VISIT AND TASTING AT CHAMPAGNE PERSEVAL FARGE
A broad grin on their face, they host the epicurean on a quest to find champagne goldsmithery… Isabelle and Benoist – proud of their inheritance – cultivate with sincerity, authenticity, pragmatism and determination ‘classic’ and ‘old’ grape varieties. Nestled in the slopes of the vineyard, in the heart of the wine-growing region of Champagne and surrounded by a vineyard and forest setting, it is there, in Chamery, that the Perseval-Farge family has been settled for more than two centuries now and more importantly, it is there that Benoist and Isabelle cultivates their Grands crus which seduce real connoisseurs. It is at their estate in Chamery – a 1er cru village located in the Montagne de Reims – that we met with this two passionate winegrowers who create elegant and refined champagnes of characters with highly precise and meticulous blends of traditional and historical grape varieties. The opportunity to understand the philosophy and the winemaking process of the winegrowers but also to discover a bit more the identity of their cuvées.
The origin of the estate
More than 2 centuries than the Perseval-Farge family planted its first vineyard in Chamery. Indeed, the first-known origines of the history and the identity of the Perseval-Farge estate date back to the beginning of the 19th century – 1808 to be exact – when Jean Baptiste Perseval – whose portrait takes centre stage in the family living room – was behind the initiative of the creation of the building and the cellars. From that time on, generation after generation, there has always been winegrowers on the estate. The house for its part was built in the middle of the 19th century by the children of Jean Baptise. At that time, the family processed a little bit but confidentially and it should be noted that in those days it was only still wines from Champagne called Coteaux. The tradition to be winegrower continued over time… The grand-father vinified at the estate until he passed away in 1941. Benoist’s father came back and carried out what has been initiated and achieved. As for the grand-mother – owner of the estates-, she decided to part from the press and Benoist’s father became then a member of a cooperative.
Benoist, who has no memory of vinification, was not at all attracted by manual works and tasks in the vineyard did not give him a great sense of fulfillment. During teenage years, it is the click for him : a surprising and strange attraction for vinification – this mysterious side, the curiosity of the “unknown” and the challenge ! A way to bring his personal touch to his inheritance….
At the period of his parents, the family had a small holding – 2ha – but luck has made that the appellation allowed to extend the estate on the unplanted land of the family and thus went from 2 to 4ha of vineyard. It is therefore a “recent” vineyard – planted between 1982 and 1988 : the average age is 35 years.
Today Benoist is winegrower (RM) on these 4ha and produces around 25 to 35 000 bottles. Passionate about the winemaking process of confidential wines, his 9 cuvées – soon becoming 11 – are haute-couture. The winemaker does not like simplicity and each of his wines is a true goldsmith’s. The fact is that for Benoist, there is so much diversity from one plot to another and when it comes to blending that it would be a shame to miss this panel of aromas and all these typicities. The winemaker has a big attachment to the notion of terroir and creates haute-couture wines which are the quintessence of their terroir. A production of high-quality champagnes in the respect of the traditions of the champagne AOC : “The terroir creates infinite variations, this is why the Champagne Perseval-Farge always takes into account their characteristics since they influence the typicity of each grapes and therefore of the champagnes.” The Champagne Perseval-Farge offers an expanded sensory panel through their elegant and delicate cuvées.
Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay but also Pinot Gris – also called Fromenteau -, Petit Meslier and Arbanne … Benoist and Isabelle are proud of their heritage : a way to refresh the memory or excite curiosity but also as an asset to develop cuvées between grape varieties of yesterday and today. The soil of Chamery is very special : clayey sand slope and mid-slopes and heights of clay-limestone, full of sand – unlike the neighboring terroir richer in clay – meaning that the wines are particularly sharp and austere. Gourmet champagnes, each with their own palette of tastes and aromas very pronounced. Nevertheless, these are champagnes without arrogance or extravagance, but rich, winey, balanced and with a beautiful freshness.
The diversity of the grapes varieties, being able to listen to their terroir, understand and adapt to the vineyard allow Benoist to compose – partially under wood – harmonious and diversified cuvées. The art consists in developing a wide range of champagnes with real personality ; great champagnes for gastronomy and epicureans !
