Montgueux is a remarkable wine region – totally unique in its structural makeup. Classified as being in the ‘Cote des Bars’ region which can be often further colloquially known as the ‘Aube’ – but in fact it has little in common with that Pinot Noir producing area. Montgueux is a tiny hill of pure chalk 100kms south of Epernay-12 kms north west of Troyes. The eonologist Daniel Thibaut described Montgueux as ‘the Montrachet of the Champagne country’ with 186 hectares of vines planted to 85% Chardonnay with a perfect south easterly aspect. Topsoils with a depth of 1 metre and chalk to a depth of 60 metres. The chalk here has numerous outcrops of silex – adding to the spicy mineral complexities of the wines.
The soils here are 13 million years old–very much older than the Grand Cru Cote des Blancs. All of these elements combined allow for perfect ripening with appropriate levels of moisture in the chalky soils. More than 50% of the grapes are sold to the likes of Charles Heidsieck, Piper Heidsieck, Louis Roederer, Nicolas Feuillate and other large growers. The big houses are happy to pay high prices for Montgueux grapes. Certainly one of the biggest secrets in all of Champagne.
Jacques Lassaigne and his two sons, Emmanuel and Ludovic are redefining the terroir of Montgueux with individual handcrafted blanc de blancs Champagnes that have remarkable minerality and finesse – they reveal many subtleties that are more reminiscent of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger rather than the Aube. Also they have gone against local trends by not selling to the public or cellar door. They only deal with the very best Michelin starred restaurants and selected cavistes in Europe and now Australia. When we visited and discussed the production philosophy with Emmanuel we were very impressed by his passion to preserve the terroir and his attention to detail.
Natural yeasts are used where possible and minimal fining and no filtration. He is fanatical about the entire Champagne making process and believes that it cannot be hurried and needs to happen at cool cellar temperatures. For example – the prisse de mousse phase – which adds the fine bubbles to the assembled still wine – can take can take between 1 and 3 months. A quick prise de mousse that takes 1 month will yield a coarser mousse and a more gassy wine. Emmanuel takes more than 3 months and obtains a wonderfully fine grain foaming mousse. For some of his cuvées, he actually does two ‘prise de mousse’ phases. After the first prise de mousse, the wine goes back into barrel for aging as per normal, at the end of which the wine has gone flat, ready for the final ‘prise de mousse’. What dedication and hard work! This technique allows him to use much less sulphur in the overall process.
Also for the riddling process – generally everyone these days uses the automated gyropallette. Riddling times can take between 6-10 days but the bigger houses can get this down to 3.5 days – whereas Emmanuel takes 14 days. He bought some old gyropalletes from Louis Roederer and had an engineer friend redesign the mechanics and reprogram the computer logic so as to make the process more gentle. All the wines have low dosages of beetsugar and allow the terroir to shine. They are also slowly introducing some small oak barriques to add complexities and extra spice into the range. All the cuvees are moving towards Extra-Brut and no sulphur addition apart from a minimal amount at press time to prevent oxidation.
Emmanuel is a methodical purist – oozing with ideas and confidence – never happy with the status quo – always taking every opportunity to improve, refine and increase the quality of all the cuvées. To that extent – all of the cuvées are the best that he can produce from the material he has to work with – they are just different expressions of the complex terroirs. There are no weak wines in the range – they are all brilliant.