Part 1 of our series on the Côte des Blancs: NORTH can be read here.
Part 2 of our series on the Côte des Blancs: SOUTH can be read here.
While the blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) champagnes in the northern reaches of the Côte des Blancs area (from Chouilly to Avize) tend to be richer, those in the south (from Oger to Bergères-les-Vertus) are typically tense and electric, with briny minerality. Unbeknownst to many, there are four additional areas further afield in the Champagne appellation that also produce outstanding wines: Val du Petit Morin, Sézannais, Vitryat and Montgueux. Together with the celebrated Côte des Blancs area, they form the subregion of the Côte des Blancs, as defined by the Union de Maisons de Champagne.
In Part 3—our final feature on the prestigious Côte des Blancs—we delve into the southern and eastern corners of the Champagne appellation where a small but significant group of curious and passionate Growers are lighting the way on roads less travelled, making all the difference in perpetuating Champagne’s future and legacy.
Val du Petit Morin [val doo puh•tee more•ahn]
Val du Petit Morin (also known as Coteaux du Morin) is a small growing region located 24 km south-west of Épernay and encompasses 18 villages. Scattered over a vineyard area of 903ha, vines sit on varied soils on the slopes of forested hills and on the open plain, with a varietal composition of 47% Meunier, 40% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot noir.
Named after the Petit Morin, a small river that passes through the area from east to west, Val du Petit Morin is the local designation; however, Olivier Collin of Champagne Ulysse Collin prefers the name Coteaux du Morin to signify the hills where vines are cultivated. While most growers traditionally sell grapes to the larger Houses, Olivier has become the region’s most significant grower-producer since 2004 and is one of Champagne’s few specialists in both single-varietal and single-vineyard champagnes, providing enthusiasts a rare glimpse into a unique—and previously unsung—terroir. In comparison to the ubiquitous chalk found in the neighbouring Côte des Blancs, Olivier’s vines sit in diverse soils of chalk, clay and flint across the Coteaux du Morin and Côte de Sézanne. It is this point of difference that drives him to passionately explore and express the unique terroir of these lesser known regions year after year.
The soils of the Coteaux du Morin differ from north to south and account for the varietal variance in the region. The chalkiest areas can be found in the northern sector around the townships of Congy, Vert-Toulon and Soulières, making them ideal for growing Chardonnay that produces intensely expressive Blanc de Blancs. In contrast, soils on the other side of the river, just south of Vert-Toulon, contain more clay, making them suitable for growing Meunier and Pinot noir. From the chalky, northern sector of the Coteaux du Morin, Olivier produces three Blanc de Blancs in very limited quantities (Les Pierrières, Les Enfers and Les Roises)—all from single vineyards with vine ages between 35 and 60 years.
Les Pierrières is one of the Estate’s most iconic cuvées, taking its name from the eponymous lieu-dit (single parcel of vines) located in Vert-Toulon, east of Congy. First produced in 2004, the cuvée is assembled from 35-year-old vines that face south-east in a single 1.2ha parcel. The soil here is unique to Champagne, with sparse topsoil giving way to a bedrock rich in soft, Campanian chalk and black silex (flint). Olivier estimates that 90% of the vine roots are embedded in this soil, imparting the pronounced minerality, rocky flintiness and hint of smoke that have become central to each release of Les Pierrières .
Les Enfers and Les Roises hail from neighbouring lieux-dits in Congy and contain similar soils of clay, chalk and flint. The 40-year-old vines of Les Enfers face east and sit in soils that are significantly less clay-heavy than the 60-year-old vines of Les Roises, which face south and plunge much deeper. This fascinating contrast in exposure and terroir becomes a tangible experience in a horizontal tasting: Les Enfers reveals a sleek and fruity expression of Congy, while Les Roises shows power and opulence with a richer, riper profile.
Also known as the Côte de Sézanne and Coteaux du Sézannais, Sézannais is a viticultural area with a long and prolific history of vine-growing dating back to the 12th century. Almost all of its vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera in the 20th century and, like those of Val du Petit Morin, were only replanted in the 1960s and 1970s, with the majority of growers continuing to sell grapes rather than make their own champagnes.
Immediately south of the Val du Petit Morin, Sézannais is home to 12 villages and has a total vineyard area of 1479ha, with a varietal composition of 77% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot noir and 5% Meunier. Despite sitting on the same Campanian chalk seam as the Côte des Blancs, the terroir of the Côte de Sézanne has large amounts of marl and sand, and the region enjoys a warmer, southerly location. The higher percentage of clay in this subsoil, combined with climatic influence, produces a ripe and fruity style of Blanc de Blancs that is less saline than the traditional styles encountered further north.
