Grower Champagne Club – May 2011

Egly-Ouriet, Brut Premier Cru “Les Vignes de Vrigny” NV
When it comes to grower Champagne, Egly-Ouriet is more than a bit of a standout. It is one of the original grower-producers imported by Michael Skurnik, back when the term was just starting to get bandied about. Why? Well, for starters, Francis Egly is one of the most talented and conscientious vignerons in Champagne. Plus he owns some of the best vineyards in the region, beginning with the 100% grand cru Pinot Noir vineyards on his estate in Ambonnay, in the Montagne de Reims. He has holdings in other villages as well, among them, a small plot of premier cru Pinot Meunier in the village of Vrigny. Not many producers grow Pinot Meunier on premier cru land, especially in what is essentially the Montagne de Reims. But Egly is not your average producer. He neither fines nor filters his base wines so as to preserve as much of the inherent flavor as possible (an unusual practice in Champagne) and he ages all of his wines at least three years on their yeasts. This adds richness and body, but is a length of time most producers usually reserve for only their prestige cuvées. Egly’s vines average around 45 years in age, which for Champagne is ancient. He maintains low yields and harvests later than most and, because he picks only perfectly ripe grapes, he is able to use extremely low dosage (the final addition of a wine and sugar mixture before bottling). In fact, he had to buy a new machine that could calculate his miniscule levels. Perhaps you get the picture that this guy is somewhat of a fanatic and, rather to his chagrin, why he has a bit of a cult following. Although this month features another 100% Pinot Meunier Champagne (last month’s was very popular!), we think you might enjoy the comparison with one from a different part of the region, and from such a unique producer. It has a lovely, nuanced nose of flowers and biscuits, a rich, inviting depth, and is earthy, yet elegant. It is $67 and gorgeous now, or it could develop in the bottle, if you wanted to wait for some reason.