Last week Charles Philipponnat, owner of the iconic Clos des Goisses vineyard, stopped by the F+R offices to showcase the latest vintage from his top Champagne site. As direct importers of Clos des Goisses from Philipponnat, we wanted to gain a real understanding of what makes this vineyard so special. From its location and aspect, to the particular élevage techniques adopted by the House, we discover the secrets behind one of the finest and most prestigious tête de cuvées in the region…
Clos des Goisses: An Iconic Vineyard
The Clos des Goisses vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, in the Vallée de la Marne region of Champagne, is one of the most iconic single vineyard sites in Champagne. Despite the fact it is not actually a Grand Cru vineyard. It is a narrow strip (800 metres long and 100 metres wide) along the south slope of Mont de Mareuil, overlooking the canal of the river Marne. It is the steepest, directly south-facing vineyard in the whole of Champagne (between 30- 45% gradient), and the hottest site in the region with no shade from dawn til dusk during the ripening season. 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 danger 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 susceptible 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.
Philipponnat: An Historic Champagne Estate
Champagne Philipponnat, an historic family estate that has been cultivating the region for an extraordinary 500 years, has been producing Champagne on the Clos des Goisses site since 1935. Charles Philipponnat is currently at the helm of the Champagne House. On his visit to F+R last week, we tasted the latest release from the estate: Clos des Goisses 2009. Whilst 2009 was a warm vintage for Champagne, the Clos des Goisses site is no stranger to heat. Charles explained that being a site that pushes ripeness levels to the max, 2009 was a tremendous vintage for them. The grapes came in at optimum ripeness whilst keeping the “transparency of the acidity”. Charles explained that Philipponnat always want the vintage variations to shine through: in warmer vintages the flavours are dominated by layers of blackberry and mulberry fruits, in cooler vintages the flavours are more on the citrus and bergamot spectrum.
The Art of Élevage
The élevage of Champagne remains one of the most important aspects of Champagne production and when dealing with high levels of ripeness (as found in the Clos des Goisses) it becomes all the more relevant. Following fermentation, 35-40% of the wine is aged in wooden barrels (the youngest barrels being 3-4 years old) to add further weight and density. To retain the transparency of acidity and the all-important tension necessary in fine Champagne, all of the Clos de Goisses cuvées are deliberately prevented from going through malolactic fermentation. This is controlled by keeping the wine cool throughout its ageing period, prior to second fermentation. If a batch does naturally go through malolactic fermentation, it is rejected from the final assemblage. Another élevage method employed by Charles to retain the acid perception is to bottle the wine under a higher pressure than normal Champagne. This higher pressure is better for wines that are intended to be aged extensively on their lees, creating a heightened “internal tension” in the wine. Following the second fermentation the wine is then aged for nine years on its lees. Charles believes this is the optimum time for ageing, stating that all autolytic flavours (toasted bread/brioche characters coming from lees ageing) stop increasing after around seven years. The result is a Champagne full of flavour but in a tight and controlled way – a counterpoint to the richness and tight verve.
Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2009
As one of the most celebrated Champagne vignerons around, we asked Charles to describe the 2009 vintage in his own words…
“Primary aromas are citrus - pink grapefruit evolving into layers of black and red fruits (mulberry, blackberry) and lovely tertiary toasted bread aromas. A very summery expression but with the freshness and spiciness of roasted fennel seeds. Additional aromatic notes develop more in the glass: honeycomb and almonds, as well as dark chocolate. Broad on the palate but with a tight and controlled acid perception with a long length on the finish.”