VISIT AND TASTING AT CHAMPAGNE PIOT-SÉVILLANO
Creativity, innovation and good-humour…Christine and Vincent Piot-Sévillano perpetuate the style and the tradition of their estate, but not without innovating ; they experiment but their risks are always well-calculated. Their highly-aromatic wines outline a true winegrower thought. Located on terroir of Vincelles in the Vallée de la Marne area, we met with Christine and Vincent, two dynamic winegrowers who have at heart to create expressive and individual cuvées while respecting their land and the quality of their grapes. A unique opportunity to understand the approach of the estate as well as to discover a bit more the champagnes crafted by the couple.
An history of partnership, creativity and sharing sense
In the Piot family, there has been winemakers based in Vincelles for 10 generations, whereas for the Sévillano side, it is something fairly new. Part of the vineyard has been planted by the great-grandfather and the grandfather of Christine who grafted themselves their vines. The great-grandfather, Emile Piot, is the one who started to work only in the wine-growing sector but before that, the ancestors of Christine also grew fruit trees including Montmorency cherry sold on Parisian markets. Emile Piot, also made wicker baskets among other things, but bit by bit he began to work nothing else than his vines, until the grandfather of Christine who were exclusively winegrower. It his him who began to vinify his own wines in 1954 during the Négoce crisis – Christine and Vincent still have the racking order of 1954. Before that year, the family was purely doing viticulture and sold the grapes to the big Houses of champagne. However, during the crisis, the grandfather of Christine refused to sell when one of the Houses offered to buy a tank below the price of production and – a bit pushed by his wife who was convinced that they would manage to sell 500 bottles among their friends and the family – decided to make his own bottles. More a winegrower than an producer, he would not have made his own champagnes if he had not been encouraged by his wife. And indeed, they managed to sell their production and that is how the family started to produce their champagnes without ever taking a backwards step.
It is worth noting that Christine’s grandfather had been tasting champagne for the first time shortly before he started to produce the first cuvées of the estate. As a farmer he drank wines – especially the Coteaux Champenois of the family made for their own consumption – but at that time champagnes were saved for the elite. The first time, he tasted champagne was when he was 30 years old and it is only 3 years later that he started to produce this exceptional wines, so it was a daring and audacious bet. However, it was a real job in partnership with his wife which help them to succeed.
In 1975, the mother of Christine took over with her husband who is of Spanish origins. It is important to explain that when Christine’s father met his mother, he left everything to become a winemaker – which was a job of peasant at the time. Indeed, he quit his job as a foreman in a large company and learnt on the job but he also took oenology classes. Later, it allowed him to create new cuvées for the estate such as the rosé in 1978 which became a success ever since. He also also crafted the vintage in 1982 then the Prestige in 1984-85. Both the father and the mother of Christine worked hand in hand at the Domain but it is him who was in charge of the creation of champagnes. Before they took over, the grandfather was producing only Pinot Meunier wines, it was Christine’s parents who started to buy the right plots to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the early 80’s. Today, the estate is composed of 70% Pinot Meunier, 15% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir..
As for Christine and Vincent, their first goal was not to become a winemaker. In fact, Christine always knew she had the opportunity to continue the family traditions but at first she did not want to follow that path. She wanted to do something for herself and to build her own experience. As she enjoys writing and literature, takes interest in others and is very curious… quite naturally, she realized at the age of 14 she wanted to be a journalist. Consequently, she turned quickly to journalism studies : first Hypokhâgne, then she integrated Science Po Lille – the best route at that time – followed by a postgraduate diploma in strategic studies and finally she studied at the Journalisme IUT of Tours for a special year. With all these diplomas in her bag, she entered the labor market, at first as a freelance journalism in international relations, handicap, feminine sector… for several medias like Nouvel Obs, Assistante Plus, Rebondir, Le Figaro … Then came the opportunity of a permanent contract for a professional press company in the environment sector, which she greatly enjoyed doing. She even took part in the launch of Le Journal de l’environnement – i.e. the environment journal – which was the first daily newspaper on internet about environmental matters. During this time in Paris, she met Vincent, a websites creator. At that time, both of them have their own career in their respective professions – Vincent has notably made the website of Franc Dubosc.
