Domaine Agrapart is a Champagne house at the forefront of the rapidly expanding, grower Champagne movement, and even if he doesn't take credit, Pascal Agrapart is bringing much deserved attention to a new way of thinking in the region that has been dominated by the “big houses” that so many are familiar with. There are a handful of small grower/producers within Champagne that are quickly becoming highly sought after and are often the topic of many conversations between Sommelier and wine lovers alike, and Champagne Agrapart is a sure bet to insight some lengthy chatter.
Founded in 1894, Champagne Agrapart is by no means a young house, however it has gained it’s most recent notoriety under the current proprietor and winemaker, Pascal Agrapart. Champagne Agrapart currently has 12ha of vines mostly situated within Grand Crus sights in the Cote de Blanc, and most notably, Avise, Oger, Cramant, and Oiry. Champagne Agrapart’s wines are often described as being mineral driven, this is perhaps encouraged by one of their most famous Vintage Cuvées being labeled “Minéral”, appropriately, as it certainly has the tell-tale expression of terroir that is somewhat elusive in the region that so often blends their vineyard sights together. Among the many interesting topics I discussed with Pascal during my visit was his choice to employ organic farming. Organic farming has taken a giant leap in the world of grape growing and winemaking over the past decade or two, however it is something rarely found in the Champagne region due to the difficulty that growers experience almost every season and, in my own opinion, the disconnect between the grower to the winemaker and yet Pascal has farmed completely organic since 2007. I felt that my next question was one that he had been asked many times before, “Why don't you Certify?”. His answer was similar to many others that he gave with a very humble confidence; he is farming this way to promote a healthy and hearty vine and thus a better quality wine, not for any certification, and in the event of a severe issue, he can still choose to utilize spray to save his vines, something that has not happened in a decade. We then moved on to the winery.
A large and imposing wall surrounds the Domaine in the heart of Avize, and a solid metal gate guards the entrance, however once inside, Pascal couldn't have been more courteous and generous with his information and willingness to share. We started by passing through the press house, where the original and still fully functioning couqaurd lay at rest patiently waiting to press out its next 2550 litres of precious juice (well 2050 of the precious stuff some argue, however I appreciate “la taille” just as well). After pressing, the juice goes through its first fermentation slowly with natural yeast, once again believing that using indigenous yeast allows for the best expression of terroir (you may notice a theme of terroir as a focal point). All of Agrapart’s wines go through a malolactic fermentation. Through to the small room of stainless steel where a portion of the wines are aged to retain pure fruit character and the expression of terroir, the Minéral is half aged in stainless to further express these characters. Moving through directly to the barrel room and cellar where a few formats of barrel rest, aging wines from the last few vintages. Pascal does not employ much new oak as his goals seem to be driven more by vineyard expression over oak influence and winemaking techniques, and furthermore decides not to filter his vintage cuvées to retain as much character as possible thus, tirage is done straight from the barrel . The next topic I also found quite interesting was his process of tirage; at lease the dynamic ways in which he has decided to execute the process for certain cuvée. The 7 Crus, Terroirs, and Minéral all go through secondary fermentation under cap, and Avizoise and Venus under cork, as well as the ultra rare cuvée, Experience. This method allows the wines to take in a controlled and small amount of oxygen while resting on lees, but adds considerable work load when time for dégorgement which must be done by hand when using cork. This is a method that has been slowly growing in the region as of late, yet not realistic for large production due to the extra labour required, although it’s positive impact on the finished wine is hard to argue. Pascal has been making the Expérience since 2002 after conjuring up the idea, and the secondary fermentation is executed differently than the rest, and perhaps different than the rest of the wines in the entire region of Champagne. This is perhaps one of the only sparkling wines in the region that is actually 100% grapes, and the method was only approved by the C.I.V.C. in 2006 with the first cuvée release coming in 2007. This is rather amazing since the C.I.V.C. is notoriously strict when it comes to rules and regulations and change is not something regularly accepted, although Pascal seems to be a rather persuasive man. Quite simply, instead of adding a liqueur de tirage to the base wine to start secondary fermentation, Pascal adds some of the must from the current harvest to the base wine of the previous vintage with its natural yeast to promote the secondary fermentation, a truly remarkable method that requires an immense amount of time, skill and experience to successfully complete. Once Pascal finished describing his creation of this cuvée and the difficulty of spending 4 years trying to get the method to work and better yet, get the method approved, I instantly applauded his persistence and innovation, and he simply replied, staying humble from start to finish, “it is just an idea and maybe it’s not the best idea, but I like it”. From here we moved back in to the front of the Domaine where a small tasting room is situated and continued to taste and discuss the wines in depth. This is where we spent the majority of our time, as Pascal insisted we tasted everything top to bottom, and every wine sparked a lengthy discussion.
