When Champagne is mentioned, it’s often the Champenois heavyweights who spring to mind first. Closely followed by the sound of clinking glasses; an over-bubbly aperitif spilling from the sides of a tall fluted glass. It's the ultimate expression of celebration. But these days, the growing movement of Champagne winemakers who also farm the land are turning what's often seen as a luxurious, brand-led product into a wine that's all about farming; it just happens to have bubbles.
Charles Dufour is the rebel child of this movement, which has been dubbed grower Champagne. Born to a family of winemakers residing slightly off the beaten track of the region down in the Côte des Bar, his approach to winemaking is an embodiment of recent changes in the region; it’s as much about organic farming and terroir, as it is courage and conviction.
It’s of little wonder that Noma – cheerleaders of food and wine with a point of view over the usual ‘greatest hits’ lists – present one of Dufour’s cuvées, Bulles de Comptoir, as their house Champagne. And if that isn’t enough, Dufour’s foray into Côteaux Champenois Blanc will propel the category forward; just wait and see...
"I don’t seek to change the idea of what Champagne is, but sometimes you have an urge to do more. An urge to try things out which are a little more difficult, which require you to push boundaries."
People: Charles Dufour
Place: Côte des Bar
Varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc
Wines: Click here
Did You Know? The Aube is a vast landscape of small villages with an historically tumultuous relationship with the rest of the region – in 1908 its neighbours tried to have it excluded from the Champagne appellation, citing its geographical distance as problematic. In truth, Aube is closer to Chablis than Reims, meaning the terroir is more similar to that of Burgundy than Champagne.
The 'Bulles de Comptoir' is a wine from the perpetual blends (soleras) of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc that he has been keeping since 2010, with the addition of whatever particularly piques his interest from the current vintage. He vinifies all of the vineyards and varieties separately, to best explore what each terroir brings to the wine. His winery is like the basement of a mad but very meticulous scientist; with barrels of single varieties and blends from various picking dates. We taste and discuss what might make interesting components for 2020.
“Every year I keep reserves. That is very important when it comes to understanding my cuvées. Then, I taste the current vintage - maybe that year will be rich, or maybe it won’t. Maybe it’s the Chardonnay that really shines. It depends. I explore everything. ”
Young wines are added to a barrel each vintage, and then drawn out as needed. Then, interesting components of the current year's vintage are added bit by bit. This means the Bulles de Comptoir cuvée keeps a Charles Dufour signature, but it evolves each year, becoming a new version of its past self – taking on an entirely new personality influenced by the new harvest each time.