However, at just under 60, the parents of Christine want to retire as they started to work at the age of 14 without really ever stopping. Due to their decision, they told Christine and Vincent that if they wished to take over the estate, they would have to think about it now. Together, the Parisian couple had a long reflection weighing the pros and cons – including returning to the countryside after living in the city for many years. Furthermore, leaving their career to do something else when they both made names for themselves in their respective business was not an easy decision. However, Christine and Vincent were not afraid of challenges : Vincent is originally from Avignon, so he had already been uprooted a first time just like Christine and both are of a globe-trotter and curious nature. Moreover, being their own boss and taking up a challenge really appealed them. The only condition for them was to be able to do things differently in their own way and to open the House to new things including export business.
All things considered, they took over in 2007-2008 during the crisis but despite the difficulties they have always been independent winemakers and never join the cooperative. They both studied at Avize for the CFPPA and both got their BPREA – Professional Certificate in Agribusiness management. Today, Christine and Vincent work as partners on the estate and do things together in their own way – Christine’s father giving only his consultative opinion. From their arrival, they renewed the equipment : part of the vat room in 2008 as well as the riddling system, spraying tractor, trucks, heat pump for thermoregulation and a new pressing center in 2010. The spirit of creation is very present at Champagne Piot-Sévillano and the father of Christine does not prevent them from creating a new range, telling them that “if they do not sell the bottles, they can still drink them”.
Every year since they came back to the estate, they learnt from their work, their land and even their mistakes. Christine and Vincent especially enjoy the creativity of their job – being able to master their subject from the grapes to bottles – as well as the relationship with their customers : the exchange is very important for them. Being able to see how the strategy in the vineyards express itself at the end in the wines, to do some good to the planet and the viticultural interest of a sustainable approach as the roots seek the deeper nutriments and the grapes are of better quality with a good length and taste… for them their job is very gratifying with a double interest : the environment and the taste as the vines express themselves differently. Through their work, Christine and Vincent enjoy being decision-maker and the independence, a value passed on from generation to generation in the family. Finally, they like the satisfaction to see their work on the other side of the world and to be able to make people dream thanks to their champagnes. This is the reason why the couple recently bought the school where Christine, her mother and her grandfather studied : half of it will be a tank room and the other half a reception room in order to be able to welcome visitors and to offer them a unique moment while preserving the heritage of the village – a project for 2019. It is important for Christine and Vincent that each of their clients have a great time at the estate and leave having lived a unique experience…
A rigorous and sustainable approach from vine to wine
The soil of Vincelles is very special : made of clay and limestone soil with silt of marl essentially, it brings amplitude and intensity to the wines. A richness creating highly aromatic champagnes with a lot of fruitiness and a palate with beautiful power able go with a meal – especially on sweet and sour Asian dishes. The cuvées from the terroir of Vincelles develops yellow fruit, peach and granny smith aromas. Part of the vineyard has sandy soils as well as chalk when going up in the village. A great diversity of terroirs for highly individual wines.
Regarding the viticulture, the estate is using environmental-friendly methods and is HVE certified – High Environmental Value. Upon their return, Christine and Vincent turned an important corner for estate, one that had been running through their mind for a while. Quite pioneering, the village of Vincelles has been in Zero insecticides for over 20 years now using raks for sexual confusion. At the beginning in 1996, only 6 winemakers were taking part in the project and, the father of Christine was part of them. As years went by, this approach convinced the whole village without ever stopping to be used. Today, it is all Vincelles that puts the sexual confusion into practice. At the Champagne Piot-Sévillano estate, it has been 20 years since they stopped to use any insecticide and the 5th year without any herbicide. A choice the family made in order to reduce the phytosanitary impact and to bring a different approach in the vineyard so the vines go deeper in the soils to seek nutriments. In 2014, Christine and Vincent chose to stop to use herbicide, all the vineyard at once. A resolution possible as the yield of Champagne was low at this time and gave them the opportunity : it was the right time for them to do so. As for their lands, the couple decided to till the soils, even the ones planted with old vines and that had never been ploughed. The first year was a real challenge – reduction of the yield, breakages of the material, purchase of equipment according to their new approach – but with years the winegrowers could see the result on the quality of their soils. They also chose to reduce the doses of inputs in general in order to work with bio-control products and organic products allowed by the HVE viticulture. Through their everyday work, Christine and Vincent adapt their method according to the conditions of the year which is possible thanks to the HVE approach – synthetic products are only used in times of risk. In fact, the father of Christine had already started this eco-friendly viticulture as he had joined the Magister network – which aims to promote sustainable protection and improve wine-making practices in order to protect the environment. Today Christine and Vincent have additionally integrated the ploughing to energize the vines. They also experiment biodynamic methods on plots located in the center of the village including the use of Bouse de corne 500 (Cow Horn Manure), the connection to the lunar calendar for the pruning of young vines for example… They are also training about organic as well as biodynamic approaches and are interested in the usage of essential oils. Some students from the University of Reims interested in the biodynamic viticulture made a study of their plots in order to provide them a list of plants that Vincent and Christine can use in their vineyards. They also work on the growth of the microbial life of their soils and plots which are sensitive to the erosion are covered with natural grass so that the vines can develops theirs own defenses. Furthermore, allowing the flora and fauna to develop around our vines helps to protect the biodiversity. For Christine and Vincent, what is essential is to go in the direction and to take the lead for the protection of the environment while keeping the quality of their grapes : to act without taking unnecessary risks and to share their method with other interested winemakers.
