“Plants are alive. And just like us, they communicate. They speak.”
Drinking a Marie Courtin Champagne is like finding a nugget of amber on the shore of mass-produced Champagne.
These bottles are the children of Dominique Moreau, who named the domaine after her great-grandmother. Marie was a woman who was “very close to the earth,” who farmed the family’s land alone with a horse during the First World War, when the men were away to fight.
It is clear that these traits of bravery and determination have been passed down to Dominique. Under her watch, a small plot of just 2.5 hectares has become iconic — but never through trying to make a brand or to create something fancy. Rather, this is true Champagne of Nature — these are bottles that bring you close to the earth.
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When we meet Dominique, she takes us a couple of hundred metres down the road to her vineyard, striding purposefully. When we arrive and ask inquisitively about the compost dolloped up and down the rows, the silence is broken, and we don’t stop talking for the two hours we spend together.
“Since I was small, I’ve eaten organic food. We’ve always eaten the vegetables that we grow ourselves in the garden, and foraged for mushrooms. My husband [whose domaine is Champagne Piollot] has always been passionate about raising his own chickens and turkeys for meat. So we needed a coherence between our way of living and our way of farming the vineyards.”
She pauses and backtracks further,
“My mother was very pro-medication — all the time — and very early on I realised that I didn’t want to live in that manner. It’s a philosophy of life.”
Originally, Dominique was a teacher, but eventually the call from nature became too strong for her to ignore.
“So, in 2000, I decided to take on this parcel. I had always said if I become a grower, then it needs to be organic. That was just evident to me.”
As such, this 2.5-hectare plot of vines has been farmed organically since Dominique decided to take it on. It has been a long process of discovery; of working to understand how best to manage their soils and farm with the smallest impact.
She discovered biodynamics, and decided to convert. She is thoughtful and sensitive, but also pragmatic.
“Our biodynamic compost really brings life to the soils. Look— here,” she stops to pick up a handful of earth, “there are so many earthworms, all different kinds. Just in this handful there are four that I can see.”
She explains that these earthworms are crucial to keeping the soil continuously nourished throughout the year, unlike the chemical fertilisers used which bring nitrogen in one giant rush, but then nothing afterwards. Her compost pile is located just up the hill and is treated with the different biodynamic preparations. For her, these preparations are about efficiency—to bring as much life to the soil as possible:
“We use the biodynamic preparations 500 and 501 of course, but then six others (502 – 507) which bring different types of information to the soil. When the compost begins its transformation, it gets very hot quickly. The preparations help to soothe that transformation, so it’s as efficient as possible for the microorganisms and earthworms.”
The parcel itself was actually planted by her father-in-law for a local man (one section is 55 years old, and another 35 years old). Her father in law had dedicated his life’s work to massal selection (which her husband continues today), meaning there is enormous genetic diversity amongst these vines. For Dominique to take it on very much feels like the passing of the baton from one generation to the next.
It is predominantly Pinot Noir, with some Chardonnay, as well as Pinot Blanc, Arbane and Petit Meslier, which they planted 18 years ago to better attempt to understand these lesser-known varieties. Although she loves Abane for its lovely acidity and slight bitterness, it’s somewhat problematic as it suffers greatly from heat stress.
The parcel sits right next to a wood. Dominique thinks this impacts the vineyard greatly, saying,
“The fact that we’re right next to the woods definitely brings diversity. We see so many animals and species. Rabbits, snakes, frogs, birds… it’s just cool to see. Despite the fact that a vineyard is still a monoculture of sorts, it’s still possible to make it a diverse place.”
Her connection to nature and plants began many years ago. When she was was 30, she met a homeopath. Since then, she has treated herself and her three children according to homeopathic methods. A few years ago, she began dwelling on what her knowledge of homeopathy might be able to bring to the vines, and she began to treat one section of her vineyard with treatments every week.
“The idea of homeopathy is to bring a balance. I’m not looking for a cure for mildew or anything like that, but rather to give a certain resonance. And the wine I’ve made from that parcel—well, I’ve never experienced such an expressive wine since I first started.”
She realised that she wasn’t alone in thinking that homeopathy could be useful in the vineyards. She discovered a group of 20 winemakers from the Loire, called Homéo-Iso-Viti Bio, who are carrying out similar research. It’s still early days, but so far the results have proved exciting.
