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While much of the excitement today in grower Champagne is being generated by younger stars, some of the greatest Champagnes de terroir have come from old-school viticultrice Marie-Nöelle Ledru, who retired following the 2016 vintage after more than thirty years fashioning masterful Champagnes.
Ledru’s cuvées are highly coveted by grower Champagne aficionados for how clearly they express the power allied with finesse of Pinot Noir from one of the region’s greatest terroirs for the variety, the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay on the Montagne de Reims’ southern slope.
But Marie-Nöelle’s production was microscopic, and the word has long been out, making her cuvées among the most difficult to find. And with no more Ledru Champagne made after 2016, it is very likely that they will, as Peter Liem has written, “soon go the way of Gentaz or Trollat.”
The comparison to these French wine icons doesn’t end with rarity. Like them, Ledru worked alone, traditionally and on a small scale, tending her land naturally and making her wines simply and classically, all for the purest articulation of a great terroir. It’s no wonder that she has become a beacon for those who prize Champagnes that capture the soul of their region, village and vineyard.
Marie-Nöelle Ledru is descended from four generations of vignerons working the land on the southern Montagne de Reims. The family showed rare courage in going it alone as an independent producer of Champagnes from its own vines in 1946, at a time when Champagne was entirely dominated by the grandes marques.
Marie-Nöelle took the reins in 1984 and, for thirty-two vintages, fashioned Champagnes that perfectly express Ambonnay’s great finesse, aromatic complexity and supple texture. If Egly-Ouriet is the King of Ambonnay, then Ledru was surely its Queen.
And she did it her way, following in the steps of her ancestors, performing all of the tasks herself without compromise. Her vines, 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnnay, averaging 40-years-of-age, and located on Ambonnay’s best terroir—the steep, very chalky southeast-facing slopes above the village—were tended as naturally as possible, without herbicides or pesticides, and Marie-Nöelle worked them and the soil by hand.
In her tiny cold cellar, Ledru’s approach was just as simple and natural. The primary fermentation took place in stainless steel and enamel tanks for purity, and the wines always completed malolactic. Marie-Nöelle never used filtration or cold-stabilization, and allowed the vintage cuvées to develop for five years on the lees. And she riddled and disgorged every bottle by hand, without adding sulfur and with very low or zero dosage.
The results were some of the greatest Champagnes of our time, the definition of Ambonnay’s surreal alliance of powerful richness with chalk-charged freshness. Above all, they have the exquisite harmony and distinct character that comes only from great terroirs in the hand of great winemakers.
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