Grower Champagne Club – September 2019

Varnier-Fannière, Cuvée St-Denis, Brut, $76
Like so many small Champagne estates, this family grew grapes long before they began producing their own wines. As a grower, Varnier-Fannière dates back to 1860, but Denis Varnier was just the third generation of the family to produce Champagne from their fruit. They are based in the Côte des Blancs village of Avize where the chalky slopes are perfectly situated for growing precise and expressive Chardonnay. Indeed, the site has long been sought-after by top large Champagne houses. Today, they own about four hectares of vines, in Avize, as well as in nearby Cramant, Oger, and Oiry, all Grand Cru villages, with vines averaging an impressive 45 years in age. Sadly, Denis died suddenly about two years ago, but his wife, Valériè, is determined to keep his passion for his domain alive. She has received much help from his old team who stayed on to work with her, and the entire village of Avize formed a safety net to help in whatever way they could. So Denis’ legacy lives on.
Their Cuvée St-Denis, 100% Chardonnay, was originally a single-parcel wine sourced from Clos du Grand Père, but that vineyard has been affected by fan-leaf, so it is now blended from the oldest vines in several of their parcels in Avize. It gets seven grams dosage, undergoes malolactic fermentation, and is aged 30 months en tirage (in the bottle, in contact with the yeast sediment) before release. This one was produced by Denis and aging in their cellars before his untimely passing. Importer Terry Theise loves this Champagne and says it is the best value in his whole portfolio (he poured it when he was in town recently). It is fresh and bright, with crystaline notes of white flowers and dried fruit, and expressive flavors of hazelnuts and brioche, all wafted along on fine, light bubbles. Very classy. Or, as Terry sums it up, “Wow, this wine is superb.”