VISIT AND TASTING AT CHAMPAGNE ANDRÉ ROBERT
Winegrower, poet, philosopher…. Bertrand Robert is what can be call an atypical wine maker in Champagne. 4th generation on the estate, he now works with his daughter, Claire, who represents the 5th generation and is animated by the same passion than her father. Located between Avize and Vertus, we met at the Champagne André Robert estate with those atypical winegrowers of Le Mesnil Sur Oger – a village on the Côte des Blancs and a terroir with as many facets as the wine maker himself.
Before starting the tour of the estate, we first take a seat in the tasting room where Bertrand Robert explains us the origin of his passion and his know-how. The opportunity to understand the philosophy and the winemaking process of the producer as well as to discover a little bit more the identity of his champagnes.
“A down-to-earth wine-farmer whose head is in the sky”
Bertrand is now the 4th generation in charge of the Champagne André Robert estate and for him the passion and the family know how are important for sure. However, the dream and the evasion dimension is essential to his wines. He even qualifies himself as a wine maker with “Les pieds sur terre et la tête dans les étoiles” – literally with ‘the feet on earth but the head in the stars’.
Bathed in throughout his childhood, Bertrand has always loved nature. His mother who worked a lot in the vineyard used to bring him with her. He would play in the vines until the time to go back home would come. For the winegrower, the love of nature is a must to create great champagnes as you need both the earth and the vine. Bertrand explains that for any wine maker ‘If you do not like nature, you can not do this job and even less great wines.’
Through his unusual cursus, Bertrand first chose to continue with his studies before coming back to the vines. For years, he took care of the Independent winegrowers group. However, the wine maker concedes that if he had not been a winegrower, Bertrand could have done theater in order to overcome his shyness as he used to be extremely shy, but also because he is a real cinema fan : ‘to led the people in your world for a lapse of time and have X number of lifes. In a movie theater, we are carried away by what we hear…‘ And that is exactly what Bertrand is trying to do through is wines : to led people in his world and to carried them away by what they taste. Again, in that purpose the wine maker value the nature and even more since he survived a car accident on the highway during a delivery. For him, it is also moments like this that inspires and pushes him to go further in his work and to take up challenges. There is no doubt that today, the great challenge of his job is to work with the vines and being able to respect life around. A huge challenge because as human beings, we often pass from one extreme to the other and winegrowers need to know how to protect themselves when nature is ‘dangerous and malicious’ and let her takes its course, let her speak when she is ‘nice’ and generous. It is clearly not an easy thing to find just the right balance but there are changes that need to be done for nature.
Bertrand chose to produce less to enhance his product better. A well valued product by a different method: HVE – High Environmental Value. He does not speak about organic but about nature respect. For him, if you respect nature, nature gives it back and you just have to know how to find these balances. The winegrower uses an accurate representation to illustrate the challenge the Champagne area is facing : ‘We made our vines sprinters but fragiles, we must learn today how to make them marathon runners.‘ His choice for a respectful viticulture can also be explained by the fact that our winegrower is also passionate about Sub-Saharan Africa: a region where they know and understand the value of water. They have a real awareness like Nanibi who learnt the water reservation and for the wine maker, we have a lot to learn from this culture who understood the importance of natural resources.
Regarding his vineyard, Bertrand does not speak of vine but of nature and creates champagnes that are the perfect reflection of their terroir. A terroir composed of plots spread on 7 villages with specificity for Le Mesnil where the plots are quite small but offer a variety of identities.
But Bertrand has one more secret about his vineyard : the Clos of the family. Since before there used to be many gardens or trees in and around vineyards, the winegrower decided to create a bridge between the past and the potential future of the Champagne. Indeed, the Clos of the family is his ideal image for Bertrand of the Champagne area for tomorrow ; Japanese shrub, wild currant, old natural roses – short roses but with extraordinary fragrance – … He lets nature expresses itself and make some tries.
Working with wood : skill and attention
Regarding the work on the wine, his two grand-fathers were winegrowers deep down and one of them founded the cooperative of Oger. Bathed in the ‘champagne world’, Bertrand discovered very early the world of wine. What passionates him about the wine is the fact that starting from grapes, it is possible to offer a glass of champagne just like starting from wheat and flour to make bread ; it is creation – to create something like the painter or the sculptor. In fact, he likes to compare the winemaker to the painter : having and using a color panel – grapes, terroirs, plots – and his white canvas – empty barrels. Wine makers create champagnes – like artists create various paintings – and have lots of possibilities with many shades. In any case, it is a must to be able to explain a champagne just like a painting as it is a living matter that the winegrower works on and got to see to evolve.
The other thing he is passionate about is the dream dimension of the champagne. To be able to share and make people participate, to make them part of the dream. And it is important to dream; the day dream is removed, it will remove a lot of thing to champagne as Bertrand explains justly ‘Champagne is the sparkling dream’. For him, it is fascinating to be able to make people dream through his wines, to make them live the dream like in the movies theaters. He likes to describe his work as ‘making wines with sparkles around‘.
