VISIT AND TASTING AT BENOÎT DÉHU
On the edge of the appellation, at the end of a little road where the land is full of life and the soil fertile, a plant garden sets on a clay terroir with green marl. Benoît is an outstanding winemaker who knew how to take a back seat to the evidence of his terroir and listen to his dream of great wines of Champagne made for the gastronomy. He crafts wines with unique texture and with an incredible level of requirement ranging from the biodynamic approach to the choice of the wood for his barrels, the conductor of Champagne Benoît Déhu brought the wines of the estate to their noblest expression, offering the Pinot Meunier its finest interpretations. He did not just carried on with the tradition, he took things in hand with determination. Located in the Vallée de la Marne in Fossoy, we met with this winegrower who creates masterly cuvées.
The excellence of a terroir
Conscientious winegrower, outstanding winemaker, Benoit Déhu makes a perfect-score in Fossoy, perpetuating the incredible history launched for 8 generations by his family since 1987. In the Vallée de la Marne (Aisne), he watches over his land where clay-limestone and clayey-marly terroir gives to the Pinot Meunier – king grape variety of the area – all its elegance, fruitiness and complexity.
Since the 80’s, the family makes his own champagnes with their brand, Champagne Déhu père & fils, at the cooperative until 2011, when Benoît decides to create Champagne Benoît Déhu. Through this new brand, Benoît wants to put forward something else – single-plot cuvées, identity and character of wine vinified in barrels… Benoît’s wish is to make a truly different product: a single plot, 100% Meunier matured in oak barrel and made from vines under organic conversion…
Armed with a 4 years work experience at the prestigious House Bollinger, where he learnt the sensitivity to wood and got marked by the woodwork, he came back the family estates in the years 2000 and in 2011 starts to work on and with only one plot of the estate: La rue des Noyers. Through his work, he wants to show that with the Pinot Meunier very beautiful things can be done. He therefore created a unique cuvée of champagne but also two Coteaux – one red, one white. By creating the Coteaux, he goes to meet the history of the House and re-emphasizes what the ancients did with the still wines of the time. 1 plot, three cuvées, two of which are non-champagne, this shows the great diversity that one can have with a single plot.
The house Champagne Déhu Père & Fils offers refined and elegant classical wines. As for Benoît, he had the bright idea to isolate a plot and “pushing on the reverie” as far as possible: a viticulture without any chemicals, the use of horses for the ploughing, a biodynamic approach following the lunar cycles, harvest only in the morning and in five times to obtain the highest maturity possible, use of a small press of 2000 kilos … He even makes its own barrels with wood coming from the estate! All this in order to have a grape of high quality; To interpret at best what nature has given him and to perpetuate the work of his ancestors.
In the beginning, he only worked on a small part of the plot but after 3-4 years (2015), he used the totality of the plot, which means 1.70 hectares. At first, a single plot and a single grape variety – Pinot Meunier – and in 2013, he added two new plots: one of Pinot Noirs and one of Meuniers with vines of 61 years – 2 300 square meters, the oldest plot of the House – and each plot is vinified separately. The Pinot Noir cuvée will be coming out in 2018. As for the Pinot Meuniers old vines, it should be released within 5 years – a wine requiring more time as old vines take longer to express fully their character especially with a vinification in wood barrels and under cork.
The vineyard is managed with a high-respect of nature and following organic and biodynamic principles. Since 2013, Benoît has been using his own barrels, made in Champagne with wood from the Meilleray forest creating multifaceted wines expressing the terroir’s characteristic minerality. In 2011, he started the organic conversion and obtained the certification in 2014. Today, Benoît works with biodynamic method but without being certified: he was not looking for the label but for more complex, elegant and fine wines.
Through his methods, his choice of approaches, Benoît seeks to pull up the quality of products, like through his choice to work exclusively with barrels. For Benoît, champagne is a work of patience: it is important to take time, let the wine follow its route – 8-9 months in barrel and on lees, no batônnage, late racking… Thanks to this approach, the barrels remain empty for a short time. The vinification and aging take place in oak barrels only with minimal intervention.
