VISIT AND TASTING AT CHAMPAGNE DÉROT-DELUGNY.
With their vineyards settled on the edge of the appellation overlooking the Marne river, the Dérot-Delugny family has its roots planted in clay and limestone since 1929… Today, Laurent and Claire – 4th generation of growers in the family – are farming the estate. They are two passionate winemakers who create wines all in contrast and outlining a true winegrower thought. Located on terroir of Crouttes-sur-Marne in the Vallée de la Marne area, we met with Laurent and Claire who are dedicated to their land and craft well-balanced and aromatic cuvées. The opportunity to learn a bit more about their approach and discover the champagnes of the House.
From blacksmith farrier to independent winegrower
For many generations, the Dérot and Delugny families used to farm their vineyards on the slopes of the Marne river. Everything started in 1929 – date of the oldest papers found … when the great grandparents, Philippe Dérot and Yvonne Delugny chose to create the brand of Dérot-Délugny by associating their names and made the decision to craft the first champagnes of the estate – before that, the family was only viticulturist. However, as a son of blacksmith farrier, Philippe Dérot also produced vineyard plows.
Philippe and Yvonne were among the first to vinify in the region of the Vallée de la Marne– a few thousand bottles at that time. The quality of their champagne immediately gained recognition as from 1933 they obtained a gold medal in Paris. After the war, Philippe Derot also built straddle tractors.
The couple had two sons. One, Bernard Dérot-Delugny, the grandfather of Claire and Laurent, took over the vines shortly after the war and bought more lands in order to increase the surface of vineyard. As for the other, he naturally took over the production of straddlers.
Bernard is the member of the family who expanded the surface currently exploited by the family but it is also him who built the whole cellar. In 1950, the construction of the current cellar began in order to accommodate the production of the vineyard in full growth. Each winter during about forty years, Bernard Dérot dug galleries in the hillside offering a environment which is perfectly adapted to the aging of the champagnes by taking advantage of the natural air conditioning of the cellar.
As for the father of Claire and Laurent, – François Dérot-Delugny – he came back to the estate in 1975 when he was 25 years old after studies to become oenologist – a DNO in Dijon i.e. a French National Diploma of Oenology. Today, the fourth generation is in charge of the production of the Domain with Laurent who works hand in hand with his sister Claire.
Laurent always wanted to be a winegrower. Even when his teachers suggested other tracks, he was already sure he wished to follow in his father’s footsteps. Since he was little, he has always been liking to spend time in the vineyard. Therefore, he first did a BEP technical college baccalaureate in Avize followed by a BTS Viti-oeno in Macon-Davayé as he wanted to see something else. He then left for 4 months in Australia and 4 months in California : two trips within the same year with the aim of making two harvests the same year in two different countries. Both journeys were to see something completely different but also to enjoy it and to travel before taking over the family business. He has also worked in Alsace – in 2006 and 2008 -, Burgundy and Beaujolais region during internships in order to gain experience and to keep an open-mindedness. His different experiences were very formative for the winemaker and allowed him to see how others in France or abroad work and the specificities of each wine-making region – like the freer side of Australia regarding viticulture for example. It also enabled him to become aware of the beauty of Champagne and to see that the winemakers work very well in the region too. At the end of 2010, he finally came back to Crouttes-sur-Marne to begin to work at the estate in 2011. He started working with a small surface of the family vineyard which he rented to his father and then with more surface and so on until now. He gradually took over until 2016 as last year, in 2017, he made his first racking with the 2016 harvest.
On the contrary Claire was not at all heading for this career. She studied chemistry but came back on the estate in order to help the family when she needed it and finally never left. However, she stayed to help on the farm but only because she liked it and everything went perfectly.
Today, Claire and Laurent work together on the estate. Laurent takes care of the vineyard and the cellar while Claire deals with the marketing, the administration and the packaging. She also participates in the vineyard part during intense periods of activities in order to manage the team of workers – palissage and harvest – allowing the estate to control the quality of what is picked-up with the expertise and the eye of someone from the House. As for the communication part, they do it together.
One thing important to specify it that ever since the first champagne has been produced at the Domain, the family never joined the a cooperative but crafted their wines as independent winemakers. Furthermore, the Dérot-Delugny are the one and only estate to produce a 100% Pinot Gris champagne.
