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Prior to thirty years ago, virtually every small grower in Champagne worked in total obscurity, selling their fruit to larger producers for their blended Champagnes.
But there has since been a revolution in Champagne, resulting in some 5000 small growers now bottling their own wines. One of the great wine events of the modern era, this revolution now allows the family that grows the grapes to make wines that uniquely reveal the soul of this ancient region.
A handful of these growers—such as Cédric Bouchard and Jérôme Prévost—have become cult figures. But the vast majority continue to be hidden from our view, particularly if they’re in one of the outer districts of Champagne.
Yet, for one of these remote growers, the buzz is building, for the simple reason that the brilliance of their Champagnes has flown under the radar far too long: Bérêche et Fils.
This old domaine was founded in 1847. Yet, it has been the innovative work of young Raphaël and Vincent Bérêche that has made this one of the most talked about Champagne houses among France’s sommeliers, cavistes and connoisseurs. With lavish praise from Peter Liem and Antonio Galloni, the same is beginning to happen the United States.
Building on a strong foundation of traditional Champagne making learned from their father, Raphaël and Vincent are two of the region’s most insatiably curious vignerons. To that end, their portfolio not only includes an extraordinarily vibrant NV Brut Réserve, but several micro-cuvées brilliantly conceived to express different aspects of terroir, vintage and grape variety.
Key to the fantastic complexity of the Bérêche Champagnes are the number of different terroirs that make up the estate’s holdings. Their holdings can be found, for example, in Ludes, on the chalky Montagne de Reims; in Ormes, in the Petite Montagne de Reims; and Mareuil le Port, in the western Vallée de la Marne.
These are augmented by small plots in Trépail on the eastern slope of the Montagne de Reims and, from 2012, the estate’s first grand cru site, a tiny parcel in Mailly. And, apart from the Brut Réserve, Raphaël and Vincent experiment tirelessly with the character of these very different terroirs, creating a range of cuvées prized for their originality.
To ensure that the soil and, consequently the fruit, is as healthy as possible, Bérêche stopped all use of chemical herbicides in 2003, returning to the manual working of their vineyards as in the past, and are moving toward biodynamic farming of all their parcels.
Ten full-time employees tend the vines, an extraordinary number given that the estate’s holdings are only nine hectares. This ensures that the labor-intensive farming of each site is done perfectly. And this dedication to the quality of the matière première is enhanced by Vincent’s establishment of an extremely precise protocol for all vineyard work.
The Bérêche sites are planted in roughly equal proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier which, combined with the wide variety of terroirs, provides a great range of blending possibilities.
And Raphaël’s and Vincent’s skillful barrel aging and use of cork closures, rather than crown caps, for the secondary fermentation makes the most of this grape variety and site derived complexity, in a compellingly expressive, complex and refined range of cuvées.
The range begins with the Brut Réserve, a blend of 70% wines from the base year with the balance reserve wines, composed from approximately one-third each of the three major varieties. A model of harmony, nuance and verve, it is a pure expression of the domaine’s varied terroirs that demonstrates both the Bérêche brothers great skill and their originality.
The Brut Réserve is followed by five compelling cuvées, all of them aged under cork, that are coveted by grower Champagne connoisseurs for their unique character and complexity.
Les Beaux Regards is the blanc de blancs, sourced primarily from vines planted in 1902 by Raphaël’s great-grandfather and les Clos (planted in 1970 with massale selection) in the domaine’s home village of Ludes. These ancient vines give Les Beaux Regards its deep concentration and intensely chalky minerality,
Beaux Regards’ counterpart in the Bérêche lineup is the Rive Gauche, a blanc de noirs of pure Pinot Meunier from nearly half century old vines, planted in chalky-clay in Le Port à Binson in the Vallée de la Marne. The purity, intensity and elegance of its expression, both of variety and terroir, sets it apart from the handful of other top all-Meunier Champagnes being made today, evoking the spirit of the bohemian Parisian community of the same name.
The Bérêche rosé, Campania Remensis, uses the Roman name for the countryside around Reims. It also comes from a single terroir, the village of Ormes, just west of Reims in the Petite Montagne. It is two-thirds Pinot Noir—including a small percentage of still wine for color—with the balance Chardonnay. It is, like all of the domaine’s wines, a Champagne of unusual originality and elegance, thanks to its unique site and the approach of its makers.
Unusually, Raphaël and Vincent even take the single village approach with their vintage Champagne, Le Cran, equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the best sites in Ludes, the domaine’s hometown on the Montagne de Reims.
Planted with old vines in two lieux-dits at the village’s chalky mid-slope “sweet spot”, Le Cran is a Champagne that, as Raphaël told Peter Liem “demonstrates that there is much more minerality in the mid-slope of a premier cru than at the base of the slope in a grand cru.” So magically intense and rich, yet not heavy, is Le Cran’s expression of Ludes that it is made every year as “a true picture of the terroir” in that particular growing season.
Arguably the most original of all in this lineup of singular Champagnes is the Reflet d’Antan, one-third each of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, drawn from a solera of 600 liter barrels begun in 1985 by Raphaël’s and Vincent’s father, Jean-Pierre.
Every year two-thirds of the wine in each barrel is drawn off and replaced with that from the latest vintage. The result is a rivetingly complex Champagne that seamlessly marries endless richness, texture and depth with starting freshness and lift.
All five micro-cuvées offer a unique expression of the domaine’s terroirs, and the artisanal methods used in making them further put their distinct characters in sharp relief. And in two years, there will be a sixth: a single vineyard grand cru Champagne from Mailly.
Each parcel of vines is vinified and aged separately in barrel with its ambient yeasts. Raphaël and Vincent make certain that the wines do not go through malolactic to balance their richness and depth with bright acidity. And aging en tirage is under cork for the enhanced development of character and aromatic complexity that this brings to the wines. Finally, each bottle is disgorged by hand and minimally dosed to preserve the purity of its expression.
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