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Our goal is to enable each vine to thrive in the environment where it grows. 

• Plowing is increasingly done by horse rather than by machine, in order to avoid compacting the soil. This leaves the soil better aerated, with an optimal exchange between water and wildlife. 

• Synthetic products such as herbicides are banned, allowing the natural flora and fauna to aid the plant in developing a sap that reflects all the identity of its environment. 

• Exploitation of natural resources: The soil provides shelter for hundreds of herb varieties, which function as an indicator of the soil's health. Observing the growth of these natural herbs helps us to understand the health of our soils. 

• Trust in people: Replacing man by machine saves time, but it can also have a negative impact on the nature that sustains us. Machinery is used only when it benefits the plant, the soil and the grapes. The men and women of our estate are essential in providing optimal care for the plant and its fruit. 

• Grapes: The grapes are harvested by hand at the peak of maturity and brought to our presses as quickly as possible, in order to preserve their quality and to obtain the finest juice. Apart from the addition of a small quantity of sulfur at harvest, the grapes are not treated with any products, out of respect for their natural qualities.

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History

Sometimes it is good to turn from the glamour of big champagne houses to the more earth-bound approach of a pragmatic peasant. Chartogne-Taillet in Merfy, which is located in the northern part of Montagne de Reims, is a paradigm of an enthusiastic and innovative farmer-producer. Working side by side with his father Philippe and mother Elisabeth, Alexandre Chartogne acquired his knowledge from the legendary Avize-based Anselme Selosse, and is open to new experiments and quality improvements. Talking with Alexandre, who is dedicated to cultivation and production, takes one deep into the mysteries of champagne production. Most of the vineyards of Montagne de Reims can these days be found south of the city of Reims.

The northern vineyards have given way to the expanding city, and, in addition to the damage done by Phylloxera, war has also complicated cultivation in the area. The hills of Montagne de Reims have a strategic view straight to the city of Reims, and this has turned them into battle fields more than once; the planted area in Merfy has decreased from 105 hectares to 45 as a result. Despite its small size and rather unknown status, the south facing plots of Merfy are able to produce exceedingly interesting wines. Alexandre Chartogne characterises their style as stronger and richer in nuances than those of the wines of southern Montagne, but not quite as fruity. Organic cultivation and the concentrated yield of old vines are key elements to the rich and strong style of Chartogne-Taillet. Their whole repertoire, from the non-vintage standard Sainte-Anne champagne to the prestige cuvée Fiacre, is first-rate, as is their rosé champagne.

The most impressive experiences, I have to say, have been derived from the new Les Barres single-vineyard champagne. Chartogne-Taillet owns two plots of rare and ungrafted Pinot Meunier vines, covering only 0.7 hectares. When Phylloxera raged in the area during the 19th century and destroyed almost all the vineyards in Champagne, these vines, which grow from the sandy soil, survived the extinction. Alexandre Chartogne tends to these laborious, en foule-planted vines by hand, and is even experimenting by planting 0.5 hectares in a similar fashion, in the hope that the new vines will also be resistant to the pernicious Phylloxera. The 2009 Les Barres was the first interesting single-vineyard champagne from Chartogne-Taillet. Upcoming champagnes are the 100 per cent Pinot Noir Les Orizeaux and the Pinot Meunier Les Allièes. 

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Vineyards

Merfy's vineyards are located in the Montagne de Reims, 8 kilometers (5 miles) away from Reims on the southern tip of the Massif de Saint-Thierry, an area that has enjoyed a long winegrowing tradition. These south- and southeast-facing hillsides have been planted with vines since the arrival of the Romans, and were further developed in the 7th century by monks from the Abbey of Saint-Thierry. As early as the 9th century, the vineyards surrounding this abbey represented the highest concentration of vineyard land in Champagne. The village of Merfy has long been known for the quality of its wines: Merfy's wines were served at the tables of kings, and were exported as early as the 12th century. Merfy continues to produce exceptional Champagnes, representative of its distinctive soils and vineyards. Today at Chartogne-Taillet, all of our champagnes are grown entirely in the vineyards of Merfy.

THE ESTATE At a glance: • 11 hectares (27 acres) of vineyards • 2 Champagne presses (up to 4000 kgs) • 13 individual vineyard parcels (including three parcels of ungrafted vines) • 4 grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier and Arbanne • A vat room with oak barrels, stainless-steel tanks, amphorae and cement "eggs" by Nomblot • Between 6 and 10 cuvees, depending on the individual harvest • Winemaker Alexandre Chartogne, assisted by Jean Nicolas, Cyril (horse plower), Laurence, Cédric and Jean-Luc (professionals in the vineyard and cellar), Muriel (office assistant) and Pierre (in charge of pressing)

 Annual Production (bottles): 80 000. Cellarmaster: Alexandre Chartogne You can visit Chartogne-Taillet daily between 8am and 5pm by pre-reservation. The visit and tasting are free, and champagnes can be purchased according to availability.

