When Armand-Raphaël Graser started producing Champagne under his new brand AR Lenoble 101 years ago (Lenoble being a tribute to the noble wines of Champagne), there would have been a sense of relief as the 1918 influenza pandemic was just receding into the rearview.
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Who would have conceived back then that the centenary year would be mired by a similar crisis?
The words Champagne and the good-times go hand in hand for many of us. In darker times such as these where meetings and celebrations have been cancelled, perhaps we might associate champagne with an antidote to what we see in the news and around us.
As a small homage, I am pleased here to present a Q&A with Anne Malassagne, who runs the house with her twin brother, Antoine. Anne brings into focus the achievements of the past, as well as insights into the production of several cuvées, and of course future challenges such as tackling climate change.
Without further ado:
Nick Breeze (NB): During your time steering a modern Champagne House with a century of heritage, what has been your most memorable moment when you sensed the pride in what you were achieving?
Anne Malassagne (AM): When I took over from my father, I was 28 years old, and I didn’t know much about Champagne. The challenge was enormous, especially since the wine world was very men-dominated and gave little credit to women, especially who was young and had no winemaking experience.
After 27 years of work and commitment to quality and tradition, we achieved the centennial. On this occasion, we released some exceptional old vintages elaborated by my ancestors. These bottles are much more than gorgeous Champagnes; they are the soul of the house. I released them last year with lots of emotion thinking about the men and women who contributed to build AR Lenoble for a century.
NB: A few years ago you donated bottles of A R Lenoble’s Rosé Terroirs for a fundraiser we organised in London. We had fantastic feedback from our 100 attendees who tasted six different Champagnes paired with six food dishes.
Your rosé was paired with scallop wrapped in smoked salmon which was a big hit and really emphasised that this was a wine with huge gastronomic potential. Not all sparkling rosé has this quality. What is it about this particular cuvée that gives it the gastronomic quality I am talking about?
AM: It was a pleasure to support this event, and I am delighted to hear that the attendees enjoyed the tasting and pairing. AR Lenoble Rosé Terroirs is a unique blend of minimum 90% of Chardonnay from Chouilly Grand Cru and a maximum 10% of Pinot Noir from Bisseuil, a terroir classified 1er Cru on the Montagne de Reims. This unique blend with a high proportion of Chardonnay requires long ageing to let the Pinot Noir develop all its red fruits flavours and let the Chardonnay design its buttery, creamy character. This long ageing gives the gastronomic quality you are talking about.
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We have just released the latest edition of our Rosé Terroirs “mag 14” which base vintage is 2014. To that, we added nearly 45% of reserve wines aged in magnums for a minimum of four years. This unique and lengthy production process makes this Champagne even more fruity and gastronomic but still very clean and fresh. Rosé Terroirs "mag 14" is a gorgeous wine very well-balanced and ideal for pairing with duck, spicy food or cheese (like scamorza).
NB: Another cuvée of yours I greatly admire is the Cuvée Nature Dosage Zero. I am not always a fan of zero dosage sparkling wines but yours really does have a fabulous balance. How do you achieve this?
AM: Upon my arrival at the estate, I wrote the roadmap when I took over from my father in 1993. I imagined the perfect Champagne I wanted to produce: a fruity and powerful wine of Champagne, with a straight, clean and fresh finish. A Champagne with a strong character and its personality. This Champagne would be the expression of Chouilly Grand Cru and Bisseuil Premier Cru, the famous terroirs where our vineyards are located.
I started working on the dosage, considering that this little quantity of wine and sugar can change a wine's expression.
At the same time, I started changing the way we were cultivating the vines. My target was to reduce the yields to improve the quality of the grapes. May I take an example to clarify: if you want to cook and eat a fruity and yummy apricot tart, you will choose the sound and ripe apricots. Then, you do not need to add any sugar. It is the same as with Champagne. If you want to reduce the dosage, you have to improve the quality of the grapes and then let the wine age a long time on the lees.
The quality of the grapes AND long ageing on the lees explain the fruit and the generosity of our Brut Nature -Dosage Zéro "mag 16".
NB: You have sent me a bottle of your centenary Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2012. We are going to drink this very soon. Can you whet our appetites by giving us a glimpse of what we can expect and a suggested gastronomic pairing?
AM: 2012 is a superb vintage with exceptional ageing potential. It is a delicious Champagne to drink now, but I would recommend to let it age for another five to ten years. It is a vintage identical to 2002 or 2008, with long ageing potential. This Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is a very delicate expression of the terroirs of Chouilly Grand Cru. The mouth is creamy and floral with a long finish. It is a Champagne to drink as an aperitif and pair with a grilled fish with caramelized endives with oranges, roast langoustines with citrus sauce, a 28-month-parmesan risotto or a Cheddar.
NB: It feels like we are at a point in history where nothing can be the same again. From public health and environmental to economic changes that we have been anticipating seem to be rushing to meet us.
Can you talk about the significant challenges that you anticipate facing in the next decade or two as a champagne producer and how you are planning to tackle them?
AS: We will have to take on different challenges in the future: global warming is one of them, water resources and change in demand are certainly the most serious ones. At AR Lenoble we feel concerned with these topics, and we consider them as very exciting.
Regarding global warming, we are working on new grape varieties more heat-resistant. We have also increased the proportion of reserve wines aged in magnums to keep them fresh. It is interesting to remind that reserve wines are supposed to bring the complexity to the blend while the last harvest will refresh it. But, with climate change, it may happen that the last harvest will be warmer than the previous ones. In this unprecedented situation, the reserve wines will have to refresh it! The question of the freshness of the reserve wine will become an issue shortly. At AR Lenoble we are prepared to take on this challenge.
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Water will be another challenge to face. For 25 years we are committed to environmental friendly viticulture, and our vineyards were awarded HVE 3 in 2012. This award takes the question of water into account and considers how you use water. At AR Lenoble we have always felt concerned about water resources.
Change in demand is also a topic to consider. Our clients are more demanding since he is better informed. They buy more for the values of the product they buy than for the product itself. They enjoy discovering new products with a real story and strong values. AR Lenoble matches this demand. It is indeed a family-owned house which remains 100% independent for 100 years. The "Carnet des 100 vendanges", written at the occasion of the centennial, traces the journey of 4 generations and pays tribute to the men and women who have followed in each other’s footsteps, each of them accompanied by strong values that have been defended with commitment and dedication.
NB: And finally… I open a bottle of Champagne A R Lenoble in 2121… what do you imagine is in my glass?
AM: Each glass of Champagne makes you dream and enjoy life. In each glass of Champagne, you find emotion, joy, laugher and happiness. This is what I imagine in your glass, and I hope that it is what you will see in it. I wish you a wonderful time sharing a bottle of Champagne AR Lenoble.
Learn more about AR Lenoble: https://champagne-arlenoble.com/en/
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