By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer
Bruno Michel Visit
One of the highlights of my trip to Champagne this year was visiting the Michel family in Pierry. First we took a trip up to the Brousses vineyard at the top of the village, the two-acre plot that his single vineyard cuvee de la terre bottling comes from. This southeast facing site was planted in 1964 and is one of the sources for the plant material that Bruno propagates himself for his massal selection vineyard plantings. This chalky site is high on the hill in the already quite cool climate of Pierry, and makes the most high-toned, incisive Blanc de Blancs that we carry. This Champagne is a huge favorite of mine, so it was great to get acquainted with the vineyard.
After our trip to the vines, we came back down to the winery and tasted his 2012 vin clairs. Bruno explained that he lost half his crop in 2012 and that it was a very difficult year, especially for organic producers like him. All of the producers I spoke to, organic or not, had very low yields in this very difficult year. In the winter the temperature got so low that it killed some vines outright. In the spring, late frost on the 26th of April destroyed many of the buds, especially for the Chardonnay. During the flowering rain and cold temperatures interfered with the pollination of the plant further reducing yields. A rainy July caused mildew in the vineyard and the ensuing mud made getting into the vineyard to work almost impossible.
Last year, speaking to my grower friends in Champagne in spring and summer, they were all convinced that 2012 would be a near total loss. But mid-August brought a very fortunate turnaround, with sunny weather and some beneficial wind. While the sun began ripening the grapes at an even pace for a moderately late harvest, the wind dried out the vineyard and helped to get rid of the mildew. In late September Bruno, like most of the producers we visited, harvested a top quality, if tiny quantity vintage. I suspect that if the summer had been as bad with a generous amount of grapes on the vine, this quality would have been impossible.
The 2012 vin clair samples that we tasted were very precise and aromatic. The Chardonnays were tightly wound; concentrated and very long while the Meunier was savory and round but still high toned and persistent. We also had the opportunity to taste the assembelage with the reserve wines added for his non-vintage wine, and I was impressed with the finesse even at this early stage. Bruno is obsessed with his wines, and his vin clair showed his attention to every detail.
After the still wines, Bruno started popping crown caps off of two flights of Champagne to do a dosage trial. First we tasted five different levels of sugar for the Extra Brut and after six examples of the regular brut. It was pretty dramatic to see the caps pop at a full six atmospheres- and you can see it in today's video.
The flights were done in random order of dosage level so we wouldn't be biased. Luckily, he didn't want us to guess which had more and which had less dosage, but rather just which ones we preferred. Bruno explained that it was perfectly normal for particular Champagne to taste sweeter with less sugar and drier with more on occasion, since the sugar mixture reacts with the other flavors in the wine in complex and unexpected ways. After tasting we found that the group consisting of his assistant wine maker, my father, his wife Catherine and I had decided on the same level of sugar in both wines as he and his oenologist had.
In my notes below, the first number is the order for the flight, and the bottom number (which is circled) was my preference. The dosage is abbreviated g/l for grams per liter.
At the top of the brut page I wrote MCR, which is rectified grape must, since this is the kind of sugar Bruno uses for dosage. Producers also sometimes use beet or cane sugar.
For the last part of our appointment we tasted through the current releases. The 2002 Bruno Michel "Cuvee Millésime" Brut Champagne ($59.99), which we have carried for almost four years is more impressive than ever. He has kept this wine he didn't sell right away on the lees so the batch that is for sale now has an extra 36 months of yeast contact, and it has become even more creamy and effortless. This blend of 80% Chardonnay from 45 year old vines and 20% Meunier from over 70 year old vines was one of the top wines of the trip.
For something to look forward to, we also managed to grab another importers batch of non-vintage rose in magnum- a batch based on 2006 that is full of spices and freshly baked bread. This excellent rose is completely different from his rose de rose that we carry in 750s even though they are both saignee Meuniers. The magnum is rich and has a subtle, laid back elegance and fantastic length. These should arrive in late summer.
I hope that you will taste some of the excellent Champagnes from Bruno Michel. His wines are among the most complex that we carry, and worth the effort to taste!
A toast to you,