Thursday, September 25, 2008

Michel Loriot, Festigny

Earlier this week I went down to Festigny, in the Vallée de la Marne, to see Michel Loriot during the harvest. Festigny lies in the Flagot valley, on a small tributary of the Marne, and while not a lot of people are aware of this little valley’s existence, it produces some of the finest meunier in Champagne. (Krug, in fact, purchases meunier every year from the village of Leuvrigny, an adjacent village in the valley, and considers it to be one of their most important sources for this grape.) Of all the growers in this area, Loriot is undoubtedly the star.

Michel Loriot always reminds me of Raymond Domenech, the manager of the French national football team, only Loriot is much, much better at what he does. Most of Loriot’s vineyards are planted with meunier, as befits the clay soils of the area, and he’s extremely pleased with the 2008 harvest so far. “It’s an excellent year for meunier,” he says. “The grapes are beautiful, without much botrytis, without rot. They are very healthy.” Nearly all of Loriot’s parcels came in at over ten degrees, with the highest being some old-vine meunier picked at 10.8 degrees of potential alcohol, and acidity levels are well over eight grams, closer to nine. In addition, the quantity is surprisingly high, between 12,500 and 13,000 kilograms per hectare on average, which is much higher than the estimates predicted after the difficult flowering earlier in the year. “The grapes gained a lot in September,” says Michel’s wife, Martine. “We expected a smaller yield, but this is a pleasant surprise.”

I happened to be there on the day that they were pressing chardonnay, and while the Loriots are very happy with their chardonnay this year, I think they’d rather have had me take photos of meunier, as it’s more emblematic of the estate. “You know, we do grow some black grapes here as well,” Loriot quipped, after several hours of watching bins of chardonnay come in from the vineyards. The chardonnay was ripe and largely healthy (and delicious as well, rounder and fleshier in flavor than in the Côte des Blancs), with just a few parcels being hit by oidium. “We’re seeing more and more oidium here,” says Martine Loriot. “It’s due to climate change. Normally oidium is a disease found in the south of France.” She notes that this year they’ve had problems in Provence with mildew, which further demonstrates just how inverted the world is right now.

We did make it out to the vines in the afternoon to look at some meunier. Loriot makes a pure meunier from 40- to 60-year old vines in Festigny, and while the vineyard had already been picked last week, we managed to find a few hidden grapes that had evaded capture. Tasting those against the young-vine fruit being picked in the photo above, it was amazing at how much more resonant and complex the flavors were even just as grapes. Once back in the cellar, I tasted that old-vine fruit as partially-fermented must, comparing it with a couple of other meunier samples, and again the difference was markedly pronounced. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished wine in another four or five years.