Montagne de Reims / Champagne
The Lelarge family have been making grower Champagne since 1799. Fast forward to 1983, when 7th generation Dominque Lelarge headed to Beaune to study viticulture and oenology. It was here he met his future wife, Dominique Pugeot and in 1985 the couple took over reign of the winery and it became Lelarge-Pugeot. Two of their three children, Clemence and Valantin now work alongside their parents.
In 1990 Dominique and Dominique sought a new way of farming, reducing outputs and the use of chemicals. By 2000 they had ceased use of herbicides and pesticides completely and began growing grass and cover crops between the vines. Ploughing by horse was introduced in 2009, organic certification achieved in 2015 and Demeter biodynamics in 2017. In 2020, 90 trees were planted throughout the vineyards, peach, cherry, apple, plum and almond, to encourage natural biodiversity.
In the cellar initial ferment is by Indigenous yeast only, low amounts of sulphur are added only when necessary and only at the pressing stage. The commitment to organic and biodynamic farming has resulted in more natural sugars in the grapes, wines of more richness and structure. It also allowed for a reduction in dosage where by those cuvees that are dosed are only with 2-4 gm/l maximum.
Champagne as a region is 25,000 km2, almost as big as Belgium. Over the past two decades the niche movement of grower Champagne has ushered in big changes. A return to organic farming, indigenous yeasts, fully mature grapes, no chaptalisation, oak barrel elevage and lower dosage have become more commonplace.
Lelarge-Pugeot has 8.7 hectares of vines in and around Vrigny, a premier cru village located in Petite Montagne de Reims. The vineyards are spread over 42 distinct parcels, 4.4 hectares planted to Meunier, 2.8 to Pinot Noir and 1.5 to Chardonnay.
The Petite Montagne sits to the west and south west of Reims, a series of slopes slightly lower in elevation than Montagne de Reims, with its highest elevation of 240 meters. It runs from Gueux in the north to Sermiers in the south. The soils here have a more complex sandy geology than the pure chalk and clay of the montagne itself. Here we find layers of alluvial sand and clay mixed with chalky fossils.
Much of the Petite Montagne is planted to Pinot Meunier. And for an area prone to spring frosts it is ideally suited. It is a variety that grows more rapidly, the fast vegetive cycle helps the grape race ahead of the danger period. Until the 1970’s, Pinot Meunier was the most widely planted grape in Champagne. Reference books have tended to denigrate Meunier as the least terroir specific grape, a workhorse that does not age well on its own. But in the hands of fine growers, and planted on soils rich in sand and clay, Pinot Meunier can produce fine and structured wines of long life, Jerome Prevost being the epitome. The oldest Meunier vines of Lelarge-Pugeot date back to 1934.
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