From vines to wines : how to perpetuate an heritage over generations
As for the vines, the winegrower uses no herbicides since 2007. Benoist and Isabelle have decided to weed the lines and hoe the sub-line since the early 90’s… The hectare is so expensive, the smallest speck of land is a gold nugget this is why it is so important for the couple to preserve this heritage. They do not affirm to be organic but they work with the organic spirit : copper and sulfur – organic growing products – are used in their vineyard and they move on to the synthetic products only if it is necessary. Like for year 2006 for example : the conditions were execrable ; the first treatment was organic then, when the conditions deteriorated, they moved to synthetic products to finally return to the organic method at the beginning of July. It is just logical for Benoist to go back to organic products in July when clusters come out as it is less impacting than synthetic products. No anti-rot treatment are used either… For Benoist and Isabelle the viticulture is also to be patient and confident : in nature, the excesses are always compensated by others – the weather makes a balancing effect to balance itself – temperature, pluviometry – and the chemical excesses are always paid. His only regret regarding the vineyard : to have ceded to the fashion of the 80’s when the Meunier was denigrated to turn to the Chardonnay. Yet, the terroir of Chamery and its surroundings lends itself perfectly to it.
The estate is ranked 1er cru and is cultivated as a garden : they receive as the seasons go by, all the attention of the winegrowers accompanying them with a high respect for nature. Benoist and Isabelle vineyard is certified HVE 3 – the highest rank of the certification. These winegrowers, in love with their land and their vineyard, are trying to value the Champagne terroir by bringing up to date the old grape varieties that were cultivated and vinified long ago in the region. By that, they are trying to preserve those varieties certainly less productive, may be more fragile to diseases, in some way with a more acid tip also, but especially so much more difficult to vinify! However, it is also a part of memory and history of the Champagne area.
Since 1990, they have established an integrated viticulture (HVE). For the winegrowers, it is a state of mind whose goal is to respect the environment and participate in the sustainable development movement. They support that their activity should and must respect the precious terroir and allow to live there from generation to generation.
Regarding the vinification, for the Perseval-Farge the wine is the continuity of the work in the vineyard but what appeals Benoist is to work on vinous champagnes. Indeed, the winemaker enjoys to work with old wines – 50% of the blending. He always has in reserve the equivalence of the stirring in circulation in barrels or in tank. He enjoys to let the wines aging as far as possible. Today, it is not less than 5 years in stock that he has in his cellar but if it was just up to him, he would go further, However, it is important to conciliate between pleasure of old wines and reality. But what is sure is that Benoist and Isabelle take the time, follow a natural and controlled evolution to create refined cuvées. At Champagne Perseval-Farge, both tanks and barrels are used for the vinification : 3 plots are selected for the aging in oak barrels – which is equivalent to about 30% of the total production – 1 plot of Pinot Noir called ‘La Pucelle’, 1 plot of Chardonnay called ‘L’Espectre’ – with a new single plot cuvée coming soon – and 1 plot of old grape varieties – Arbane, Petit Meslier and Fromenteau. Benoist only uses old barrels that suit much more his philosophy and what he is looking for in the identity of his champagnes. He tried out in the past new barrels but the wines were overly marked by wood and the aromas far too much concealed. Barrels bring enormously to the wines but it must be used with a lot of delicacy. Furthermore, old barrels got to know other wine-making region : what can be seeing as an inconvenience for some, Benoist sees it as an advantage to bring other shades to his wines ; Burgundy for example brings a lot of suppleness.
As for the yeasts, Benoist uses them at a low dose – 20% of what is usually recommended. He does not want to take the risk to let the must in “complete freedom” as the same time as respecting the nature of the wines. In the past, he made a try with a spontaneous fermentation but the experiment was not conclusive with unexpected results. Since then, he prefers to uses yeast a low dose just like sulfure : an integrated approach for longevity without going over an outrageous assurance. Integrated… that is his philosophy ; He cannot stand excesses : they are dangerous as it pulls out a lot of soul from the wines. What he regrets: the integrated approach is not sufficiently recognized because of the fact that among other things we like to put labels on things…
The aging of the wines is done on lees – mainly in barrels – between 6 and 10 months – defined according to the results of tasting of still wines. Benoist works on wines both with and without malolactic fermentation : the wines aging on lees have a malolactic developing faster which means that is it much more delicate to handle.
For the dosage, Benoist admits that there is a tendency today to decrease more and more the dosage – a trend but also thanks to the know-how allowing it. However, it is a dilemma for him since the low dosage helps to preserve the wines and the winemaker would like to evolve towards even lower dosages. Also, It should not be forgotten that sugar brings a certain generosity but it can make disappear the identity of the wine as well. At the same time, with a zero dosage champagne the palate saturates faster : it is difficult to make the all evening on a Brut Nature – too austere. Because of that, the dosage is fixed every year during the tasting of the non-dosé wines – to create perfectly balanced wines and a respected identity. The dosage is based on classical liqueur – not with musts but a blend of canes sugar and still wines.
Rich style, perfect balance of the oxidation, bright and alive palate… The demanding nature of the winemaking process offers a specific signature of Champagne Perseval-Farge : vinous, frank, well-balanced cuvées. Benoist produces vintages every year – except in 2001 which was a bad year : too little water – it allows to have and keep a year in memory. The wine archives of the estate that goes back to 1993 but then smaller quantities for 96. Benoist wants to re-establish the archives with his son especially on 2004 and 2008 – keeping between 50 to 100 bottles – beautiful and exceptional years offering superb aging potential.