Christine and Vincent are lucky enough to benefit from the work they have done even before obtaining the certification of the estate… Indeed, the couple had already worked a lot upstream and the certification was almost only and administrative step for them since even before the creation of certification and even before they were thinking about obtaining it, they had a lot of practice already in place. They had begun to covered wit natural grass, tilled and work with a different approach in general. In 2011, the winegrowers set up a tractor washing area. When the rebuilt their pressing center, they took advantage of the opportunity to burry at the same time a tank for the rainwater salvage so all the machines of the estate are washed with rain water – … In fact, on some aspects they go even further than the organic certification evolving according to their beliefs and trying to always improve themselves without refraining anything. What is important for them is not the certifications or the label on the bottle but the protection of the environment and the planet. This is the reason why they take every decisions with this in mind and they always go further for the environment conservation. Of course there are some disadvantages for the winegrowers : yield and roots loss from the zero herbicide approach, significant investment in equipment, additional workers – and hard to find today -, convincing their employees – harder work in the vineyard.
Thereafter, everything starts from the harvest. This is why Christine and Vincent keep a team by the hour in the vineyard – they do not work with service providers or pieceworkers. The harvest team is large so they can realize an important sorting even at the risk of loosing a part of the harvest. In fact, Christine’s grandfather used to say “pick up the grapes you can eat” – neither green nor rotten – and Christine herself tell the harvesters “if you have a doubt : taste!”. The estate puts this rigorous sorting into practice as a healthy grapes on arrival at the press means less treatments during the winemaking process. It is important for them to always keep an eye on the vineyard and Christine regularly goes there to taste the grapes of each plot so she can adapt the harvest trail to the conditions and to the evolution of the vines. Moreover, to keep an eye on the vines allows the winemakers to know perfectly each plot, each vine and to be able to react according to the conditions over the years. Christine explains that being a winegrower needs observation : the analysis is not enough, it is essential to observe, to taste and to feel in order for them to be the winemakers of their own vineyards. Once the grapes are harvested and sorted, the family uses a 4000kg membrane press and works more and more with the tête de cuvée part to have a more interesting aromatic sample group at the end. The wines go through a cold stabilisation in order to avoid the addition of unnecessary sulphites. During the vinification, the winemakers realize a filtration and use selected yeasts – a continuity of the practices of their predecessors. Actually, the couple follow closely the research on yeasts including those that can help to reduce the amount of CO2. From the press to the vinification and the disgorgment, the objective for the winegrowers is to preserve the quality of their grapes in order to have beautiful wines : this is why the sorting is so important.
As for winemaking process, Christine and Vincent have not changed much compared to their predecessors who were already following a method as natural as possible. It means that they interfere as little as possible during the vinification. An oenologist steps in but only punctually – no regular one – as the winemakers do everything they can be sure to proceed as naturally as possible and to add as little as possible oenological products. Christine and Vincent also reduce the sulphites to its strictest minimum : nothing is added after harvest. Little by little, all the short drives during the harvest are made in an electric vehicle using batteries that are then re-used. They chose to switch to electric after a long thought and after a trip to Norway where there are electric cars everywhere – despite the fact that it is an oil country.
In the tank room, the winemakers are now using LED reducing significantly their energy consumption. Only a small part of the production is vinified in oak barrels and exclusively for the complexity and the vanilla character it brings to the wines – like for the Rebelle cuvée for example. The malolactic fermentation is done on all the wines – except the future Coteaux Champenois Rosé – to keep the roundness, the fruitiness of the champagnes. All the dosages are chosen during a blind tasting to keep fair-mindedness. Christine and Vincent also have an important reflection about the plot by plot vinification and want to go even further in the future : they will invest more in small tanks, concrete vats, sandstone belons as well as foudres in order to go more and more towards the single-plots approach for the identity side. A type of vinification that will allow them to have more aromatic colors to create their cuvées and to refine the existing thanks to single-plot wines and a large range of containers. Generally, Christine and Vincent question themselves and ask themselves how to improve the existing even for the packaging : they chose recycled paperboard boxes coming from forests managed differently and water ink and the wooden case are made in Cognac to continue with their logic.
