My wife and I are in Champagne and are looking forward to the prospect of a morning with Laurent Vauversin, owner of Vauversin Champage in the Grand Cru village of Oger. As we make our way through the beautiful vineyards of the Cote des Blancs there is a suspicious lack of activity in the fields. Surely at this time of year when growth is at full throttle, the task of restraining, guiding and controlling the luxuriant growth should demand a lot of time, attention and manpower? On reflection it was also eerily quiet on the road here from Mareuil-sur-Ay. No trucks. No commuters. No white vans. All is explained subsequently when we learn that 10th May is a national holiday.
The arrival at the address of 9 Rue de Flavigny finds us sat in front of an attractive house whose entrance is garnished with all the usual signs indicating that champagne is sold here. The drive slopes down towards a basement and behind the house there is what looks like a substantial garage.
Our intrigue is assuaged by the arrival of a newish Renault from which a lean and donnish looking young man emerges. He is Laurent Vauversin who is our host for the morning. We are ushered into the lounge where the introductions include not only ourselves but also an uncle who is there for the holiday. Laurent’s offer of a glass of Brut Original is a tad too early even if it is a holiday and we start off on the tour and description of the business. Out of the front door, round to the right, through the front garden and you are in the vineyard.
The business of growing grapes for a living by antecedents of the Vauversin family got under way as long ago as 1640 but it was Laurent’s grandfather who took the decision to move things up a notch and start making wine on a commercial scale. That was based on the fact that his great grandfather on returning home from the Great War realised that he had a lot of Army friends and comrades who were from Paris and they were only too happy to buy his wine. In 1930 production of Vauversin champagne got under way. 84 years later Laurent is carrying on that tradition. He spent five years studying viticulture and oenology at the college in Avize before spending a year in Australia and then getting his hands dirty at home on the family holding of 3 hectares. What a wonderful opportunity at the age of just 25 to take on this business for which he has exciting plans.
Laurent has only Chardonnay vines. The type of pruning employed is standard ‘Chablis’. The vines are kept low so that at night when the earth radiates the day’s warmth heat gets to the vine. The soil in each row is pushed up around the foot of the vine to protect it from the frost. He aims to produce anything from 10 – 20 bunches of grapes on each vine.
Now the really interesting bit is that Laurent has introduced a non-chemical regime. His vineyard and his wines are the only organic Champagne produced in Oger. He uses a natural home-made infusion of Ortie (Nettles), Prele (Horsetail) and Osier (Basket willow or withy) to create a mixture for spraying. Each vine has has a brown plastic capsule suspended on the wire for seducing and confusing the caterpillars. This organic approach was initiated in 2011 shortly after Laurent completed his studies.
Indeed Laurent has got going on a variety of improvement and enhancement projects.
At the back of his grandmother’s house we stop to chat at take a look in the winey. The left hand side of the building houses fermentation and storage vats. Everything is sparklingly clean, neat and tidy. The previous day had been spent bottling last year’s crop, all 13,000 of them. The only wine remaining in the vats is the stock blocke. There is a system by which the CIVC tells each grower how much wine must be held back. This serves two purposes. It provides the Grower with a simple form of insurance and this retained wine also allows the Grower to maintain a consistent house style which may change, but only slowly. 2013 at this stage is considered to have been a good year in terms of volume of production. Laurent’s attitude to wine making is to try to be less intrusive and simpler, to allow the full flavour of the Chardonnay grape to assert itself. The right hand side of the winery is brand new and awaiting the arrival of a new pressoir. Thus, some of this year’s crop will travel no more than 5 metres from vine to pressing.
At the rear of the winery there is a set of steps leading down into the cellar. It seems a mite strange to have a cellar underneath what looks like a very modern wine making facility. On reflection it is an absolute necessity to have the space to store a total of 50,000 bottles in darkness at a constant temperature of 4-7C for the minimum of two years. One room in the cellar is devoted to 2012 stock and one can’t help but notice the oak barrels in which a future cuvee ‘Élevé en fût de chêne’ (aged in oak barrels) is gently gestating. On reaching the far corner of the cellar a passageway leads downwards to yet another chamber located directly under the basement of the house.
The capital intensive nature of this business becomes apparent when you actually look at three year’s worth of stock simply lying there. It represents the output of three harvests, a substantial purchase of vinifying materials and a large investment in bottles and caps. As a former Fast Moving Consumer Goods (euphemism for tobacco and beer) logistics expert it runs counter to one’s every inclination. Minimisation of waste, optimisation of capacity, adherence to stock keeping policy and product velocity through the supply chain are disciplines to which the Champagne business responds in its own time. The correct way to look at it is to consider the neat rows of ageing stock as ‘WIP’ –work in progress. When commenting upon this feature of the business Laurent shrugged his shoulders with Gallic nonchalance and said, ‘It is our private bank.’
Up out of the cellar and back into the house it was agreed that a taste of ‘the product’ would be most welcome. There is something intriguingly pleasant about tasting champagne from a bottle to which the label has yet to be applied. The Brut Original is a blend of 2010 and 2011. It is a very pale, light wine with a delicate nature and soft gentle mousse. It was this wine which came 7th in a competition for Le Figaro out of many top Champagnes. It tastes even better when by glancing out of the window you can see the very vines from which it was made.
Having decided to buy some bottles for personal consumption, Laurent had to swap roles from winemaker to wine vendor and packer. Downstairs in the basement was yet another arm of the business. Ready use stock, disgorging equipment, test equipment, labelling equipment, corks, packing materials were all to hand, ready to spring into action whenever the moment demanded.
With our purchases packed we made our way out to the car and Laurent outlined his vision to be a top organic Champagne producer. The process of conversion (overseen by Ecocert) to organic
was started in 2011 and this year 2014 will be the first full year of totally organic production. Clearly the practise of using wine from previous years means that a claim to be completely
organic will not be true until all previous wines have been exhausted.
It has to be acknowledged that Laurent is taking a bold step which is not without risk. His Champagnes are already excellent so it is difficult to conceive how they could be further improved but his pursuit of excellence is refreshing and encouraging - we shall continue to keep a close eye and nose on things!
Moore Champagne is proud to offer the full range of Laurent Vauversin’s Champagnes through our on line Champagne shop at www.moorechampagne.com