CHAMPAGNE | FRANCE
“The original and some would suggest the best of the Biodynamic Champagnes (certified by Ecocert and accredited to Demeter and Biodyvin), Champagne Fleury is based in the less than entirely fashionable Cote des Bars and excels in the production of Pinot Noir” – Berry Brothers & Rudd
Fleury was the first Champagne House to be certified Biodynamic, quite the feat in the challenging Cote des Bars subregion of Champagne.
Champagne Fleury was founded in 1895. It’s perhaps their more recent history that has brought them such attention. Jean-Pierre Fleury started with an experimental seven-acre plot in 1989 and converted all the family vineyards by 1992 to certified Biodynamic farming. The great thing about them is that they have been biodynamic for so long that the vines have now gained maturity under the natural inclinations of this rigorous regime.
All 15 hectares that Fleury own (90% of which is Pinot Noir) are cultivated using biodynamics, which makes them the largest biodynamic producer in the entire Champagne region.
BACKGROUND ON THE COTE DE BAR
The Côte des Bar is located in the southern part of the Champagne production area and can be found in between rest of the Champagne region and Burgundy. Interestingly, the Côte des Bar is situated about 150km away from Epernay and only 60km away from Chablis. The soils share lots of similarities with Chablis. The term Cote des Bar refers to the are particular to champagne growing and it belongs to the ‘departement’ of Aube, an administrative area of Aube.
The soil in Cote des Bar is characterised by Jurassic slopes overlying chalky- clay soil, also called Kimmeridgian clay, the same as in Chablis. Some younger Portlandian soil – also found in Chablis – is found in Aube as well. The soils in the North of the Champagne appellation tend to be more chalky.
Despite the similarities with Chablis, the Cote des Bar is planted with 84% of Pinot Noir, 12% of Chardonnay and 3% of Pinot Meunier. Jean-Sebastien Fleury suggests that this is due to historical habits. The area was previously planted with Gamay and when Gamay was ordered to be ripped out, it was replanted to Pinot Noir. Cote des Bar has traditionally been a grape growing area where the growers supply the fruit to the north and the dominance of Pinot Noir plantings been the response to supply the demand.
The Aube region covers more than 7,650 hectares of vineyard. Covering 22% of the Champagne vineyards, the Aube region produces almost a quarter of all champagne produced.
The Côte des Bar has a long history of growing and supplying grapes for major Champagne houses, but the region was treated as second class for decades. The larger producers pushed to exclude the Aube from the official classification in 1908 resulting in Cote des Bar growers to riot. The Aube was classified as Champagne ‘deuxieme zone’ or ‘second zone’ until 1927 when it was being made a part of the Champagne AOC.
HISTORY OF MAISON FLEURY
The Fleury family has been based in the village of Courteron in the Cote des Bar since 1895. Champagne Fleury was founded by Emile Fleury who was a wine grower and a nurseryman. He was the pioneering grower to graft Pinot Noir varietal after Phylloxera ravaged the region. He was also leading the riots when Aube was excluded from the classification in 1908.
The Fleury family were cultivating and selling grapes to large Champagne Houses until 1929. The sharp decrease in the grape prices saw the Fleury family to start vinifying their grapes under their own label. Emile’s son Robert took the initiative to create his own label instead of selling their grapes. He was one of the first ‘recoltant-manipulants’ of Champagne.
Robert’s son Jean-Pierre started converting the family’s vineyards to biodynamic practices in 1989 and by 1992, all of the vineyards were converted. He was a pioneer and Maison Fleury was the first to cultivate vineyards biodynamically in Champagne.
Jean-Pierre’s three children, Jean-Sebastien, Benoit and Morgane, are in charge today. Jean- Sebastien is active in the vines and at the winery. He has introduced horses in the vineyards, has created a solera system for the reserve wines and experimented with the family’s first champagne without sulphur. Benoit is experimenting replanting of vines with massale selection and improving the microclimate of the vineyard by working the environment in symbiose with surrounding forests, improving the biodiversity of the vineyards.
Morgane runs her own ecologic wine and champagne bar in Paris.
Today Maison Fleury owns 15ha over 10 plots on south and south-west facing slopes. They are by far the biggest biodynamic producer in the whole of Champagne. They are composed of 85% of Pinot Noir, 10% of Chardonnay with the remainder being Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (replanted in 2010) and Pinot Meunier. Oldest vines were planted in 1970, and new vines are replanted every year.
Fleury is also producing what could be considered as not so traditional wines in Champagne. In suitable years, they will produce a 100% Pinot Blanc and 100% Pinot Gris Champagne aged 100% in barrels. They also produce still wines (red, white and rose) in suitable years under the AOC Coteaux Champenois.
Two other vine growers supply the family with additional grapes, giving a total production area of 22 ha. Those vine growers, close family friends now, have been cultivating biodynamically since the early 90s. The Maison Fleury no longer qualify as a grower champagne as they have been working in a co-op fashion with the two vine growers. This ensures a consistency and enables them to expand production as needed in the future.
Internal note: Fleury has now parted ways with these two growers in 2019 who wished to start bottling their own label. Fleury is looking to buy 3-4ha of biodynamic grower fruit to be able to carry on production of approx. 190k bottles yearly.
