, the majority of their vineyards are filled with 40+ year Chardonnay vines, while Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier account for roughly 30% each. Pinot Meunier, an early ripening variety, dominates the Marne Valley, but not the Charpentier's plantings.
After taking the helm of his family farm, Jean-Marc assiduously mapped their 50+ acres, noting each site’s subsoil, exposure, proximity to the river, and historical performance. He identified seventy-two distinct parcels. Each is farmed and vinified individually with specific records kept of yields and quality of the grapes grown. Measurements continue throughout the vinification.
Jean-Marc produces vibrant, clean, and bright Champagne while encouraging complete malolactic fermentation in order which reduces his need for SO2. Because malo reduces a wine's acidity, farming choices that lead to a lower pH in the finished wines are of critical importance.
Biodynamics drive Champagne Charpentier This is the reason Jean-Marc began to favor biodynamic farming. With a handful of parcels converted in 2009, he noted lower pH in the musts and in the resulting still wines. Convinced this was neither a fluke nor an error in measurement, he began to convert the rest of his parcels and to share his findings with his neighbors. Today the entirety of the estate is farmed with biodynamic principles and the wines are on track for organic and Demeter certification starting in 2023.
The Terre d’Emotions wines are each made the same way. A “very long and very cold” fermentation in stainless steel tanks is sparked by yeasts cultivated and isolated in-house. The exact temperature and length of the fermentation are something of a trade secret, but the goal is to have the process move along as slowly as possible without stalling the first ferment. The warmer the temperature, the more aromatic compounds escape the wine. Jean-Marc indicates that he skirts the edge of trouble here and 50 acres of juice in the tank at the same time requires a massive investment in material, but he likes the results. Full malolactic fermentation is allowed to occur, in part to minimize the SO2 required. A portion of the still wine is then aged in neutral French oak barrels from neighbors in Champagne and Burgundy for a year. This reserve wine will be blended into the following year’s production at somewhere from 5 to 15% of the total, adding richness and layers. After bottling, the Terre d’Emotions spend 60 months on the lees before being disgorged. Dosage is low, from 4.5 to 6.5 G/l in general. The Pinot Meunier Extra Brut is non-dosage because, as Jean-Marc explains, “it just tasted better and better as we reduced the dosage”. The wines then spend almost a full year in bottle before release, meaning that they are offered for sale a full six years after harvest.
It Takes a Village: Tradition Brut Over the course of two decades, as Jean-Marc converted his farming and incrementally increased the quality of his wines, word spread. Interested neighbors began to ask questions. Today, his own estate is surrounded by neighbors in various stages of conversion to organic agriculture, most of whom sell him their grapes for the wine that becomes Champagne Charpentier Tradition Brut NV. The wine offers an alternative market to his neighbors from the large houses and delivers an amazingly high quality NV Champagne at a surprisingly low price. A reflection of the Marne, the NV is 80% Pinot Meunier, 15% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir. In the cellar, the same gentle press rules are applied with only two press fractions being used. Selling the rest of the juice provides all involved another revenue stream that generates cash soon after harvest. Reserve wines are blended at 20% to 40% depending on the vintage, full malo occurs, and bottles are cellared for 36 months before disgorgement, then held another 6 months before release. Dosage is 8 G/l. Nothing is rushed and no corners are cut. Jean-Marc’s intention with these wines is to introduce the world to the Marne and for you to take note of both the price and the quality.