A tasting around the terroir of Vincelles
As we go through their approach, Christine and Vincent offered us a tasting of different cuvées of the estate. The opportunity to understand the character of their aromatic wines and the individuality of their terroir.
« Audacious introduction of the Piot-Sévillano Style »
Made of 70 % Pinot Meunier, 15% of Pinot Noir and 15 % Chardonnay, this champagne is vinified in temperature controlled tanks. During the wine-making process, the juices underwent a cold stabilisation as well as the malolactic fermentation then the champagne aged 22 months in the cellars of the estate before being disgorged with a 9gr/L dosage.
The color is goldenrod with silver hints. The nose is herbaceous with fresh and frank fruity notes. The palate is lively, ample and expressive with an elegant roundness and generosity. It develops stone yellow fruit, white flower as well as quince and red berry notes. The finish is long with intense honey and marmalade aromas. A beautiful introduction of the style of the estate.
« The pure expression of Vincelles terroir»
A blend of 70% Meunier, 15% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir as well but without any dosage this time. The vinification is done in temperature-controlled tanks with cooling period and the wines underwent the malolactic fermentation. The wines rests 3 years in the cellar before being disgorged and released. This cuvée contains very low sulphites.
The color is a bright yellow light gold glints. The nose is both intense and subtle with a mineral and fruity character expressing white fruit and mirabelle plum notes. The palate is frank and lively with mandarin and floral aromas as well as dried and roasted fruit notes on the finish.
« An intense and provocative Meunier »
This Blanc de Noirs is made of 100% Pinot Meunier from more than 25-years old vines and with 50% of ” Têtes de cuvée ” juices. Like for the other cuvée, the vinification is carried out in temperature-controlled tanks with a cold stabilisation and the wines went through the malolactic fermentation. The wines rests 24 months in the cellar before being disgorged with a 9gr/L dosage. This cuvée contains very low sulphites.
The color is a light yellow gold. The nose is discreet and frank with quince and pear aromas. The palate is fresh, mineral and well-balanced with a delicate salinity as well as ripe white fruits – pear and peach -, almond and bread notes. The finish offers more exotic aromas like lychee and passion but always with this elegant salty and mineral tone.
INDISCRÈTE – 2014 white Coteaux Champenois
Vincent and Christine are one of the few winegrowers to produce a 100% Pinot Meunier white Coteaux Champenois. This still wine of the estate made from the 2014 harvest is aged in a 2008 oak barrel that is ullaged with Chardonnay. The name Indiscrète – i.e. the indiscreet – has been chosen because this rare wine reveals the secret of its terroir. This Coteaux is reserved for professionals and only 400 bottles are produced sold in a wooden box.
The color is a light yellow with silver highlights. The nose is delicate and aromatic with vanilla notes and fresh iodized hint. The palate is elegant, mineral and fresh with delicate yellow fruit and menthol aromas. A tonic and subtil wine revealing the rigorous work of Christine and Vincent both for the viticulture and the vinification part.
THE ROSÉ COTEAUX – a rarity coming
Talking about rarity and exclusivity, Christine and Vincent presented us their next cuvée not yet on the market : a 100% Meunier Rosé Coteaux Champenois. For this unique wine, the couple chose the saignée method : a maceration of less than 7h followed by a racking for the first color and the press of the press cake in a small ratchet press to retrieve 2 more hectoliters of press juice. During the winemaking process the malolactic fermentation is blocked and there is neither filtration nor fining but the wine are going through a natural cold stabilisation – out on cold days. Vincent and Christine chose a vinification in tanks in order to preserve the lightness, the fruitiness and the freshness cuvée.
The color is a salmon pink almost pink candy. The nose is ample and highly-aromatic : a true red-fruit and raspberry explosion call South of France wine to mind. The palate if fresh and frank with a beautiful tension and acidulous fruit notes similar to the Rosé Champagne of the estate. The finish offers mineral, currants and primary vegetal notes. A thirst-slaking rosé perfect for the aperitif and first course.
Responsable : Christine and Vincent Piot-Sévillano
Location : Vincelles (Vallée de la Marne)
Majority grape variety : Pinot Meunier
Other grape varieties : Chardonnay, Pinot noir
Vineyard surface : 8 ha
Viticulture : Sustainable culture (HVE)
23 rue d’Argentelle