Fun and Delicious Grower Champagne

Today’s Story: Domaine Francis Orban

Domaine Francis Orban was established in 1929 by Léopold Orban in the small village of Leuvrigny, not too far from Epernay. Though Léopold initially sold his fruit to the larger houses of Epernay, he decided to branch out and make his own wines as one of the first Grower Champagne houses in Leuvrigny. The domaine today spans 18 acres of vineyards between Leuvrigny and Sainte-Gemme, with 90% planted to Pinot Meunier and vines averaging 30-40 years old. The vineyards are farmed utilizing sustainable viticulture, harvesting is done completely by hand, and fermentation is accomplished using only indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. In the NV bottlings, about 50% of the blend is comprised of reserve wines. Francis Orban is today’s 4th generation steward of the domaine, following the footsteps of his great-grandfather Léopold, grandfather Gaëtan, and father Pol.

Today’s Wine: NV Champagne Extra Brut

100% Pinot Meunier; 12% ABV

The Champagne Extra Brut is transparent deep gold in color. On the nose, I get aromas of yellow apple skins, golden pear, brioche, white pepper, almond, clay, and mineral. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of lemon citrus, green apple, toasted nuts, toast, crushed rock, and cream. This is very dry and medium-bodied with high acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish.

Price: $45. Great QPR with this one, which tends to be the case with almost every grower Champagne I’ve had over the years. This wine is also incredibly fun to try, not simply for the fact it is 100% Pinot Meunier (typically a blending variety in Champagne) but also because it is Extra Brut with dosage of 3 g/l. Drink this on its own or pair with caviar or shrimp.

The World’s Most Famous Champagne

Today’s Story: Louis Roederer

Louis Roederer is based in Reims, France and was founded in 1776, though the estate did not achieve its namesake until 1833 when Louis Roederer inherited the Champagne house from his uncle. During the mid-1800s, Louis took a visionary approach by overseeing and mastering every stage of his wine’s creation while simultaneously acquiring some of Champagne’s grand cru vineyards while many other houses simply purchased their fruit. Thanks to this ownership of some of the best land in Champagne, Louis furthered his oversight on the entire winemaking process and this fit well with his guiding principle that all great wine depends on soil quality and passion for tradition. When Louis Roederer II took over from his father, he followed similar ideologies and helped further the history of what today is one of the world’s greatest Champagne houses and coincidentally one of the last few remaining houses that are fully independent and family-owned.

As audacious as his father, Louis II began exporting his wines to further reaches including the United States and Russia. A big fan of the house’s Champagne, Tsar Alexander II of Russia requested that Roederer bottle an exclusive offering for him from the greatest fruit and resulting wine of each vintage. In 1876, Cristal was born as the first-ever Cuvée de Prestige and received its name from the bottle being made of crystal so the Tsar could witness the beauty and effervescence of the wine before popping the cork. In addition to being made of crystal, the bottle commands its unique flat bottom supposedly thanks to the Tsar’s worry that would-be assassins could plant explosives in the punt of standard Champagne bottles. Though the Russian monarchy fell during the early 1900s, Roederer started marketing Cristal commercially and still sells it in their patented bottles today.

As this great Champagne house passed through the family, Léon Olry-Roederer took over the estate during the 1920s and worked to create a consistent wine through the blending of several vintages. Léon’s efforts culminated into what would later become the Brut Premier, a wine that immeasurably contributed to the renaissance of the family’s estate. When Léon passed away in 1933, the estate came under control of his widow Camille who demonstrated adept marketing skills to propel the estate forward. For instance, Camille embraced the more social aspects of Champagne by hosting numerous gatherings at the family’s Hôtel Particulier in Reims which helped introduce the estate’s wines to an ever-growing populace of Champagne lovers.

Following Camille’s management of Louis Roederer, her grandson Jean-Claude Rouzaud took over and began consolidating their vineyard holdings. An oenologist and agronomist by study, Jean-Claude demonstrated his passionate love of winegrowing before passing the estate to his son Frédéric Rouzaud who manages the estate today. Frédéric represents the seventh generation running the Louis Roederer Champagne house, a truly magnificent feat given all of the other great Champagne houses no longer in family control.

Today, Louis Roederer consists of 240 hectares and includes over 400 parcels of vineyard land. These vast holdings that originated from Louis Roederer’s visionary approach during the 1800s allow the estate to produce every vintage from their own vines rather than purchasing fruit. With great respect for their terroir, Louis Roederer increasingly utilizes biodynamic farming methods in caring for their fruit. When it comes time to harvest their fruit, Roederer meticulously picks by hand into buckets and the fruit is pressed delicately on the harvest site. By precisely picking their fruit plot-by-plot, Roederer vinifies each plot separately to create a perfect record of harvest before blending the wines into a final product. Each wine in the fermentation tanks is tasted every day by the winemaking team so they can organize them into families of aromas, flavors, and overall characteristics.

Today’s Wine: 2000 Cristal Champagne

60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The 2000 Cristal is vibrant gold in color and quite transparent. On the nose, this exquisite Champagne offers aromas of ripe green apple, lemon citrus, honey, brioche toast, toasted almond, marmalade, white florals, white pepper, lees, and saline minerality. In the mouth, the wine showcases notes of apricot, white peach, golden apple, citrus zest, honey, white lily, toast, caramel, chalk, and white spice. Though 19 years old, this Champagne is still big and full-bodied with vibrantly high acidity into a long, rounded finish.

Price: $260. Cristal is always an incredible tasting experience and its price-point is justified. This is an excellent choice for special occasions and a bottle we chose for celebrating New Years. Pair this with shrimp, caviar, oysters, creamy cheeses, or fruit-based desserts.