BIODYNAMICS AT FLEURY
Jean- Pierre originally wanted to be an astronaut and he had a strong connection to the land. Since the start of his winemaking career, he had the vision to leave a healthy land and growing environment to his children. His second passion for astronomy and overall connection of earth and sky in turn encouraged him to start farming biodynamically.
The Domaine is cultivating in line with its habitat by acknowledging nature’s rhythms and its influence from terrestrial and cosmic forces. The viticultural work is focused on the soil and the plant. The vineyards are ploughed, and biodynamic preparations are applied. Vine work is synchronised on lunar and planetary rhythm, according to their effects on root, leaf, flower and fruit development. Different tasks at the vineyards are done in accordance with the lunar calendar.
Biodynamic approach believes that the vine roots nourish the vines with minerals and nutriments, and by doing so transmit the terroir’s unique personality. Jean-Sebastien describes that the biodynamic farming results in more stability in their vines, there is less steep ups and downs and extreme vintage variations. The vines resist better to extreme conditions like drought and wet vintages. The vines will also grow longer roots and the more diverse ecosystem will help to fight erosion in vineyards. It’s important to note that the Cotes de Bar is not necessarily any warmer though it is much further south, it’s still susceptible to frost with the added threat of the hail that is plaguing Chablis. The Fleury will generally harvest slightly later than their conventional neighbours. Their main aim is to obtain a perfect fruit ripeness before harvesting which they think will be found around 10.5 baume. In Champagne, it is authorised to start harvesting at 9-9.5 baume ripeness. Due to the health of the fruit and vineyards, the wines in general feature more generous fruit and are more vinous nature.
During harvest, the grapes are pressed throughout the day straight after being handpicked. The winery uses two traditional wooden vertical presses of capacity of 4000kg. In 2004, an entirely automatic press with a slanted tray was added to the collection. The transfers of must are done mainly by gravity.
Each vineyard parcel is separated into different vats which allows the tracking of the quality and flavour development of each parcel. The fermentation will take place in the vats where the wines are aged on their lees until the spring when the clear wines are blind tasted for the first time. The second tasting will take place end of April/early May when the family will make decisions on the assemblage.
The winery features “inversed solera”, a method of storing reserve wines. Each year a cuvee is blended from the current harvest and from reserve wines. A portion of this blend is then kept as a reserve wine for next year’s assembly. Basically, the reserve wines are kept as the exact blends of the previous years. This was a creation of Jean- Sebastien and started in 2007. This “time vault” contains 8 oak foudres of a capacity of 60 hl. The foudres were acquired from Cognac. Wines for top cuvees (Robert Fleury and Notes Blanches) are aged in the same manner but in 65 oak barrels since 1997.
Fleury family is also experimenting by ageing their vintage champagnes under a traditional cork being held with a square clip. This is shown to lead to a micro-oxygenation that will add more complexity to the wine.
The Fleury family has developed their own yeast strain by taking samples from their best vineyards sections and created a lab yeast for inoculation. It is now commercially available and widely used in Champagne. Unfortunately, Demeter forbids the use of inoculated yeasts so primary fermentation is wild and this yeast strain is implemented for the secondary bottle ferment only.
Bottling is preferably done on the fruit days.
BLANC DE BLANC BRUT NV
Previously known as “Carte Rouge Brut Tradition,” the name and label changed in 2010 to “Blanc de Noirs”. This is Fleury’s “house cuvee” and most of the Domaine’s production.
Pinot Noir 100 % from all parcels. Age of the vines : 20 – 25 years. The amount of new vintage wines and reserve wines varies from year to year. Reserve wines usually consist approx. 30-40% of the final blend. For this cuvee, the base wine is from 2016 vintage which saw spring frosts followed by mildew and gave low yields. As a result, the blend here is 25% of 2016 vintage and 75% of reserve wines. The dosage varies from year to year and was 3.5g in this cuvee. The higher than usual portion of reserve wines gives this cuvee more balanced body that doesn’t require more dosage, according to Jean-Sebastien. Winemaking in thermo-regulated tanks and wooden foudres for reserve wines.
Ageing 3 to 5 years before bottling, Malolactic fermentation, Alcohol content : 11.90 ABV, Vegan
“The original ‘Green’ Champagne producer, brilliant, rich & creamy but dancing with salty minerality” – 95 points – Decanter
“The extroverted personality of Côtes de Bars pinot noir leaps out of Fleury’s BdN” – 92 points – Tyson Stelzer
ROSE DE SAINGEE NV
The fruit for this cuvee comes from well exposed and warmer sites giving full maturity to the fruit. This wine is only made in great years and is in fact a vintage wine. The current release is the 2015 vintage. The dosage is decided in function of the taste to create a balanced wine and most year’s there is zero dosage due to the fruit generosity.
Pinot Noir 100 %
Age of vines : 28 years
Rose de saignee method: grapes have been macerated with skins for a short period before pressing. Winemaking in thermo-regulated tanks and wooden foudres for reserve wines (solera)
Ageing 3-5y before bottling
Alcohol content : 11.70°
“The highlight of the estate of the godfather of biodynamics in Champagne, this is a refreshing rosé of pink peppercorns, rose petals, pomegranates and red cherries. It’s full and fruity on the front and vibrant, crunchy and dry on the end. Great value springtime champagne.” – Tyson Stelzer