Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The "Great Growers": Champagne Agrapart & Fils

In an article titled Alternative Champagne 2 (The World of Fine Wine, Issue 35, 2012), Robert Walters describes "Champagne de Terroir," as a wine which "maximizes the expression of the vineyard and removes the influence of the winemaker."  These Champagnes de Terroir are, according to Walters, "only produced successfully by a handful of the finest growers." In Issue 36 of TWoFW, Walters  characterizes the methods of these "Superior Grower Producers" as captured in the graph below.

In his recently published book (Bursting Bubbles), Walters now refers to these artisanal producers as "Great Growers." I will utilize information from Walters, Peter Liem (Champagne), David White (But First, Champagne), and Producer websites to build profiles of each of these Growers and their offerings. I begin herein with Champagne Agrapart & Fils.

Agrapart was founded in the Côte des Blancs village of Avize in 1894 by Arthur Agrapart and extended by his grandson Pierre in the 1950s and 1960s. Pascal and his brother Fabrice, the estate's fourth generation, have been in charge of the estate since the mid-1980s.

Agrapart currently owns 12 ha of Grand Cru vineyards in Avize (primarily), Ogier, Cramant, and Oiry distributed over 50 plots (according to the estate website; White claims 60 parcels while Walters claims 70).

The estate does not adhere to any formal farming technique but eschews fertilizers and employs "ploughing and homemade compost" to "encourage the rooting and the microbial life of the soil."

Because of the small plot sizes in Champagne, a producer generally presses grapes from multiple villages and stores the resulting wines separately until blended. In Agrapart's view, some of these components show as complete and then regress when blended with wines from another village. He noticed no such regression when wines from similar geological environments were blended. This led him to implement geological blends -- finished Champagnes that come from vineyards with similar geology (Walters). In Pascal's assessment, these similar-soil wines blend more "comfortably."

The range of Agrapart wines are shown in the picture directly below and detailed individually in the  table following.

Source: bootle.fr

7 Crus (NV) Terroirs (NV) Les Demoiselles Rosé (NV) Complantée Minéral L’Avizoise Cuvée Venus
Variet(ies)y Chardonnay (90%), Pinot Noir* (10%) 100% Chardomnnay Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Pinot Noir, Pinot meunier, Pinot Bianco, Petit Meslier, Chardonnay

50 yr Chardonnay vines Chardonnay vines planted in 1959
Village(s)  Chardonnay from 7 villages, Pinot Noir from Agrapart plot in Avanay-val-d’Or in Montagne de Reims Avize, Cramant, Oger, Oiry Best Chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards, Pinot Noir Avize Old vines from Avize and Cramant From the best Avize hillsides on clay soils Avize

La Fosse (0.3 ha plot in the vineyard planted in 2002 and 2003) Le Champ Bouton in Avize; Bionnes in Cramant Les Robarts, La Voie d’Épernay La Fosse; worked by worker and horse
Composition Two vintages Two vintages Terroirs blended with still Pinot Noir from Cumierès (Purchased from René Geoffroy) Grapes co-harvested and co-fermented; two vintages

Fermentation Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels

Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels
Aging Oak Barrels Oak Barrels

Oak Oak Oak Oak
Lees Aging 3 years 3 - 4 years

4 years 6 - 7 years
6 - 7 years
Dosage 7 g/l 5 g/l

5 g/l 4 g/l 4 g/l Zero
SO₂ 50 mg/l 50 mg/l

50 mg/l 50 mg/l 50 mg/l 50 mg/l

Broadly built baritone wine (Liem) Finesse, complexity, and a saline expression of soil. Consistently one of the finest blanc de balance in Champagne (Liem). One of the region’s greatest (Parker)
Data sources: Peter Liem, Champagne; Robert Walters, Bursting Bubbles; David White, But First, Champagne; Estate website.

Experience is an Agrapart offering not mentioned in the table above because of its uniqueness and miniscule and infrequent production. The wine, which started out as an experiment, is 100% Chardonnay of which commercial vintages have been produced in 2007, 2012, 2014, and 2015. Production is around 600 bottles. No sugar is added to this wine. Instead, the base wine is aged for 1 year and then carefully blended with unfermented juice (the source of the sugar and yeast necessary for secondary fermentation in the bottle). This wine spends between 2 and 3 years on the lees.

The theme that runs through the Agrapart wines, according to Parker, are
... pillowy textures from ripe Chardonnay that has been aged on its lees and has gone through malolactic fermentation married to a racy, saline, mineral freshness that all wines share. Because of these two features, they are mouth-filling and relatively full-bodied wines, yet they are never heavy; rather, they are always refreshing, energetic and racy. They are without doubt some of the very finest wines being produced today in Champagne.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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