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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Giles Fallowfield

Mot & Chandon has shocked many in the wine trade by its launch, in July, of a trio of single-varietal, single-vineyard grand cru Champagnes. For the major ngociant and champion of the art of blending to make wines solely from Champagne's favoured Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varieties is surprising enough, but the impact of the launch has been heightened by Mot also producing a grand cru Champagne made from 100% Pinot Meunier, which is believed to be a first for the appellation. Although a number of other major ngociants produce Blanc de blancs and Blanc de noirs styles of Champagne - the former using only Chardonnay, and the latter which may be vinified solely from Pinot Noir - there are very few single-varietal Pinot Meunier Champagnes made anywhere in the appellation, even by the growers. Pinot Meunier, which usually buds later than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and is thus widely planted in the Valle du Marne - where late spring frosts can be a problem - is often thought of as Champagne's workhorse grape, less aristocratic than the other two (although Krug uses it extensively in its Grande Cuve blend). Previously among the seven houses - including Mot - owned by the LVMH group, only Ruinart with its two blanc de blancs cuves had any serious involvement with single varietal Champagne. No one else in Champagne currently commercially produces three single-varietal Champagnes, although a number of growers have made a range of grand cru Champagnes from different villages. In a parallel development, Champagne's largest co-operative, the CIVC, has chosen this week for the UK launch of its range of four vintage grand cru village Champagnes - three Chardonnays from Cramant, Chouilly and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, plus a Pinot Noir from Verzy - under its Nicolas Feuillatte brand. Mot is entitled to call the Pinot Meunier Champagne, named "Les Champs de Romont", a "grand cru" because it is made from grapes grown in the commune of Romont in the grand cru village of Sillery, where each of the three grape varieties retains grand cru status. Mot replanted this eight hectare site with Pinot Meunier in 1988 and '89, mainly because frosts had repeatedly decimated the Chardonnay previously grown there. Sillery is one of the few villages in the Montagne de Reims where Chardonnay is quite widely planted, although this is mostly an area for Pinot Noir. Few growers would contemplate planting Pinot Meunier here, however, because they get less money per kilo for these grapes from ngociants. The other two wines in Mot's "Trilogie des grands crus" are a Pinot Noir from a vineyard site near the village of Ay, and facing towards Epernay, called "Les Sarments d'Ay", and a Chardonnay from the commune of Saran within the grand cru of Chouilly in the Cte des Blancs named "Les Vignes de Saran". Although all three of these Champagnes are mono-varietals, Mot is not exactly trumpeting the fact. It only says so in small type on the back label, which is currently printed in French. Just 15,000 bottles of each Champagne have been made, with the base wine in this initial batch coming mostly from the 1996 harvest, plus a little from '95. While this launch certainly represents a major new departure for Mot & Chandon, chef de cave (chief winemaker) Georges Blanck, who is responsible for both the grand cru range and Mot's non-vintage blend Brut Imprial - some 16 million bottles of which are produced each year - sees it as a "complementary, not contradictory, development". While conceding that the new wines and Brut Imprial represented two extremes of winemaking in Champagne, Blanck points out that the vineyards in question are a unifying factor. "Grapes from all three sites are used in the Brut Imprial blend [which is made up from over 100 different crus] and other wines in the Mot range. The individual sites were selected not as the best, although they are three of our very good vineyards, but because of their historical importance and our detailed knowledge of the terroir built up over many years," says Blanck, (the vineyards were bought by Jean-Rmy Mot between 1798 and 1807). "The grapes from each site had never been vinified separately before this project, so although we had an idea of style we didn't know exactly how they would turn out." The wines were all made in the same way, undergoing malolactic fermentation, with four years' ageing on their lees prior to disgorgement. Blanck says that they are wines first and Champagnes second. "They are more concentrated and expressive than classic Champagne." Nor is the project just a marketing exercise: "Producing just 15,000 bottles of each wine couldn't be justified on commercial grounds," says Blanck. "It is more to do with showing that Mot can get the best from its vineyards." Although the Champagnes are aimed at knowledgeable consumers, Mot has chosen not to put a disgorgement date on the initial 45,000 bottles. The wines wi