Pinot noir is also particularly suited to this region, as shown by Champagne Ulysse Collin’s Blanc de Noirs and champagne rosé offerings. In the village of Barbonne-Fayel, Olivier cultivates almost half of a single 6ha parcel of vines, Les Maillons, where the soil—deep with iron-rich clay—and warmer weather help Pinot noir achieve optimal ripeness and maturity. The family first planted their portion via sélection massale (the traditional practice of vineyard propagation with exceptional old vines) in 1971, and vines are exposed to the east, resulting in wines that retain Pinot’s refreshing acidity despite the higher temperatures. Notably, Olivier is the only Grower currently working with the unique terroir of Les Maillons, from which he produces a self-titled, vibrant and full-bodied Blanc de Noirs and a companion champagne rosé, Rosé de Saignée, that is delightfully concentrated and shows great purity of Pinot’s red fruit personality.
Located 48 km south-east of Vertus and 64 km east of Sézannais, Vitryat is a region with viticultural ties to the 15th century, when it was established as the second most densely planted vineyard area after Reims. Due to the blight of phylloxera, vines were pulled up—and the region overlooked—until interest was rekindled and grafted vines were replanted in the 1970s.
Vitryat is home to 15 villages and now has a small vineyard area of 459ha, with a varietal composition of 98% Chardonnay, 1% Pinot noir and 1% Meunier. In contrast to the Campanian chalk found in the Côte des Blancs and Sézannais, the chalk in Vitryat is from the earlier Turonian stage and mostly too porous and mixed in with calcareous marls to be appropriate for viticulture. Nevertheless, Vitryat holds a few pockets of purer Turonian chalk on slopes where vines can thrive and produce quality wines.
Presently, the majority of Chardonnay from Vitryat is sold to the larger Houses, where they contribute elegance, freshness and fruitiness to blends that are designed to be accessible.
Named after the small hill where vineyards were first planted in the 1960s, the village of Montgueux is located south of Sézannais and 5 km west of the city of Troyes (the ancient capital of Champagne) in the Aube département. A fascinating anomaly of the Aube, Montgueux’s relatively new terroir is an isolated outcropping of Turonian chalk that bears little resemblance to its nearest neighbour, the growing region of the Côte des Bar, where Pinot noir dominates in clay and limestone soil. This chalk is also 15 million years older than the Campanian chalk that is found throughout the Côte des Blancs, and yields exquisite Blanc de Blancs that are just as singular and renowned as those produced in the north.
The slope of Montgueux is fully exposed to the south and is planted to 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot noir. Champagne Jacques Lassaigne is a notable grower-producer of this region, and the House has been led since 1999 by Emmanuel, Jacques’s son. Driven by a desire to express Montgueux’s distinctive soil, Emmanuel’s focus shifted from growing and selling fruit, to estate-bottling, which has catapulted the House to stardom as a Blanc de Blancs specialist and pre-eminent pioneer, champion and custodian of this exciting viticultural landscape.
As Montgueux’s warmer microclimate ripens Chardonnay with ease, Emmanuel crafts refreshing and vinous Blanc de Blancs with vivid minerality and notes of ripe, tropical fruit, with a sumptuous mouthfeel that always maintains a seam of racy acidity. There is no doubt that these cuvées are remarkable tributes to a promising and prodigious village, and are a delightful contrast to the pure and laser-focused examples from the Côte des Blancs.
Les Vignes de Montgueux is a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs that is blended across three successive vintages from seven to nine parcels, conveying pure varietal character and providing a precise cross-section of Montgueux’s terroir—like a delicious Chablis with effervescence.
Named after a poem written by a local poet about Montgueux, La Colline Inspirée translates to ‘the inspired hill’ and is blended from successive vintages of old vines to produce a rich cuvée with ripe flavours and tropical fruit notes, with the chalky terroir imparting refreshing minerality and salinity—an inspiring cuvée akin to an aged white Burgundy.
Le Cotet is a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs blended from successive vintages of Chardonnay vines planted in 1964 on a single, steep and chalky vineyard of the same name. Racy and refreshing, the citrus-forward and mineral-dominant personality of Le Cotet is an elegant and more restrained expression of Montgueux, containing zero dosage to unmask the exhilarating essence of this region’s terroir.
Emmanuel also vinifies Chardonnay from the most historical and favoured vineyard of Montgueux, Clos Sainte-Sophie. A self-titled Blanc de Blancs, vinification of this cuvée occurs in barrels previously used for Burgundy, Jura Savagnin and Cognac, lending the wine a magnified complexity and intense depth of flavour.
We hope you have thoroughly enjoyed travelling through the Côte des Blancs subregion with us, and we warmly invite you to explore these enthralling terroir expressions as we expand our offering with more producers and cuvées further afield. The power of knowledge, shared with the magic of Champagne, is simply irrésistible.
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