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Winemaking

The grapes are pressed in one of two pneumatic presses, each of which functions differently. The first exposes the wines to air, while the second offers more protection against oxygen. The pressing is long and gentle, in order to obtain the finest and most delicate juice from the grapes. Fermentation: The fermentation is the first step after pressing, and is performed with yeasts native to the wine itself, preserving all of the wine's initial characteristics. The malolactic fermentation is also allowed to occur naturally, without intervention on the part of the winemaker. Vat Room: Whether in stainless-steel tanks, oak barrels or cement vats, each wine is allowed to thrive in the vessel that it is best suited to. This choice is determined by our experiences of previous years, as well as by the potential of each of our vineyard parcels. Preparation: The wines spend between 8 and 18 months of aging in our vat room, depending upon the evolution of each individual wine. After this, they are bottled without filtration. Cold-stabilization occurs naturally, taking advantage of the cold winter weather.

Chartogne-Taillet's Champagnes are vinified and aged in the cellars under the family's house in Merfy, located in the center of the village. All of the winemaking processes, from pressing to bottling to disgorgement, are done on our premises, ensuring the quality of each cuvée. At the heart of our work is the search for the individual identity of our soils, allowing our wines to reveal an authentic and representative character unique to our village. Each wine is monitored and evaluated according to its character and capacity for aging. It is then disgorged with minimal intervention, and dosed at a level that varies from one wine to the next, determined by tasting. This preserves the optimum quality and individual expression of each Champagne. 

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Inside information

- In the old days before the world wars and phylloxera these northern villages were widely planted and highly esteemed. But as this was such a strategic point, one being able to look down to the city, this has been war zone many times during the history. Therefore the amount of vineyards has diminished from 105 to 45 hectares, says 27-year-old Alexandre Chartogne, the new generation of Chartognes.

            From the first seconds of the visit I can see Alexandre Chartogne is a highly passionate vinegrower. He is working closely with his father Philippe and mother Elisabeth but already now one can see the enthusiasm and innovative spirits in him. He has worked for a while at Jacques Selosse in Avize, whose natural methods, biodynamic thinking and usage of barrels have clearly made an impact on Alexandre, too. And he has some fantastic experiments and projects going on.   

            - Here, like in every village in Champagne, there are both good and bad plots of land. To generalize, our wines are not as fruity as the wines from the southern part of the Montagne. However, ours are more powerful and complex due to the southern exposure and deep soils. 

 

But what is extraordinary, are the non-grafted vines that still manage to survive in a few vineyards around here. The phylloxera vine louse spread around Europe in the late 19th century killing virtually every vine. The phylloxera is a bug that eats on the roots of the vine damaging them permanently and eventually killing the plant. The only founded cure was to graft all vines on American rootstocks that are naturally resistant to it. There are several regions as well as individual plots of land in the world that have resisted the louse. In Champagne Bollinger’s two vineyards that produce the prestigious Vieilles Vignes Françaises have been the only commonly known ones.  

            - We have one vineyard of 0,4 hectare in size growing 50-60 year-old non-grafted vines. Also, in the middle of a grafted plot, we have some 0,3 ha more non-grafted vines. It is the sandy and calcareous sandy soils here that are not phylloxera friendly. 

            Alexandre Chartogne is so sure of his soils resist to phylloxera that he even aims to plant some more non-grafted vines.

            - I am very sure - 95 per cent sure – that we will get no trouble from phylloxera. I have just uprooted a vineyard and now I need to let it rest for a couple of years before I can replant it. I will plant 0,5 hectares with non-grafted vines. I will use partly the regular vinestock but partly I will play with provigneage - the layering method of cultivation. 

            Layering is practiced at Bollinger Vieilles Vignes, too. This ancient method consists of very dense planting – some 30.000 plants per hectare as opposed to 9.000 in regular vineyards. The vineyard is consistently rejuvenated by letting new vines be born from the canes of older vines. This method demands a lot of skill and effort. At Bollinger for instance there are 4 men solely responsible for the picturesque vineyards totaling 0,52 hectares.

            - 0,5 hectares is the maximum I will plant now, as I don’t have the resources of Bollinger. It is just me treating the vineyard. But it is fascinating to see how these wines will be. The non-grafted vines are famous for producing wines with less alcohol for instance.

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13 different wines with 43 vintages

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