Eric Rodez in Ambonnay is a true artisan of his trade. He speaks of the 5 dimensions of champagne that shape its style and character:
1. Cépage:- Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier – the grape varieties play a major role of course.
2. Location:- Montagne de Reims, Marne Valley, Cote des Blancs – soil characteristics have a major effect and are very important.
3. Specific vineyard location – mid-slope – flat plain – top of the hill – south facing. Very very important in determining grape quality.
4. Vinification: Enamel tank, stainless steel, small oak, large oak etc. Subtleties and nuances are created here.
5. Fermentation: Malolactic allowed or blocked. Structure and acidity can be enhanced.
All the above combined, determine the style and quality of the final result. He has lots of old vines all with premium exposure at mid-slope. Subtle use of oak and control of malolactic fermentation along with a large stock of reserve wines allows Eric to create a brilliant range of terroir driven champagnes. His 7 ha property is divided into 35 plots of only Grand Cru vines split roughly 55/45 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Farming is ecologically sympathetic and organic, with Eric gaining biodynamic certication in 2011. Eric’s conversion to bio-dynamic viticulture is not an easy process. His huge cache of reserve wines means that it will take Eric a few years before his ‘best quality’, newer reserve wines make up 100% of his blended champagnes.
He worked in Burgundy, Beaujolais and the Rhone for three years during his youth, and also worked for a year at Krug. Dosages are light and he uses RCGM not sugar. He does not use any fertilisers, herbicides or insecticides. And yes, like all villages in France, some one as to be the mayor of Ambonnay. Since 2006 Eric has been using essential oils as part of his vineyard treatments, something he learnt from his grandmother. During the eleven years that I have been visiting and promoting Eric’s champagnes I have seen a subtle but concentrated and determined shift in his thinking. Reserve wines appear more precise. Dosages have decreased. More importance is being placed on vineyard specific wines. Blocking of malolactic adding more elegance and length. Finally Eric has refurbished his cellars and cuverie, with modern stainless steel tanks and barrel storage.
Eric also sell some of his grapes to a big house. He still believes that the big houses do much of the marketing to promote the ‘brand Champagne’ and hence need some quality grapes to help maintain the prestige nature of champagne as a sparkling wine. Certainly Eric is a master of blending but he has realised that the expression of vintage individual small parcel terroir can be equally rewarding and satisfying. For the moment he has no standard vintage wine available. All of Erics’s vintage wines are now more single parcel dominant with longer lees aging and lower dosage non-malo. We have tasted some early disgorged samples of Eric’s new single vineyard 2012 vintage champagnes. Amazing intensity and purity. Very young still and for release in two years time.
Ambonnay terroir is a conundrum in the region. Next door to Bouzy we would think that it shares some of Bouzy smoky rich flamboyant characteristics. But no. Bouzy is south facing and Ambonnay exposure moves around the montagne more south-east and east with a slightly deeper silex-clay top soil over deep chalk with more undulations and nuances. The end result is less fruity more mineral wines. Eric now ranks as maybe the best sustainable vigneron in Grand Cru Ambonnay, alongside Benoit Marguet and Marie-Noelle Ledru. It is interesting to note that Bouzy/Ambonnay soil type is rated at 93% chalk, the highest of any Champagne region.
