When talking about the wines of Champagne Georges Laval, the words "cult" and "unicorn" get thrown around on the regular. This is no surprise since the Domaine only farms 2.5 hectares, produces less than 20,000 bottles of wine per year, and garners a demand that is staggering on the world market. I was fortunate enough to meet Vincent Laval at the 2018 Terres et Vins de Champagne tasting in Reims, and when he invited me to visit the Domaine a few days later I truly understood what all of the hype was about...and I accepted that it made all the sense in the world.
Running Champagne Georges Laval is now left to George's son, Vincent. To understand the wines of Laval I think it is important to understand Vincent a little bit first. Vincent is a big man, and for me to say (that as I stand 6’5”), is to say that he really is, a big man; but as it often goes, he is as kind, gentle, and genuinely welcoming as a man can be. Upon our first meeting he instantly poked fun at my North American accent when I mentioned where I was from, AL-BOR-TAH he repeated, with a charming laugh and a big smile - now this is my kind of guy! There are parallels you could draw to his wines in the same manor, somehow achieving the big and bold first impression but opening to a welcoming, charming, and delightful complexity that instantly puts a smile on your face. He is also seriously passionate about his beliefs and philosophies. The Laval vineyards have been farmed completely organic since 1971 - yes, you read that correctly…1971! This is long before there was any serious talk about eradicating chemicals or pesticides. In fact the use of these sprays were rampant in the region, with the likes of helicopters spraying, only being outlawed recently. Through all of this the Laval Domaine was tirelessly converting their practices to 100% organic. They now own perhaps the only vineyard virgin of any chemicals whatsoever, dating all the way back to the 1940s with Les Longues Violes. When Vincent spoke to me about this decision, it was evident that his version of organic was one that was not to be taken lightly. There are many producers now singing the praises of farming without chemical sprays but most of them will admit that in a pinch, exceptions are made to save their crops or protect their vines. This is absolutely not the case at Champagne Georges Laval. As we walked from vineyard to vineyard atop the slopes of Cumières, Vincent pointed out how obvious it was when a producer decides to use chemicals. From one plot to the next you could see a marked change in the colour of the ground. The rows of green-covered-soil turned to brown, burnt vegetation in an instant. The work in the vineyards is completed by 5 people in total, year-in and year-out. Aside from harvest, no more hands touch the vines than those of the 5 loyal and skilled team members, of course, under the direction of Vincent. All of this dedicated to the tiny 2.5 hectare of vines that Vincent has patched together both through trades and through careful watch over the areas of available land, though as Vincent expressed, acquiring land in Champagne is about as difficult as it gets, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier with the current surge of Grower wines gaining their popularity.
Heading into the winery was a unique experience. Even with the tiny amount of land that Laval is working with, I was surprised at just how unassuming the winemaking facility was. Hiding behind a wall with no markings or even evidence that wine is being made behind it, tucked in the centre of Cumières lies a humble and rather tightly packed winery consisting of a classic press, a group of vats, and several rows of barrels. Everything is done, and not surprisingly, in a rather natural manner in the winery; always using natural ambient yeasts and as little SO2 as possible. With all of the hard work in the vineyard Vincent believes that too much intervention in the winery will only cover the natural beauty that the wines will reveal on their own. The wines from bottom to top receive very little dosage, if at all (aside from a tiny production off the Demi Sec Garennes Cuvée that receives a 40g/litre dosage), and each have a tell-tale expression of terroir that was extremely evident. The fruit character was abundant and, at times, somewhat tropical, but without a doubt, the star of the show was the unbelievable complexity that each wine displayed. It was something special, diving my nose back into the glass over and over again, only pulling out something to note each time. Vincent has also caused quite the stir, as of late, after announcing the upcoming release of a very special cuvée. This will be the first wine released crafted solely from grapes harvested in the famed Les Longues Violes vineyard. This vineyard was planted in three parts: Meunier planted in 1947, Pinot Noir in 1964, and then Pinot Noir again in 1984. The vineyard has never been touched by any synthetic or chemical sprays, again, all the way back to 1947. This is an absolutely wild fact! The first release of this wine is a portion of the 2012 vintage and the buzz is already growing in anticipation, and with only a little over 1500 bottles being released, acquiring a bottle will be like winning the oenophile lottery.