Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Co-plantation at René Geoffroy, cont.

So you might remember that Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy of Champagne René Geoffroy has planted a third of a hectare in Cumières with five different varieties. (I posted about it during the 2008 harvest.) On a visit to the cellars last week, I tasted the results in tank, where fermentation has long finished and the wine is hanging out waiting to be bottled. Having been present at the pressing of this new cuvée (the first year that Geoffroy has isolated this separately), and having tasted the juice coming out of the press back in September, I was particularly curious to see how this is coming along.

Geoffroy got the idea for doing this from Jean-Michel Deiss, who is probably the most notorious and outspoken advocate of co-plantation. Deiss’s theory is that when different varieties exist together in the same vineyard (planted in alternating vines, not separated into blocks) and are harvested and pressed together, the individual characters of each variety serve to cancel each other out, bringing a purer character of the terroir into the foreground. Geoffroy vinified this wine entirely in enameled steel tank, also with the idea of keeping as transparent a terroir expression as possible—he’s depicted fetching a sample from the tank to taste in the above photo. (That’s not my pink glove, by the way. In case you were wondering.)

I’ve been convinced over the years that Deiss’s theory can be true, with selected examples of his co-planted wines. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but the ones that work really do seem to have a certain transparency about them. I felt the same way when tasting this wine. It’s relatively rich in texture, clearly with sufficient ripeness (but not excessive ripeness, since I know you will ask), but where you might expect a burst of fruit flavor—especially from Cumières, which is always forward and fruity—there is a certain absence of fruit. It’s wrong to call it an absence, as nothing is missing. It feels as if it has depth, weight and presence, but like the Predator stalking all the tough guys in the jungle, you can see right through it. Perhaps where it demonstrates flavor is in how it’s clearly not made from just classic varieties—the fruit flavors are all knit together, virtually impossible to separate and individually distinguish, but there is an overall impression of a certain wildness, a feral, almost musky hint imparted by arbanne and petit meslier. Minerality? In spades. This area of Cumières always shows a certain dustiness: it’s chalky but not entirely so, feeling mingled with notes of earthier, more fertile and visceral things. It’s this mineral character that presents itself with full force on the palate, dominating the finish and feeling pure and vital.

Will this wine retain this intensity of expression after it’s been bottled and has undergone the prise de mousse? Who knows. Presumably so, but since we’re in uncharted waters here for Geoffroy, the only thing we can do is wait and see. I, for one, am eager to see this wine’s progress.


Thomas said...

Very interesting, Peter.

I think Laherte is planning a similar cuvée – take a look here http://www.champagne-laherte.com/en/page_philo_en.htm


Anonymous said...


Just when I think you're getting to erudite on us, you drop a perfectly placed Predator analogy.

You officially rule.

Anonymous said...

A Predator reference. Proves you are the perfect blogger. Thank you for writing!

Peter Liem said...

Yes, Laherte has a similar project involving a parcel called Les Clos, planted with seven varieties. I've tasted it several times, and it's very intriguing. It's rather different from Geoffroy's -- the herbalness of the "other" varieties (especially petit meslier) is particularly pronounced, and the wine is also vinified in barrel. It's quite delicious, though.

Anonymous and Anonymous,
Thank you. I could have said it's like James Bond's invisible car, but then that's just silly.

Thomas said...

Hi Peter,

Thank you for your always great information.

Have a nice w/e