A conscientious and environmental-friendly approach
Located in the West part of the Vallée de la Marne in Crouttes-sur-Marne in the Aisne region, the vineyard is currently spread over a dozen hectares divided into thirty different plots on the slopes of Crouttes-sur-Marne and the neighboring municipalities – Villiers Saint Denis, Nanteuil-sur-Marne and Saâcy-sur-Marne. The estate benefits from a very diversify terroir with silt, sand, marl on the top of the hill and clay-limestone as well as buhrstone on the cru of Saâcy-sur-Marne – which is a very difficult type of soil for the tillage. The vines have an average of 30 to 40 years old and enjoy a multitude of exposures – mainly South and South-East but also West and North West. The family cultivates the three main grape varieties of Champagne as well as one old varietal with 79% of Pinot Meunier, 10% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir and about 1% Pinot Gris.
Regarding the Pinot Gris, the family had some planted vine stocks dating from the great-grandfather – hence the name as a nod : Cuvée des fondateurs i.e. Cuvée of the founders. It is François, the father of Claire and Laurent, who decided to replant 3 plots including the oldest one which is 15 years old today. He took this decision after tasting wines made from the few vines he had and wines from Alsace where there is a lot of Pinot Gris. He thought the two tastings were really interesting and decided to try to develop this old grape variety of Champagne. With the authorization of the INAO, he replanted the 3 plots : one at the bottom of hillside – precocious and with silt terroir – and two at the top – colder and with clay-limestone soils – : the blend of the three gives a beautiful balance between maturity and acidity. Even though, the varietal is not easy to grow – they repeated various trial, errors and tests repeatedly for more than 10 years : at the beginning the harvest was too ripe (14 ° natural). However, in 2009, for the first time the 100% Pinot Gris champagne was released and today the family manage to harvest with the right maturity in order to keep an elegant acidity and the cuvée is is now part of the specificity of the House.
On the viticulture side, Laurent and Claire cultivate their vineyard with great respect for their terroirs. Indeed, the estate is putting into practice the HVE approach and a sustainable viticulture – and is certified for both of them. In fact, their father, François, has always followed what was done in terms of viticulture and environment conservation as well as the advice and advances of the CIVC. First, He was making small scale tries on a plot and over a second phase he changed his viticulture methods by starting to maintain a grass-cover on a plot, then on two and so on… He put into practice the plowing in a more thorough way by buying material to make it on more important surface. All those progresses were just common sense for him as it had been several years the effects of inputs on the environment were admitted and studied. On the top of that, the family always had a great sensitivity on the subject of the environment, cultivating their own family vegetable garden, eating their own vegetables and good, healthy products has always been natural in the Dérot-Délugny family. Claire and Laurent are following their father’s path, continuing to use an eco-friendly viticulture but having reshaped it in order to obtain the HVE certification and the sustainable viticulture label.
At Champagne Dérot-Delugny, very few fertilizers are used – barks with manure and just a little organic fertilizers. The protection of the vines against diseases is carried out thanks to the sustainable approach. The tillage, the natural grass cover and the mowing are methods more and more put into practice on the estate. The family also handed hedgerows to relocate biodiversity and try to develop as well the raqs in the vineyards with the support of the village.
In the years to come, Claire and Laurent wants to continue to cover naturally the vineyard with grass – there are few plots left without this method – and increase the surface of tillage – around 30% of the vineyard is ploughed today. However, every new vines are worked with ploughing, which means that every year 25 to 30 extra-ares of vines are worked in non-weeding. They want to move forward with the sustainable viticulture and to continue their approach gradually. François, their father, has planted vines at 1m50 in width on areas that have risks of rot (against 1m normally). It makes a real difference depending on the years, like the 2017 harvest where there was a lot of mold on the region. So in the future, they plan to replant more plots with 1m50 in width, a spacing also allowing them to work with small vineyard tractors like in other winemaking regions. They use fewer treatment products per hectare and less weedkillers. In fact, for the products, they observe and follow wine warnings and treatment alerts only. This year (2017-2018), they are going to develop as well the Biocontrol products to reduce even more chemicals on the estate. They moove forwards little by little in order to limit the risks but always going towards the respect of the environment.
For the choice of rootstocks, 50% of the vines are from massale selection and 50% from clonal selection depending on which one adapts best to the sector. This approach of choosing the vines for their adaptation and their yield also allows them to have a great diversity of rootstocks and to spread the harvest with a suitable picking circuit. It means that the vineyard of Champagne Dérot-Délugny has a bit of all types of clones in order to adapt to the soil in which the vines are planted : late land will be planted with lower yielding clones, while a clone producing more will be chosen for more productive lands. This great clonal diversity allows Claire and Laurent to have a perfect balance between yield and quality as they are seeking to keep expressive wines thanks to qualitative grapes. Every year, 25 to 30 acres of vines are renewed as the vines suffer more because of the grass-cover and the tillage. So in order to have a good balance between yield and quality, the family has to replant new vines more regularly than with a traditional viticulture. However, the old vines of the estate provides them juices that will be blended with younger vine juices in order to have the results the family is looking for : a good balance between acidity and maturity.