She is constantly looking forward, to try to have a plan for any future challenges before they happen. She explains,
“These days, with global warming, it’s very unnerving. We used to always have clouds in the sky, and now in the summer it’s just blue skies all the time. The vines suffer from stress, and the grapes get sunburn. We need to leave more foliage to provide shade, but then if we enter a humid period it’s chaos for mildew. That’s the biggest problem that faces us when working organically — we’re in a period where it’s important to be very reactive. We need to be vigilant and ready to go!”
Since the beginning, Dominique has strived every year to capture the essence of the vintage in a bottle. She has become particularly renowned for her cuvée Indulgence — a deep-coloured rosé that is more bronze than it is salmon. It is foot stomped, then macerated for three days. It is a nod to the history of rosé Champagne produced with maceration in the region, but that’s not its only purpose:
“If you’re looking for a certain taste, you can’t have a clear rosé. With Indulgence, we look for something different, and we wanted to save the tradition of the darker rosé Champagne of the region.”
Its name couldn’t be more fitting: this is a gourmet, voluptuous wine. Dominique smiles,
“Yes. It’s fleshier. I also think you get more of the essence of the person in the wine when they’re made with foot stomping—there’s a personal, physical contact.”
It’s not always been easy — in the 90s, they struggled with the governing body of Champagne, who weren’t all that happy with this odd Champenois anomaly. Dominique speaks freely about it with a smile now, so we get the impression that all is well — in fact, we have a feeling that the wines of Dominique have done a lot of good for the appellation. She says,
“They [the dark rosés] were considered ‘atypical’ by the end of the 90s — they stood alone for a while. But we wanted to preserve what our parents had done. It’s like looking at a white or a red wine—they’re different things. Why should a rosé Champagne be just one thing? That notion pushed us when we were young. Some people love it, and others look at it funnily, as if to say, what’s that? That’s not Champagne. But we’re proud to have continued, and to have maintained our convictions.”
Indulgence is only made when Dominique feels the vintage is right — recently in 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2018. It is always a challenge of balance —to find the correct maceration period. In 2009, the wine became very powerful quickly, so she held it back for several years to allow the tannins from the extended maceration to soften. In 2011, however, she was immediately content.
“In 2011, you find fine tannins, elegance and power of fruit. When you manage to express all of that in a wine, well you’re amongst the angels. You’ve managed to capture what nature gives you.”
She stops and thinks for a minute, then explains further –
“Nature gives us fruit, power, warmth, water. But She also expresses kindness, sympathy and elegance. When you’re able to combine these elements — which is difficult to do — then it’s an amazing feeling.”
Dominique’s base wines are aged predominantly in old 228L barrels, but more and more she is choosing larger format 600L barrels, as she feels these preserve more freshness. She has also bought several amphorae to work with. She says,
“We have some made from sandstone (the least porous) and some from clay (the more porous). I think they’re fascinating to work with, and they mark the wines less than the oak. It’s interesting, but it’s also difficult. You need to come and check in on them all the time!”
She also has some metal tanks that are lined with glass. She leans against one of them fondly and says,
“These are very interesting, especially for sans soufre cuvées. They’re not exactly beautiful,” she laughs, “but they’re great, I just love them.”
She currently has a blend of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay in there. We’re excited to taste it one day.
As her existing cuvées have become so well-known, she could easily carry on as usual, but she’s not that kind of person — she’s not about to stop experimenting any time soon. In 2016, she began to make Coteaux Champenois, and she’s doing more and more no-added-sulphur trials.
Although her product is one that is sold in a bottle, it’s not just about that: this is a quest for understand humankind’s relationship to nature. Her office is full of books and charts. She says,
“For example, Native Americans have a great understanding of spirituality. They understand energy, and I think there’s so much truth to be found their work.”
As we sit, we page through biodynamic calendars and discuss the planetary rhythms. It is a conversation of hope, but at one stage she sighs.
“Honestly, I’m tired about what’s happening in the world—to our planet. There are so many things in nature that speak to us—that show us truth, if you’re interested and willing to look. Why has humankind gone down this destructive route? I hope that we will turn it around…”
We realise that our conversation was never really about wine. It was about feelings, about energy — and about plant life. Respect for Nature. One thing Dominique said to us has stuck in our memory:
“Plants are alive. And just like us, they communicate. They speak.”
We must retrain ourselves to listen.