Philipponnat’s single vineyard Clos des Goisses is
one of Champagne’s most famous vineyards. It is the steepest, directly
south-facing vineyard in the whole of Champagne (between 30- 45% gradient), and
the hottest site in the region. It is a 5.5 hectare narrow strip (800 metres
long and 100 metres wide) perfectly positioned to push the natural ripeness of
the grapes to a level unmatched anywhere else in Champagne.
We caught up with winemaker and proprietor Charles
Philipponnat to discover the history of this landmark vineyard, its rise to prominence
and the specifics of the site that makes it so special.
The Clos des Goisses vineyard originally known as Les
Goisses was well known in the region prior it ever being made into a single
vineyard wine and has been planted with vines since the 16th century.
The names is taken from the local dialect “Gois” which means very steep. The
plot was indirectly purchased by Charles’ grand uncle Pierre Philipponnat who
purchased it from his cousins, the Bouché family, after they became bankrupt in
1935. Pierre was well aware of the quality of the vineyard as it had already
enjoyed some fame as “Les Goisses” around 1900, but had since been almost
abandoned during the Phylloxera crisis, WW1 and through the Great Depression
period. Once purchased Pierre Philipponnat immediately set to bottling “Les
Goisses” again in 1935, but its reputation really took off around the mid 50’s,
it was at this time its name was altered to Clos des Goisses.
In the Vineyard
This 5.5 hectare site is perfectly positioned to push the
natural ripeness of the grapes to a level unmatched anywhere else in Champagne.
In a region where there is an over-reliance on chapitalisation (the adding of
sugar prior to fermentation to boost body and alcohol) as well as high dosage
(the addition of sugar post-disgorgement to increase the perception of
sweetness), there is little necessity of either in a vineyard site where good
ripeness levels are reached every year. The vineyard also benefits from a pure
Belemnite chalk soil that accumulates heat, further promoting optimum ripeness
levels. While Chardonnay is sensitive to high levels of sun intensity and a
hot site can be to the detriment of the racy, tensile profile of the grape that
is looked for from a Chardonnay-based Champagne, Clos de Goisses is very much
dominated by Pinot Noir – a sun loving varietal that brings weight, density,
richness and red and black fruit flavours to the palate. Clos des Goisses is a
blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown on the site with blends typically
around 65% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay, although this does vary from one release
to the next.
The 2006 vintage saw the first release of Les
Cintres. This represents Philipponnat’s top single-plot of Pinot Noir situated
within the Clos des Goisses vineyard, representing the finest, oldest parcels
(70+ years old) in the vineyard. For Charles, the idea was to show off the best
parcels of Pinot Noir in
a Burgundian fashion: one varietal, one place, one vintage.
Despite its prestige, Clos des Goisses is not a Grand
Cru vineyard and for Charles the Grand Cru /Premier Cru designation in
Champagne is more an outcome of history rather than quality. For Charles the
classification system is not very precise since it concerns whole villages. He goes on to
say “It actually relates to the grape buyers' preferences before WW1. Whilst it
roughly corresponds to the better areas, with chalky subsoils, it is not always
very accurate. Mareuil sur Ay is rated 99% not 100% because the large buyers would
rather have the grapes brought to their press houses in Ay than go fetch them
in Mareuil, back before WW1."
the delimitation, the Grand Cru vineyards are not more strictly regulated than
the Premier Cru sites but even so, Clos des Goisses’ yields would easily qualify under
these regulations. The fact that Clos des Goisses is not classified as a Grand
Cru site is due to the imprecise nature of the Champagne classification system.
If there existed a Burgundy-like “climat” classification in Champagne, Clos des
Goisses would indeed qualify as a Grand Cru.
vineyard owners have filed a request for Mareuil to be recognized a Grand Cru,
but no one wants to shake the lees too much in Champagne. An old local saying
goes: “Ay le nom, Mareuil le bon” meaning “Ay has the name, Mareuil the
goodness”. Pierre Philipponnat used to have it printed on his labels and
In The Winery
Champagne is a highly processed wine and whilst the terroir remains important,
precision in the winemaking is essential for Champagne. For Charles, it’s a sum
of details, always keeping in mind quality, age-ability, and truthfulness to
the House’s style. Healthy and ripe fruit, careful pressing, using only the
purer first press juices, and proper ageing on the lees are the most important steps.
And at all times, avoiding green bitterness, as well as (at least at
Philipponnat) the loss of fruit through oxidation.
Outside of the vintage expressions of the single vineyard
sites Philipponnat is a strong advocate for the Solera ageing process and use
of high proportion of reserve wines. Around one third of reserve wines is typical in their NV wines adding
complexity to the wine. Charles goes on to say that the solera system allows for
older elements to develop complexity while keeping the blend fresh and
protected from early oxidation.
Clos des Goisse “L.V” 1995
The L.V. release of Clos des Goisses is the rarest bottling
to come from the vineyard in which only a few hundred bottles are ever
released. These are Champagne that are aged for 25 years unmoved in the
Philipponnat cellar and disgorged just 6 months prior to release. The
wines are only sold direct through “ambassadors” of Philipponnat of which Fine
+ Rare is proud to be one, with a few magnums reserved for auction sales. The L.V.
is an intrinsically exceptional champagne, a perfect reflection of the unique
characteristics of an unparalleled, pure chalk hillside, and Philipponnat’s
expertise in crafting wines. Mineral and intense, it stands out for its great
freshness and remarkable fullness. According to Charles the “Clos des Goisses
L.V. collection adds the complexity of champagne aged in the best conditions to
the wine’s characteristic freshness. The wines are protected from any oxidation
by prolonged contact with the lees before their disgorgement. The very low,
extra-brut dosage gives full expression to the aromatic personality of each vintage.”
Look out for the next L.V 1995 to be released in September
this year. For current availability on Clos des Goisses cuvees click here.