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Tucked into the southeast corner of Champagne is the Aube, which over the past decade has emerged as a source for some of the region’s most distinctive and exciting Champagnes.
While the Aube’s emergence has been very recent, the seeds for its flowering were planted in 1986, when the area’s spiritual father, Vouette & Sorbée’s Bertrand Gautherot, began tending his vines in the village of Buxières-sur-Arce.
But it was not until 2001 that Gautherot actually bottled his first domaine Champagnes, capturing the attention of collectors and launching the Aube on its ascendence.
Throughout his long career, Gautherot has been, first and foremost, a grower. It says much about him that the first thing he shows visitors is his cows, which he jokingly refers to as “his marketing department.” He keeps them both to cultivate biodiversity and as part of his commitment to natural viticulture.
Bertrand’s dedication to terroir is deep; as he told Peter Liem, “the culture of the vine is my passion.” It led him to biodynamic certification for his domaine in 1998. That so many of today’s leading Aube growers tend their wines naturally is largely due to Gautherot’s example.
Yet, Bertrand ultimately sees these farming methods as a tool and not a religion: “You don’t drink a wine because it’s biodynamic, you drink it because it’s good.” And Gautherot’s are not merely good, but great—these are Champagnes of intense character, deep and complex, with unique aromas and flavors.
Gautherot’s five-hectare estate is named after his two primary vineyards: Vouette on Kimmeridgian soil—the fossilized oyster-laden marl that it shares with Chablis—and Sorbée on Portlandian soil, also found in Chablis, further up the slope.
These are augmented by Biaunes on Kimmeridgian marl in the neighboring village of Ville-sur-Arce. And dedicated grower that he is, he’s planted what he feels is best suited to each terroir: Vouette and Sorbée are all Pinot Noir, while Biaunes has both Pinot and Chardonnay.
This makes his wines true Champagnes de Terroir, with his Fidèle—named for the faithfulness with which it expresses its places of origin—pure Pinot Noir from Vouette and Biaunes, and Blanc d’Argile his all-Chardonnay cuvée from Biaunes.
The Sorbée plot is the source for one of Gautherot’s rarest Champagne, Saignée de Sorbée, a pure, whole-cluster fermented Pinot Noir rosé of great depth, complexity and expression of terroir.
The newest of Gautherot’s cuvées is Textures, a pure Pinot Blanc first released from the 2013 vintage. Highly unusual in both variety and method, Bertrand vinifies and ages Textures both in barrel and clay amphorae for nine months, adding fresh grapes once the primary fermentation finishes, for added richness and nuance. The result is a Champagne of rare dimension, structure and, of course, rich texture.
Then there are the rarest Vouette wines, Extrait and Sobre. Peter Liem came up with a great way to describe their 200-bottle production: “virtually anecdotal.” In other words, don’t bother looking for them in the market.
Extrait is Bertrand’s vintage-dated pure Pinot Noir, attaining stunning savory complexity through its many years aging on the lees. According to Liem, this cuvée of 200 bottles per release was originally “intended to be reserved for friends and family, but beginning with the 2005, Gautherot has made small quantities available for sale.”
Lastly, Sobre is Bertrand’s experiment in making a Champagne from pure Chardonnay only, with no liqueur de tirage additions, the secondary fermentation in bottle initiated by the wine’s natural sugars. The fresh vibrancy and refined texture of the 2008 Sobre that Gautherot opened for us several years ago is something we’re still thinking about today.
All of Bertrand's wines are minimally made. The grapes are traditionally coquard-pressed, and all movement of the wine is by gravity. Fermentation takes place in barrel with the indigenous yeasts, and there is no fining, filtering, cold stabilization or dosage, and very little sulfur.
Before becoming Champagnes, they are fine wines. And their great originality has given them cult status among those who prize wines of singular personality. Richard Juhlin is among their greatest fans, ranking Vouette & Sorbée as “the only 4-star property outside the Marne.”
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