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It’s been nearly two decades since growers began to dominate the headlines in Champagne.
Yet, over that period, surprisingly few growers have managed to separate themselves from the pack—by virtue of their genius or their gift for making Champagne of unique expressiveness. Two that have are the brothers, Raphaël and Vincent Bérêche.
This old domaine was founded in 1847, and the brothers’ father, Jean-Pierre, was one of the first grower-bottlers to create an independent reputation. To that foundation, Raphaël and Vincent have brought an insatiable curiosity to bear. Today, 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 variety.
Key to the fantastic complexity at Bérêche is the sheer number of different terroirs comprising the estate’s holdings. Their holdings can be found, for example, in their home village of 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, from 2012, the estate’s first Grand Cru site, a tiny parcel in Mailly and in 2013 a half-hectare in Rilly la Montagne, just west of Ludes. 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 manual working of their vineyards as in the past, and they are moving toward biodynamic farming in 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 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 brother’s great skill and their originality.
The Brut Réserve is followed by seven 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 Ludes vines planted in 1902 by Raphaël’s great-grandfather in the Les Beauxregards lieu-dit, and les Clos (planted in 1970 with massale sélection). 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 the domaine’s wines, a Champagne of unusual originality and elegance.
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.
2013 was the first vintage for the Bérêche Rilly-la-Montagne - a pure Pinot Noir from the premier cru village of the same name, west of Ludes. From a half-hectare of 36-year-old vines in the Les Sablons lieu-dit, it is an exotically perfumed, vivid Champagne, courtesy of the limestone and sand soil and steep slope of its site. And, from 2012 on, the brothers are producing a tiny amount of Mailly grand cru.
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 perpetual reserve of 600-liter barrels begun by Jean-Pierre in 1985.
Every year two-thirds of the wine in each barrel is drawn off and replaced with that from the latest vintage. After 4 years on the lees, the result is a rivetingly complex Champagne that seamlessly marries richness, texture and depth and with startling freshness and lift.
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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