All the requirement in the elaboration allows Benoist and Isabelle to create Gourmet and highly individual champagnes. Each of the cuvées expresses its own distinct pallet of flavors without arrogance or extravagance. Well-balanced wines with elegant freshness, rich and winey champagnes for gastronomic moments. Portraits de bulles got the opportunity to taste some of those jewelries.
TERRE DE SABLES
«The perfect harmony of the 3 grape varieties»
A remarkable blend of each classic grape variety : 39% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay and 11% Pinot Meunier. This Brut 1er Cru is also a blend of vintages with a base of 49% from the 2011 harvest and the rest a blend of 2010, 2009 and 2008. This cuvée is made from grapes grown on vines with an average age of 29 years and a vineyard of sandiest soils. The fruits are sharply marked by its minerality with expressive marine notes. Only 3% of the vinification is made in barrels and the malolactic fermentation is partial in order to preserve all the bright acidity exalted by a well-balanced dosage of 7g/L.
A winemaking process creating this wine with beautiful golden tints and a fine and silky effervescence. The nose is generous and impressive with ripe fruits and lime touch as well as delicate toasted notes. The palate is harmonious and charming with intense flavors and structure. A creamy and fresh cuvée expressing hazelnut, honey, yellow fruit notes with elegant citrus and pastry aromas. A vinous and tender champagne for a graceful tasting.
C. DE PINOTS
«The excellence of Pinots»
This Blanc de Noirs made of 42 % Pinot Noir and 58 % Pinot Meunier is vinified in stainless steel vats (86%) and in old barrels (14%). This cuvée is also a blend of 2010 vintage (23%) balanced with reserve wines from 2009 to 2006. Part of the wine goes through a malolactic fermentation, then the champagne rests “sur lattes” before being disgorged and a 6.5 g/L dosage added.
The wine is a straw color with golden tints. The nose – complex – develops cinnamon, apple and brioche aromatic notes as well as wood, herbs and figs fragrance. The attack is elegantly saline followed by voluptuous currant, prune and toasted hazelnuts aromas. A champagne with great and chalky structure.
«The elegance of a great vintage»
The year 2007, was a vintage with pleasant and elegant maturity of the grapes for delectable wines. Power and generosity characterize those vintages with great fruit expression. This cuvée is a blend of 57% Pinot Meunier, 43% chardonnay exclusively and only from wines from 2007 harvest. 36% of the vinification in barrels and 47% of the wine is put through a malolactic fermentation. Finally, an extra-brut dosage 4g/L allows all the finesse of the vintage to express itself.
The color is a golden yellow showing already a certain maturity of the wine. The nose is delicate and expressive with complex flavors and notes of aging : quince, tobacco as well as coffee and vanilla aromas. The palate develops a refined balance with a lot of freshness and aromatic power. A great vintage and a gastronomic wine.
BONUS : LA PUCELLE – one plot cuvée
Exclusively made of Pinot Noirs and solely coming from the vineyard called “La pucelle” : a 0.50 ha lieu-dit of Pinot Noir and clay-sand terroir located in the Chamery village Premier Cru this cuvée is unique. The vines, planted in 1985, were over-vigorous until the age of 20 but they has assuaged since !
A blend of vintages. 30% of the juices are vinified in barrels during 12 months and 70% in stainless steel vats. Without any expedition liqueur, this brut nature wine – the smallest production by far of the estate with 1500 bottles per year – is the pure expression of its terroir and its grape variety. Benoist perfectly brought out the quality of the Pinot Noirs of this unique lieu-dit.
The color is pale yellow with golden green and silver tints with a delicate effervescence. The nose – quite discreet – with toasty and nutty notes but also expressing an elegant and mineral complexity. The palate offers a great freshness almost sharp with citrus notes – lime and pomelo – as well as almond and apple aromas with a red cherry fruit touch. The minerality is expressive and frank offering a palate with supreme elegance and a long finish with saline notes. This cuvée of great concentration, finesse and sapidity is elegant and pure with depth and flavor intensity. Thanks to the low dosage, the acidity allows a great aging potential and the balance of the wine does not suffer at all from the lack of sugar. A refined cuvée for connoisseurs.
Responsable : Benoist and Isabelle Perseval
Location : Chamery (Montagne de Reims)
Majority grape variety : Pinot Noir
Other grape varieties : Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier,
including old varieties : Pinot Gris (Fromentot), Petit Meslier and Arbanne
Vineyard surface : 4 ha
Viticulture : HVE
CHAMPAGNE PERSEVAL FARGE
12 rue du Voisin,