Besides the organic and biodynamic method, Benoît also seeks to work as locally as possible – and if the local is impossible, at least French. The winemaker has a true quality approach around craftsmanship. All his supplies are chosen carefully to suit his work: FSC labeled corks without branding on the bottom – in order avoid to mark the wine and to keep the natural beauty of the cork -, labels in bio-sourced materials, Absolute Green line foils from Sparflex, recycled and recyclable cardboard box, lighter bottles, wax for the Coteaux coming from one of the last French manufacturers and same thing for the muslin. Through these choices, Benoît follows through with his environmental and quality approach, including packaging – even the scotch – by seeking the best of French know-how and craftsmanship.
High quality approach each step of the steps :
The estate owns 13 hectares but Benoît works with only 2,25ha of them. The main grape variety is the Pinot Meunier (95%) but Benoît has also 5% Pinot Noirs. As for the terroir, it is rather clayey with green marls for the Rue des Noyers plot with a very hard soil but silty with sandstone and flint for the plot of Pinot Noirs.
The winegrower applies a rigorous methodology in the vineyard : massal selection, to take the time to select – Pinot noirs from Burgundy with low yield- search for quality origins through rigorous nurseries. The Rue des Noyers plot for example has 3 different grapevine rootstocks that are vinified separately since 2014: 3 cuvées to come with 3 different profiles / 3 terroirs.
Benoît is also one of the 5 or 6 winemakers in Champagne to use dry alfalfa from the region as food for the vineyard. Once again, an approach linked to his environmental and local approach. It enables to make the economy of the region work and provides an optimal biology to the soil thanks to this organic matter. Indeed, these organic pellets make it possible to revitalize the soil. The mixtures are made to measure: classic alfalfa or corn with alfalfa and beet, … But Benoît also produces his aerated compost tea which is a sort of levain made from compost applied once on the vine stock and once on foliage and allowing to bring life to the soil. The goal of the winemaker is to get a soil as lively as possible and ideally reach a vine that can defend itself; This is the example of bindweed that is never sick. The objective is to try to naturally bring the vine to the same pH as bindweed. All this approach in order to have the healthiest grapes possible.
2 Bucher presses of 8000 kg are used for Champagne Déhu père & fils and press services. However, Benoît was looking for something else for Champagne Benoît Déhu. So he searched during almost 2 years to find an automatic press of 2000 kg: a smaller machine for more precision and to improve the quality.
As for the winemaking process, Benoît owns a barrel park with barrels of all sizes and with great variety of origins. The room has been rebuilt in 2016 and is located on the top floor of an old barn from 1921 with a very nice wood framework. The idea was logical for the winemaker to ” put the wood with the wood”. Moreover, for the renovation there has been a real technical research work on materials: earth-based coatings for a “living room” absorbing or releasing moisture. The winemaker had to find technical solutions for his project since it had never been done in the region before – search for suppliers abroad … The room is also air-conditioned with an air treatment system for ideal conditions for the wines and a constant temperature of 12-13 ° C. A new wooden storage building – DS panels and wood wool – built according to a true quality approach, all this in order to have wines under the best possible conditions.
About fifty barrels, that is to say a fifty individuality with Burgundian formats, 1 foudre and 2 Bordeaux pieces as well as 1600L, 350L – very good wine / wood ratio – coming from a small cooperage in Austria very sought after and 300L, … Not a single barrel or wood similar, it allows to increase the diversity and the palette of the winegrower. The barrels marked Déhu come from the oak forest of 150- 180 years of the estate – a family forest. To make his own barrels, a will born 6-8 years ago (2008-2009) : the idea was seductive and logical to use the trees of the estate, to live in harmony with his region and to value history. Risk-taking, things falling into place for the winemaker who always wishes to go beyond in his approach and to valorize the terroir dimension. Dennis Saint-Arroman, cooper of the House of Bollinger, carries out the selection of trees. Then, the wood is hand-worked by Jérôme Viard of the cooperage of Champagne, La Tonnellerie de Champagne. The few steel-vats are used only for the settling and the reserve-wines (very few). For Benoît, working with barrels is also accepting unexpected obstacles (evaporation). The winemaker recently completed his barrel collection with a foudre made out of the wood of the forest estate as well.