From bottom to top the wines are thoroughly impressive, perhaps most of all for me was the quality of his NV cuvées, which showed depth and balance that I had not tasted at the NV level previously, and while they are certainly not inexpensive, their value is obvious. Having previously tasted through the wines, I knew to expect a very high quality, although since we were tasting wines that were yet to be released, I was still pleasantly shocked at the power and finesse that the wines expressed, and that tell-tale mineral driven finish that I feel gives a life to Agrapart’s wines that separate them from the pack year after year.
Champagne Agrapart 7 Crus NV
90% Chardonnay 10% Pinot Noir - A blend of estate fruit across 7 villages, hence the name 7 Crus.
Aged in oak barrels and rested on lees for three full years turned manually. Dosage is limited to 7g of sugar per litre. This is a fresh and lively wine with aromas of crisp apple and lemon with a hint of cherry blossom. A pleasant mouthfeel of creamy texture and fine bubbles, it lingers longer than expected. An extremely impressive entry level wine.
Champagne Agrapart Terroirs - Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
100% Chardonnay blended from Agrapart’s Grand Cru vineyards.
Aged in oak barrels and four years on lees turned manually. Dosage limited to 5g of sugar per litre. Champagne Agrapart’s Terroirs is an absolutely stunning NV Champagne. A wine of structure and depth, the Terroirs Grand Crus is full of ripe lemons, white peach and warm brioche, all desirably finished with that chalky minerality that starts to show through with this cuvée. A very focused Champagne.
Champagne Agrapart Minéral Blanc de Blancs 2010 Grand Cru 2010
100% Chardonnay from old vines in Avize and Cramant. Limestone.
Aged half in barrel and half stainless without filtration, and five years on lees turned manually. Dosage limited to 4g of sugar per litre. The 2010 Minéral is as the name suggests, driven by a fine yet distinct minerality that makes the wine seem alive in a wonderful way. The nose has plenty of fruit character leading with green apples, lemon zest and tangerine. When the wine hits the palate the minerality shines through with a savoury salty character and a hint of bitterness on the finish. This wine seems to gain in popularity year after year and certainly lives up to the attention.
Champagne Agrapart Avizoise Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru 2010
100% Chardonnay from 55 year old vines on the hillsides of Avize. Clay.
Matured only in barrel with no filtration. Tirage under cork for five years turned manually. Dosage limited to 4 g of sugar per litre. The 2010 Aviziose is rich on the nose, lemon curd, pear and baked pie crust are all there with a harmonious presentation. The palate is also quite dense but fresh and citrusy with a powerful mineral finish that seems to be more savoury perhaps showcasing its clay soils. Aviziose originates minutes away from the Domaine on south-eastern slopes giving it ideal exposure and drainage, a true Grand Cru sight.
Champagne Agrapart Vénus Blanc de Blancs Grand Crus 2010
100% Chardonnay planted in 1959 from the Avize Fosse vineyard.
Matured in oak barrels with no filtration. Tirage under cork for five years turned manually. No dosage. The vineyard where the grapes for this cuvée are sourced is worked strictly by horse to avoid packing down the soil and allow for optimal drainage. This is where the name comes from, after all, the horse’s name is Vénus. The 2010 Vénus is a wine that exudes complexity. On the nose you are greeted by ripe apples and pear, followed by a delicate aroma of white truffle and toasted undertones. The palate is still fresh and lively but with depth and power that persist. Fine bubbles and a creamy texture fill the mouth with a multitude of flavour finishing with that signature minerality. A showstopper indeed.