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A Giant of Grower Champagne
Like a number of our favorite European growers, Champagne’s Jérôme Prévost is revered, but only within a tiny segment of the wine world. Most Champagne drinkers have never heard of him.
But the serious Champagne enthusiasts who know his wines worship them. Though his first vintage was only in 1998, Prévost is one of the half dozen growers whose Champagnes are most coveted in the marketplace. He has also changed the course of Champagne history, by giving respect and prestige to the once-lowly Pinot Meunier grape.
His iconic La Closerie “Les Béguines” proved that Meunier is capable, entirely on its own, of producing Champagne of such explosive complexity that we wonder why it wasn’t discovered before.
The power and surreal complexity of Les Béguines has demonstrated just how under-appreciated Meunier has been historically, with many of the Grande Marque houses dismissing the grape almost entirely. Krug was one of the few Grandes Marques to openly tout its greatness, including healthy percentages in some of its most famous vintages.
But it was left to Prévost not only to bring Meunier out of the shadows, but to prove unequivocally its greatness, by presenting it on its own, with no supporting cast.
Consequently, no grower is more closely identified with Pinot Meunier than Jérôme Prévost. Other less talented growers must assume he practices some sort of alchemy to extract such energy from the Meunier grapes in his tiny two-hectare Les Béguines vineyard, located in the little-known village of Gueux on the Petite-Montagne de Reims.
In fact, there is no magic; there’s only the selection massale vines and viticulture that is entirely by hand and without chemicals.
If there is a secret, it was discovered centuries ago by the first monks to plant vines here. They discovered that the topsoil is quite different from other areas in the Marne: twenty meters of fossilized seashell sand and limestone over the pure chalk bedrock that defines the region.
Prévost inherited his old vines in Les Béguines from his grandmother in 1987. Yet, it was a decade before a friend persuaded him to start bottling his own production.
From the beginning, Prévost’s focus has been farming, which is done organically and intensively to produce fruit of natural ripeness.
In the cellar, Prévost’s methods are just as natural. Here, in a tiny building behind his house, Jérôme ferments his grapes with the indigenous yeasts in 450 to 600-liter barrels. He then ages them in the same vessels for about ten months, before bottling for the second fermentation without fining, filtering or cold-stabilizing, and with minimal sulfur.
The bottles are all disgorged at one time, after 16 months en tirage. The results are two of the most expressive Champagnes being made today, the flagship La Closerie and the extremely rare Fac-simile, a rosé from a small parcel of virused vines within Les Béguines that produce unusually small concentrated grapes.
Both offer convincing proof that, in Prévôst’s hands, Pinot Meunier is capable of making Champagnes as profound as the best made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
But his production is incredibly small. His tiny wine “garage” holds only about a dozen barrels and he makes less than 1100 cases per vintage, all of which is quickly secured by savvy sommeliers, cavistes and connoisseurs eager for every drop.
A note on labeling: Like many other grower Champagnes, the year of harvest appears as a lot number on Prévôst’s bottles. For example “LC12” is 100% from the 2012 harvest.
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