Through his wines, Bertrand tries to balance between terroir – minerality, freshness and subtlety – and vinification – structure, power, complexity – and he is lucky enough to have elegance, minerality and subtlety through his terroirs. But by his wine making process, he brings power and structure to create refined champagnes. No malolactic fermentation but Bertrand does not seek it or block it either in order to keep all the freshness from his grapes.
In the cellar, he uses a lot of barrels for the micro-oxydation of the wines in order to develop full-bodied, powerful and structured champagnes. Actually, his father used to work with oak barrels a lot and every one were misaligned – which would annoy Bertrand when he was younger. At that time, he even thought he would threw everyone of them to the trash but life decided otherwise as today the winegrower uses a lot of wood. When we ask him why, he starts by simply answering : ‘you will see, when you touch the barrels ; touching wood is touching a living matter’. He therefore chose oak barrels for the living character of the wood. On a more technical point of view, the winegrower also uses wood to have “fatter” wines thanks to the glycerol effect. In that matter, the wines are left on lies that have proteins that nourish the wine.
7 months in barrels on lees after the fermentation. The wine is then stirred twice to remix the lees with the wine and nourish it. It is the method called the Burgundy method : stirring allows to obtain powerful and fatter wines (more glycerol : what form waves on the glass at the tasting).
In the barrel park of Bertrand and Claire, the only new barrels are for a project the winegrower is working on but we will need to wait patiently a few years before its release. The rest of the park is mainly old barrels and Bertrand makes each barrel drink wine before using it in order to not have too much tannin. The purpose is to bring out the intrinsic quality thanks to the barrels without taking over the wine. Finally, Bertrand and Claire use the oak barrels only for the Grands Crus and the Pinot Noirs.
For sure, through his work, the wine maker does not try to become part of any trend. However, he works logically, naturally, reasonably and listens to the nature from the vines to the cellar.
Once bottled, the champagne is protected by the glass and will slowly get the maturity in the chalk cellar of the estate. It will stay between 3 to 6 years at a constant temperature (52°F -55°F). This important process allows the champagnes to loose just a little bit of its minerality and gain more roundness and plenitude.
Right in the middle of this labyrinth, just when we arrive at the wine archives, Bertrand explains us a surprising and unusual story : the previous owner of the chalk cellar celebrated his 100th birthday with a bottle of Champagne André Robert, on a horse… Each champagne is a story and has the power to tell this story. The wine archives of the estate is a truly ‘champagne library’ : going until 1996 and 1981, it relates the history of Champagne André Robert and his terroirs. A way to taste a story and give time to time to mature its ‘teenager defects‘.
A tasting of Charm, Passion and with Expression
GRAND CRU RESERVE CHARDONNAY – 2009 non vintage
« An Enthusiastic Champagne »
A 100% Chardonnay wine – a great cuvée to get to know the André Bertrand signature. Bertrand chose a light dosage – 8 to 9g/liter – to highlight the purity and the minerality of this 2009 and 2010 vintage blending. The blending allows to ensure a perfect and constant quality. Only released after 3 years ageing, the cuvée keeps all its natural freshness.
The color is a straw-yellow with golden highlights. The nose is fresh and expressive with lightly buttered and brioche notes as well as fruit aromas. The well-balanced palate is fruity and brings a nice structure. The cuvée is characterized by a present minerality : chalky with tannins. After a bit, it develops a more vinous character with toasty notes. A refined, elegant and refreshing champagne.
THE MESNIL 2009 – GRAND CRU
« A Champagne of Charm »
2009 is a great year for vintages in Champagne : calm with a pleasant autumn, a gentle but cold winter and an ideal spring. Even if the summer was propitious for mildiou, the grapes developed a perfect maturity. This vintage is vinified in oak barrels on lees and expresses the heart of the terroir of Champagne André Robert. Indeed, Bertrand chose his prime plots from Mesnil sur Oger for an elegant, noble and mineral cuvée.
The color is a straw-yellow. The nose is generous but delicate with fruity notes. The palate is mature with buttered notes. A complex, aromatic and delicate Blanc de Blancs with still a great ageing potential.
BONUS : SEDUCTION 2007
« A Champagne with Expression »
2007 is a perfect year for vintages with Chardonnay in Champagne. The mild winter and the heatwave allowed to develop maturity, power, fruit aromas and grilled notes in the wines.
This vintage is ready to be tasted… A blend of Chardonnay from Mesnil sur Oger (55%) and Pinot Noir from Montigny (45%) highlighted with a light dosage (7 to 8 g/liter) for a well-balanced cuvée. Raised 7 months in oak barrels and without malolactic fermentation, the finesse of the Chardonnay match perfectly the generosity and complexity of the Pinot Noir.
The color is a strong golden yellow with amber highlights. The nose is generous, opulent and expressive with ripe and candied fruits notes. The palate is powerful and complex with a refined vinosity. An elegant, complex and mature vintage; a perfect cuvée to match a gastronomic dinner.
Responsable : Bertrand & Claire Robert
Location : Le Mesnil Sur Oger (Côte des Blancs)
Majority grape variety : Chardonnay
Other grape varieties : Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Vineyard surface : 14 Hectares
Viticulture : HVE
CHAMPAGNE André ROBERT
15 rue de L’Orme,
51190 Le Mesnil Sur Oger