Concerning the harvest, Claire and Laurent are taking samples before and during the picking period. They are also part of the network of MATU (rity) of the CIVC – the ripening observation network of the Champagne region to choose the accurate timing of harvests – in order to follow a certain number of their plots but they also take samples from all the remaining ones. The harvest trail is decided according to two criterion. First, the maturity of each plots – between Crouttes and Charly, the vines are more precocious, whereas the other side of the vineyard around Saâcy-sur-Marne, Nanteuil has almost a week of difference. The second is depending on the conditions of the year – some years, the harvest is planed to avoid mold – like in 2017 where the grapes where picked at 9 °, 10 ° – and other years less difficult are organized to have a good balance between acidity and maturity. In other words, Laurent and Claire are always looking to harvest what they can in the best possible quality. In order to help them on the estate, they have two full-time employees, plus two half-time workers to assist in all the work of the vineyard – tying-up, disbudding, palissage -, finally a dozen people are hired for the palissage and thirty for the harvest.
In Champagne the harvest must be done by hand but Laurent and Claire also put into practice a strict and selective sorting at the plot. All the grapes are harvested according to their maturity and are then pressed by varietal thanks to a pneumatic and horizontal press of 4000kg press.
Regarding the grapes for the red still wines of the estate, they are not necessarily harvested after the grapes to produce the champagnes. Indeed, the Pinot Noirs for the red wines come from plots with old vines – 45 to 50 years – so once again the date of the harvest really depends on the maturity of the grapes. However, they are harvested in the morning in whole bunches then the entirety is trodden and scraped. It is followed by a cold maceration – 12 ° C – during around ten days and vinified in barrels of 228L – 4 pieces from Burgundy.
As for the rest of the vinification, the grapes are vinified plots by plots except for the Pinot Meunier. However, the plot by plot approach is not claimed by the House. The alcoholic fermentations is carried out quite traditionally in thermo-regulated stainless steel vats activating fermentation by the introduction selected yeasts and the addition of SO2 is minimal in order to stay below half the allowable limit. There is no stabilisation by cold but Laurent uses cellulose gum – cold stabilisations are too energivorous. Formerly, they used to open the doors of the vat room but today it is no longer possible with the rising temperatures, 4 years ago they bought the new thermo-regulated vats.
The Malolactic fermentation are carried out naturally during the spring or summer, when temperatures rise. One of the specificities of the estate is to leave the wines during 1 year in the vats. The aging is done in stainless steel vats for all the wines, except for the Rosé champagne – aged in oak casks of 400 liters – and the red wines. The wines are decanted several times with the elimination of the lees to obtain a clear wine. Before the bottling, the wines of several years and of different grape varieties are blended to craft the wines of the estate.
For the blends of the cuvées, the family does not have a consulting oenologist, they do everything by themselves since their François, the father is an oenologist. In order to validate them, Laurent and his father make the whole family taste the chosen blends so they are validated after consultation and tasting with every member of the family. The objective is to craft wines with a nice roundness but with an elegant liveliness in the mouth ; For the Brut, they seek stability whereas the Pinot Gris is always a blend of two years together in order to avoid the vintage effect. After the blending process, the bottling is done either before the harvest if it is late, or after if it is early – something possible as the Domain can contain two harvests in the winery. Later, the racking allows to soften the wines and the chaptalization is done only if needed – it’s been several years since they put almost nothing in sugar.
Once sur latte, the champagnes then age between 3 to 6 years in the cellars depending on cuvées. After the addition of a liquor, a slow fermentation in bottles at low temperature will produce a fine and persistent effervescence. The entry-level cuvées aged 20 to 25 months whereas the Non-vintage Brut aged 2 or 3 years and the prestige cuvée between 4 to 6 years. The family seeks to craft wines that can keep a nice freshness over the years. The estate produces vintages only the good years – 2008 is actually for sale and 2009 will be the next one .For the riddling process, the family still uses the Pupimatics as well as one gyropalette. However, Magnums and a half-bottle are riddle on rack. The disgorgement is done with liqueur d’expédition made with old wines aged in barrels and cane sugar. The wines are then stored sur latte during 4-5 months before being dressed and put on sale.
