We first met Laurent Champs, of Champagne Vilmart et Cie back in the nineties.
He wasn’t the worldwide superstar that he is now (this thanks to the British wine writer, Tom Stevenson) but he was already producing some fabulous champagnes from his 11 hectares of premier cru vineyards in and around Rilly-la-Montagne on the Montagne de Reims.
Back then he was one of a very small number of producers in the Champagne region who used oak barrels in which to ferment and age his wines. Vilmart wines have great ageing potential and the trick is to give them long enough in bottle for the oak to integrate and soften, to the point that it enhances the overall experience rather than detracting from it. His current releases actually reflect the fact that a lighter touch is now being used in the oak department so that his wines show more fruit and less oak from an earlier age.
In the cellar Laurent still uses the old fashioned Coquard screw press, which, at any time apart from harvest, can be found in pristine condition sitting at the end of a row of huge oak foudres which are used to make the non-vintage Grand Réserve, which is his entry level wine in the United Kingdom. (In the U.S.A. it’s the Grand Cellier).
For the vintage wines Laurent uses much smaller, 228 litre barriques, of varying ages but generally no older than 2 years. After bottling these are aged for up to 6 years before riddling and disgorgement.
The rewards for hanging onto a vintage Vilmart can be truly breathtaking!
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