“Foudre de 2160 litres installé le 1 juin 2016. Fabriqué en Mai 2016 par la Tonnellerie de Champagne-Ardenne après quatre années de séchage du bois. Abattage de trois Chênes représentant 2.83m3 de bois le 5 avril 2012. Chênes plantés en 1892 par mon aïeul dans la Forêt de Meilleray.
Foudre of 2160 liters placed on June 1rst, 2016. Made in May 2016 by the cooperage of Champagne-Ardenne after 4 years of drying the wood. Cutting down of three oaks representing 2.83 m3 of wood on April 5th 2012. Oaks planted in 1892 by my ancestor in the Meilleray forest.”
Jérôme Viard had a surprise in store for the winemaker by making a barrel of 1600 Liters made in the same wood as the foudre – a barrel unique by its form as it is made with the size of staves of the foudre. The toasting during the design of the barrels is soft and slow in order to overly mark the wines, especially since they stay for a long time in casks at the estate.
Regarding the sulfur, Benoît adds as little as possible in order to remain as respectful as possible to the wine. Until now, the wines were without malolactic fermentation but today the winemaker does not seek it which means that he does not prevent it if it triggers: sometimes the malolactic is partial.
Benoît creates highly individual and distinct cuvées, resolutely terroir. New ones are coming including the Rosé de saignée de la Rue des Noyers.
A two-phases Tasting
The tasting starts in the barrels room, where the wines meet with wood and become acquainted with each other. The opportunity to taste the 2016 still wines but also to understand a little bit more the complexity of the work with oak barrels.
2016 STILL WINES
Rue des Noyers plot, 2016 harvest
- cuvée, aged in oak barrel: fresh, refined, a little bit spicy, a wine already very generous with a light pink color due to the Meunier of Rue des Noyers but which will disappear very quickly with the aging.
- taille, aged in new oak barrel of 2015 – having seen 2 wines maximum – : tailles are placed in new barrels since they have a capacity to blend with the wood which therefore is surprisingly very delicate at the tasting.
Pinot Noir plot, young vines (8 years)
- aged in a 350L barrel from Austria: a powerful wine thanks to the grape variety and also with beautiful finesse as well as a tightened side. It expresses a discreet flint as well a strong terroir identity.
- aged in foudre from the estate: a more round, more mature wine with a smoky flint side. Same basis from the previous one but a different path for completely different results.
The Meunier old vines aged in barrel offers elegance, freshness, salinity, with delicate acid soft notes and lemon peps.
Finally the Rue des Noyers, reserve wines in steel vats develops complexity with patina. A wine expressing the past time with elegance…
RUE DES NOYERS 2013
«Character of a clay terroir»
A single plot cuvée made from a single grape variety – 100% Pinot Meunier – vinified in oak barrel of 228 liters and matured on lees during 11 months. This unfined and unfiltered wine is a champagne without any dosage – a brut nature – and has been disgorged on August 4, 2016. A bottle opened D-21.
The color is a satin golden yellow with pink gold and deep straw-colored glints. The nose is generous with brioche, linden notes and expressing a clay minerality. With aeration, it develops some honey, fruit jelly, and kumquat aromas as well as almond, mocha and vanilla notes. The well-balanced palate offers generous and a creamy effervescence with the same clay minerality and some fruit notes. The finish is expressing a distinct character with a nice vinosity.
After 15 min of aeration, it develops buttered, hazelnut notes as well as aromas of honey, prune and quince.
COTEAUX CHAMPENOIS BLANC DE LA RUE DES NOYERS 2013
«Complexity of an exclusive still wine»
This white Coteaux Champenois is also a single plot wine made exclusively with Pinot Meunier grapes. The vinification is done 100% in oak barrels and the maturation on lees is carried out during 11 months in oak barrels of 228 liters. The selection of the wines is very strict with a first tasting of the still wines, a second tasting before the blending and then Benoît rework the wines in barrels with some batônnage to work the “wine side” during 20 months minimum. An unfined and unfiltered still wine with only 1 g/Liter as there is no need for more thanks to the quality of the grapes. A hidden treasure of champagne as the production is limited to two barrels.