The cellars of the estate were hand-dug up to 20m deep – started in the 1950s until 1976 and offering a visibility on the terroir – and with around 180 to 200 meters of tunnel. Before that, the grandfather used a home cellar. The estate is part of Vignoble et découverte of the tourist information center of Château Thierry as well as the Champagne et Vous and Champagne For You associations. They are also organising open doors days in July in Crouttes-sur-Marne with 8 other winemakers and some artistes who will exhibit in each of the cellars.
After the visit of the estate, Claire and Laurent host us in the wine-tasting cellar rebuilt since 2- 3 years for a unique tasting of the cuvée of the House.
BLANC DE NOIRS
« A fresh and aromatic Meunier champagne »
A Blanc de Noirs champagne made 100% of Pinot Meunier from 2011-2013 harvests. The plots used to produced this cuvée are selected according to the years. The alcoholic fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks with one year of maturation. The malolactic fermentation is carried-out naturally and the disgorgement is done with a brut dosage of 7g/L.
The color is a pale yellow. The nose is highly aromatic with generous vinous and butter notes. The palate is well-balanced, frank, round and fresh with brioche and fruity notes – figs and date.
BRUT COIFFE OR
« A rich and generous wine »
A well-balanced blend between the years – 2010-2011- and the grape varieties – 80% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay – for a wine a great quality over the years. The alcoholic fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks with one year of maturation. The malolactic fermentation is carried-out naturally and the disgorgement is done with a brut dosage of 9g/L.
The color is a light gold. The nose is fresh and develops elegant honey notes evoking vanilla cream and caramel milk. The palate is fresh, complex and creamy with a beautiful balance. After few minutes it brings an elegant vinosity as well as delicate vanilla and pastries notes.
BLANC DE BLANCS
« The amplitude of the Vallée de la Marne Chardonnay »
A champagne exclusively made of Chardonnay from the harvest 2012 and 2013 coming from a sandy plot located between Crouttes-sur-Marne and Charly. The alcoholic fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks with one year of maturation. The malolactic fermentation is carried-out naturally and the disgorgement is done with a brut dosage of 7g/L.
The color is light straw-yellow. The nose is fresh, round and delicate with generous fresh fruit and white flower notes. The palate is ample, tender and powerful with fresh almond, hazelnut and plum aromas as well as brioche notes.
« An elegant and harmonious cuvée »
A mono-terroir cuvée – limestone soils – made of 50 % Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir from the 2012 and 2013 harvests. The vinification is done in stainless steel vats with one year of maturation in vats. The malolactic fermentation is carried-out naturally. The 7g/L dosage highlights elegantly this blended cuvée.
The color is a pale gold. The nose offers fresh butter and yellow flower aromas. The palate is round at first and then brings an delicate freshness. A taut, structured and frank champagne with elegant fresh fruit notes. A rich and aromatic wine.
BONUS : CUVEE DES FONDATEURS – the one and only 100% Pinot Gris champagne
The Dérot-Delugny family is the only winegrowers to produce a 100% Pinot Gris champagne – an old grape variety in the Champagne region very little grown nowadays (a few hectares at most). More than 30 years ago, the founders of the estate – Alsace wines enthusiasts and particularly Pinot Gris ones – planted a few acres of this varietal on the heights of Crouttes-sur-Marne. It was previously used in the blends of the estate but the Derot family decided to pay tribute to the elders creating a cuvée exclusively made of Pinot Gris to highlight this extremely rare champagne variety. The cuvée was created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the estate .
A name referring to the homage of the founders of the Domain. A 100% Pinot Gris of the 2013-2014 harvests and from plots with calcareous marls and gypsum marls terroir. The vinification is done in thermo-regulated stainless steel vats with one to two years of maturation in tanks. The wines underwent a natural malolactic fermentation and the dosage is of 7g/L.
The color is a light, pale yellow with golden hints. The nose is fresh, complex and aromatic with ripe fruit, floral and dried fruit notes. The palate is mineral, fresh and generous with an aromatic roundness. It offers baked apple, honey and exotic fruit aromas with citrus hints. It develops the same typical generosity of the late harvests of Pinot Gris from Alsace, balanced by a lively effervescence bringing a beautiful freshness. An opulent wine full of nobility even after being opened for one week.
Responsable : Claire and Laurent Dérot-Delugny
Location : Crouttes-sur-Marne (Vallée de la Marne)
Majority grape variety : Pinot Meunier
Other grape varieties : Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Gris Fromenteau
Vineyard surface : 12 ha
Viticulture : Sustainable culture (HVE)
15-21 Grande Rue