Thursday, September 13, 2018

Jacques Lassaigne: Making Great Grower Champagne in Montgueux, the edge of the known (Côte des Blancs) universe

Montgueux is a tiny hill of pure chalk that, even though 100 km to the south of Epernay -- and being only 12 km northeast of Troyes -- is classified into the Côte des Blancs growing area by the Union des Maisons de Champagne. In addition to its remove from its Côte des Blancs counterparts, Montgueux's grape growing history is fairly recent, stretching back, as it does, to the 1950s and 1960s when negociants, seeking new product sources, encouraged the locals to begin growing grapes. It is in this remote, fledgling, Côte des Blancs outpost that Emmanuel Lassaigne (of the label Jacques Lassaigne) crafts the wines that have led to Robert Walters (Bursting Bubbles) numbering him among Champagne's Great Growers.

Montgueux falls into the Aube Department administratively but does notr share the Kimmeridgian soil and Pinot Meunier variety of the Côte des Bar growers. In contrast to the Côte des Bar, Montgueux's soil is comprised of chalk from the Turonian age and is, according to Lassaigne, really a geologic continuation of the Côte des Blancs chalk -- even though 15 million years older. The Montgueux chalk is 60 metres depth and is endowed with silex inclusions.

A total of 209.3 ha is planted to vine with 90.25% allocated to Chardonnay, 9.22% to Pinot Noir, and the remainder to Pinot Meunier (This Chardonnay dominance is a hallmark for Côte des Blancs vineyards.). The vineyards are southeast-facing and this, coupled with their far-south location, results in the production of fully ripened grapes. Over 50% of the grape production is sold to Champagne Houses.

The Estate and the Wines
As mentioned, vine planting in Montgueux is a fairly recent occurrence. Jacques Lassaigne (Emmanuel's father) began planting vines in 1964 and sold his fruit to the Houses. He began holding back some of his grapes for wine production in the 1970s but at this time he only made still wine. He began producing Champagne in 1980. Most of the wine was sold at the "cellar door."

The family business was not doing well so Emmanuel came back home in 1999 to aid in its rescue (at the time he was working in manufacturing. At that time he had no formal training in viticulture or viniculture nor had he apprenticed at the feet of Jacques Selosse (as have many of his peers). Rather he worked by trial and error and experimentation and has been rewarded with the acclaim accorded  his wines today.His first vintage was in 2002.

The estate holding is a single 3.5-ha block in the Le Cotet vineyard. The vineyard is farmed organically, eschewing fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. The grass in the vineyard is cultivated between vines and rolled flat between rows. Vines are Guyot-trained.

In an effort to tap into all of the terroir opportunities on Montgueux, Emmanuel supplements the estate fruit with grapes purchased from a few small growers. In order to ensure that the purchased product approaches the level of quality of his grapes, Emmanuel's requirements are as follows:
  • The source vineyard must be located in Montgueux
  • The source vineyard must have a south or southeast exposure
  • The source vineyard must rest on chalky soils
  • The vineyard must be managed by a good grower who works effectively in the vineyard
  • The fruit must issue from old vines (45 - 60 years old).
As a result of purchasing fruit, Jacques Lassaigne is classed as a negociant-manipulant.

The Lassaigne portfolio of wines is shown below.  This array has recently been supplemented with a vintage Champagne called Clos Sainte-Sophie.

Lassaigne traditional portfolio (Source:
The grapes for the Lassaigne cuvees are hand-harvested, destemmed, and then gently pressed. A small amount of sulfur is added to the mix at this time to retard oxidation. Each parcel is processed separately. The must is vinified in stainless steel tanks (or barrels) with indigenous yeasts and the wine aged according to the practice for that cuvee.The treatment for the individual cuvees is shown in the table below.

Les Vignes de Montgueux NV
Le Cotet NV
La Colline Inspirée NV
Clos Sainte-Sophie*
Fruit source
7 – 9 parcels; 1/3 purchased fruit
Estate, single vyd.’ Single plot
Le Cotet, Les Paluets, La Grande
La Grande Côte, Bouillerate
Clos St Sophie
Vine age (yrs)
Planted 1964 - 1967
40 - 50
Planted 1968 - 1975
Yield (hl/ha)
35 - 45
45 - 60

45 - 60

Fermentation vessel
Mostly tank (15% in wood)

SS tank
Old barrels

Indigenous yeasts
Indigenous yeasts
Indigenous yeasts
Indigenous yeasts
Indigenous yeasts
Aged in new and old barrels for 12 – 24 months
12 – 24 months on lees in stainless steel and used barrels (4 – 20 years)

24 – 36 months on lees; old barrels
6 mos in barrel
Last three vintages with greater amounts of last two; over 50% reserve
Significant % of base-year wine plus small %s from prior vintages; perpetual blend

Two vintages

Sur Lie
1 – 5 years
3 – 5 years

3 – 5 years

*1.2 ha plot surrounded by a hedge
Compiled from various sources.

The characteristics of two of the Lassaigne Champagnes, as seen by Walters, are as follows:
  • Les Vignes de Montgueux -- a racy, salty, iodine-noted wine which is at once deliciously refreshing yet having good depth and some exotic notes
  • Le Cotet -- a racy, mineral, citrusy, complex wine.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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