The color is a golden yellow with some silver and pale yellow glints. The nose is fresh, complex and fruity offering apple, vanilla and caramel notes. The aeration brings toasted, passion fruit and sweet spicy aromas. The palate expresses the power and character of the Meunier perfectly balanced with the minerality of its clay terroir but also the typical delicate freshness and acidity from Champagne. An iodized and pulpy wine with saline and tropical notes during the finish. A lovely complexity for gastronomic pairings. A wine to be served in carafe.
COTEAUX CHAMPENOIS ROUGE DE LA RUE DES NOYERS 2013
«A floral and seductive wine»
Same plot, same grape variety for this red Coteaux Champenois vinified in oak barrels. The selection of the grapes is very strict: high sorting at the cutting, 2nd sorting at the harvest box and a 3rd one when Benoît destemmed the clusters before the press. Maturation during 10-11 months at a low temperature in oak barrels of 228 liters in order to highlight the fruit generosity. Only the free-run wine is used for the quintessence of the grapes and in order to have less bitter taste. An unfined and unfiltered wine with 0 sulfites after analysis, as so few were added and thanks to time. Bottled for a month now (end of 2016). A limited production: only 2 oak barrels.
The color is ruby with orange glints. At first, the nose offers compote of red fruits – blackcurrant, redcurrant, black berry and cherry – pepper and licorice aromas. The aeration brings spicy and rose notes. The palate is fresh with delicate red-fruits acidity and a clay minerality. There is a certain vinosity in this full-bodied wine. The finish is elegant with a little touch of oxidation, morello cherries.
BONUS / RUE DES NOYERS 2011 – The very first cuvée
2011 is one of the great vintages in Champagne, called by the CIVC as ” previously unseen “. Spring was gentle with early and rapid flowering three weeks in advance. Rainfall became scarce, inciting the vines to seek deeply in the soil the water necessary for their development. However, more present, intermittently, during the summer and at the time of the harvest without altering the sanitary quality of the grapes. The alternation of cool nights and warm days allowed for optimum maturity. 2011 is a with true individual character vintage.
A single plot cuvée made from a single grape variety – Pinot Meunier – vinified in oak barrel of 228 liters and matured on lees during 11 months. A wine without malolactic fermentation, unfined and unfiltered. Disgorged 2 years ago in 2015, this champagne has a very low dosage – only 1 g/L.
The color is a lighter gold than the 2013 cuvée with pale silver yellow glints. At first, the nose is subtle with fruity and complex aromas but also toast, almond, orange blossom and vanilla notes. The aeration brings smoky, pepper and musky notes. The palate – complex as well but also surprisingly fresh and supple – offers power and maturity with aromas of white and yellow fruits. It also offers a clay minerality conferring patina to the wine. After a few minutes it develops salinity with mandarin, quince and basil aromas as well as wood and iodic notes. A very complex minerality with a lot of elegance and finesse. After 15 minutes of aeration, 2011 offers power and underwood notes. It brings sunflower, black cherry, truffle and compote aromas.
The recommendation of Benoît: pair it with parsnips in thin baked slices. This highly individual wine with pronounced terroir expression will pair perfectly with root vegetables.
Both 2013 and 2011 are champagnes flourishing over several days even if they lose part of its bubbles. Benoît knows how to create intense, urgent and energetic wine with beautiful tension and fine minerality.
Responsable : Benoît Déhu
Location : Fossoy (Vallée de la Marne)
Majority grape variety : Pinot Meunier
Other grape varieties : Pinot Noir
Vineyard surface : 2,25 ha
Viticulture : organic certified + biodynamic approach
CHAMPAGNE BENOÎT DEHU
3, rue Saint-Georges,
Origines champagne | Champagne Benoît Déhu