Champagne Eric Rodez Crayeres
40% Chardonnay, 60% Pinot Noir. Average vine age – 30 years. Blend of 2012 – 32%, 2011 – 31%, 2010 -17%, 2009 – 11%,2008 – 9%. Tank for 42%, barrels 58%. Partial malolactic fermentation (with malo 65% and without 35%). Dosage 5 gr. This may only be the ‘entry level’ wine from Eric, but it is the flagship of his achievements. Crisp and subtle, the red fruit pinot is in perfect balance with the crisp mineral Chardonnay. The partial blocking of the malolactic fermentation adds cleansing acidity. Pure and precise with the oak adding some lovely smoky overtones. The light dosage of only 5gr/litre leaves the palate refreshed and cleansed. LIMITED
100% Pinot Noir. Average vine age – 36 years. Blend of 2011 – 29%, 2010 – 31%, 2009 – 13%, 2008 – 10%, 2007 – 9%, 2006 – 8%. Tank for 15%, out of barrels 85%. Partial malolactic fermentation (with malo 15% and without 85%). Dosage 4 gr. This is now becoming one of Eric’s most famous wines. Red fruit purity in abundance, with exotic overtones. To the novice drinker, this wine may come as a shock. You may think that being Pinot Noir we would get toasty brioche and nut aromas and overtones. But you would be wrong. Ambonnay Pinot is one of the most purest expressions of Pinot, and Eric extracts glace red fruits and cherry overtones. Huge length and complexity. Mouthfilling yet elegant. Serious wine. VERY LIMITED
100% Chardonnay. Average vine age – 34 years. Blend of 2011 – 27%, 2010 – 26%, 2009 – 21%, 2008 -16%, 2007 – 6%, 2006 – 4%. Tank for 18%, barrels 82%. Partial malolactic fermentation (with malo 20% and without 80%). Dosage 4 gr. This is always one of my favourite wines in the Rodez portfolio. A masterly blend of older reserve wines adds a huge amount of complexity. Savoury and mineral with only a hint of exotic overtones. Selosse like intensity and purity. VERY LIMITED
24% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, 46% Pinot Noir of maceration. Average vine age – 36 years. Blend of 2012 – 45%, 2011 – 16%, 2010 – 20%, 2009 – 9%, 2008- 6%, 2007 – 4%. Tank for 20%, barrels 80%. Partial malolactic fermentation (with malo 75%). Dosage 4 gr. Here we see Eric’s skills at work. This is a blended saignée rosé which also uses Chardonnay and Pinot in the blend. By using a mix of both techniques Eric has greater control over the color and extraction in the final blend – aiming for more consistency from year to year. The oak adds a subtle savory sherbet overtone which I really enjoy in pinks. Citrus and minerals in abundance with classic sour cherry. Eric does not make much of this – rare. VERY LIMITED
30% Chardonnay, 70% Pinot Noir. Average vine age – 39 years. Blend of 2010 – 48%, 2009 – 25%, 2008 – 16%, 2006 – 8%, 2005 – 3%. Tank for 5%, barrels 95%. Partial malolactic fermentation (with malo 25% and without 75%). Dosage 0 gr. The Zero is becoming one of my favourite cuvées from Eric. Really pristine, pure and precise. Hugely linear and mineral – hints of white fruits all entwined in chalky minerality. Amazing and rare. VERY LIMITED
30% Chardonnay, 70% Pinot Noir. Average vine age – 39 years. Blend of 2008 – 27%, 2006 – 25%, 2005 -12%, 2004 – 9%, 2002 – 10%, 2000 – 7%. 100% barrel fermentation. No malolactic fermentation. Dosage 3 gr. This is the ultimate expression of Eric’s admiration and understanding of his work at Krug. A stellar range of reserve wines make up a complex expression of old vines Ambonnay terroir. Here we have a food wine – complex and savoury with smoke and walnut overtones. Hints of apricot and minerals. Almost liqueur like intensity and weight. VERY VERY LIMITED
100% Pinot Noir. 100% barrel fermentation. No malolactic fermentation. Dosage 2 gr. A new super single parcel wine from south easterly exposure vineyard. Really pure and long. Red fruit purity with amazing minerality. A new dimension in wine making for Eric. This single parcel approach to wine making has intrigued Eric. So much concentration and length, with no reserve wines!. RARE
100% Pinot Noir. 100% barrel fermentation. No malolactic fermentation. Dosage 3 gr. A new super single parcel wine from easterly exposure vineyard. A stunning 3 day maceration rose. Very young still, needs time. Another new dimension in wine making for Eric. Next year Eric will release his 2008 Les Beurys Les Secs Pinot Noir. RARE