In an article on New Wave Champagne producers, Jancis Robinson documented how the face of Champagne has changed over the last few decades and highlighted challenges facing the most powerful brands. Historically, the major Champagne Houses were the uncontested kings of sparkling wines, wielding big budgets and building powerful brands to sell the luxurious image of Champagne envied by the rest of the wine world. However, times are changing and the Kings are facing new challenges, such as the rise in popularity of English sparkling and the unabated craze for Italy's fizzy Prosecco. Moreover, closer to home is the rise in a new wave of a completely different sort of champagne producer (Drappier for one), who are beginning to challenge traditional concepts and long held practices. According to Jancis, there are seven commandments to follow in order to be a new wave Champagne producer. Here's how Champagne Drappier fits the bill perfectly!
1. Don't wear a suit: Michel Drappier, the seventh generation to run the family business, is still reluctant to hang up his suit (yet the tie is long gone), but his three children Charline, Hugo and Antoine are totally embracing this less formal approach. They are the eighth Drappier generation to embody Drappier’s values: Provenance, Excellence & Distinctive style.
2. Be a grower: Drappier owns 56 hectares and farms an additional 40 hectares in the Aube in the south of the Champagne region, far from the bright lights of Reims and Epernay. Based in Urville, where Pinot Noir is king, Drappier’s vineyards are well exposed and contain a high percentage of calcareous soil. This unique terroir is instrumental in providing the typicity of character and complexity found in each Drappier cuvée.
3. Farm organically: A focus on sustainability and a deep respect for the surrounding environment have been key aspects to Drappier’s growing and winemaking approach for years. To maintain the legacy for generations to come, the Drappier family has been investing for the last ten years in reducing their carbon foot print. All Drappier vineyards are cultivated according to organic and natural principles: ploughing by horse, grass cover between the vines, use of natural fertilisers, establishing a solar powered, gravity fed winery and the minimal use of sulphur to name just a few.
Most impressively, in 2016 Drappier became the first and only carbon neutral Champagne house. To date, 45% of the electricity used by Drappier is produced by solar panels and that number will increase to 75% by 2019. Plans to aggressively reduce fuel consumption to a minimum over the next 5 years have begun. Already, the cellar has replaced the use of air conditioning by utilising a free cooling system to reduce the environmental impact. Elsewhere on the property, isolated air conditioning is strategically used where necessary.
4. Be specific: Drappier is one of the only Champagne houses to have plantings of the forgotten grapes of Champagne: Arbanne, Blanc Vrai (or Pinot Blanc) and Petit Meslier. The quintessence of these ‘dismissed’ grape varieties are captured in Drappier’s unique cuvée, Quattuor. This Blanc de Blancs cuvée is made up of 25% of each of the grapes above plus the unmissable Chardonnay. The latest addition to Drappier’s obscure grape collection is Fourmenteau.
5. Use wood: Wood is at the heart of Drappier’s winemaking style. Michel Drappier firmly believes that wood ageing helps enhance the terroir in his Champagnes. On the Carte d’Or (Drappier’s flagship wine) 5% of the wines are matured in barrels for one year to enrich the cuvée. For the Grande Sendrée (Drappier’s top single plot cuvee) 35% of the wine is matured in oak barrels for 9 months. Last but not least, Drappier matures their own `liqueur d’expédition’ (made from organic sugar cane from Guadeloupe) for over ten years in oak. Michel Drappier has also been working on a side project called the ‘Egg’, a bespoke wooden egg shaped barrel, in which a special cuvée of Grande Sendrée has been ageing for the last 8 years, with a release scheduled for 2019!
6. Minimise dosage: Michel Drappier has long been one of the major advocates for minimal dosage in Champagne. He firmly believes that low sugar levels allow for the multifaceted aspects of his terroirs and his wine-making to be highlighted. He launched his Brut Nature Zéro Dosage back in 1999, paving the way for other houses to follow. Even though Drappier adds very little sugar to its Champagne, Michel was never happy with the quality of the liqueur d’expeditions that were available on the market. He therefore decided to start making his own. Organic sugar cane is sourced from Guadeloupe with the liquid aged first in oak casks, then in demijohns for more than ten years, in order to gain maximum concentration and refinement.
Minimal intervention is a core value of the Drappier family. They are fiercely opposed to excessive sulphur use, adding some of the smallest amounts in the whole of Champagne. Drappier’s Champagnes have more natural colours with rich, coppery golds and more expansive aromas. Apart from respect for the consumer, this characteristic allows a low-temperature prise de mousse which is particularly slow, generating a fine, subtle effervescence. Drappier is the only house to ferment every format, from half-bottles up to the gigantic 30-litre Melchisédech, in the bottle in which it is sold.
7. Provide maximum information: Champagne Drappier is all about transparency. On the back label of all new bottles from 2017, you can learn about the terroir, origin of the grapes, blend, dosage and vinification process. If you want further detail, the date of disgorgement is also printed on the bottle. Inside or outside the bottle, Drappier has nothing to hide. The low dosage and sulphur levels, informative packaging, marketing and the resulting wines all demonstrate the desire to remove any artifice.
You can read Jancis Robinson's full article here: How to be a new-wave champagne producer
You can explore more about Champagne Drappier and buy from their excellent range online by the bottle or case at Hic! here: Shop for Champagne Drappier