Champagne village profile: Aÿ – famous grand cru village and the centre of the Grande Vallée de la Marne

Diagram Aÿ 201504Key facts

Located in: Vallée de la Marne: Grande Vallée de la Marne
Vineyards and grape varieties: 367.0 hectares (906.9 acres), of which 89% Pinot Noir, 8% Chardonnay, and 3% Pinot Meunier.
Classification: Grand cru (100%)
Noted for: powerful Pinot Noir from south-facing slopes, one of a few villages that is able to produce good red wines, home village of Bollinger, Deutz, Gosset, and Ayala.

Map

The map is linked from Wikimedia Commons, and the geographical information originates from OpenStreetMap. The dotted white area corresponds to the vineyards, light yellow indicates other open terrain, and green indicates forest.

 Neighbouring villages

West: Dizy (premier cru)
Norrthwest: Champillon (premier cru)
Northnortheast: Mutigny (premier cru)
East: Mareuil-sur-Aÿ (premier cru)
South: Chouilly (grand cru), part of Côte des Blancs
Southwest: Épernay, part of Côteaux Sud d’Épernay

The village

The church in Aÿ, Église Saint-Brice. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by October Ends, 2009).

With its slightly more than 4000 inhabitants, Aÿ is the largest of the “villages” of Champagne, and could just as well be called a small town. It has a bit more to offer tourists than many of the other villages, and here we find the largest collection of well-known Champagne houses outside of Reims and Épernay.

The Aÿ commune covers 1043 hectares and counts 4041 inhabitants (as of 2011), referred to as agéens and agéennes respectively.

Already early in the history of wine, when the Champagne region produced still wines, Aÿ was a wine village with an excellent reputation, and was something of a centre for wine production in this part of the region. The designation Aÿ wine was sometimes used for the wines from the whole area around the village, and sometimes the Champagne wines as a whole. King Henri IV (or Henry IV in English), ruler of France 1589-1610, on occasion styled himself Sire d’Aÿ et de Gonesse, from the sources of his country’s best wine and best wheat. The village feast of Aÿ is therefore named in honour of Henri IV. (Possibly, François I/Francis I, king 1515-1547, also used this style.)

Aÿ is the home of Villa Bissinger, which houses the Institut International des Vins de Champagne. Their activities include courses under the name École des Vins de Champagne.

The most ambitious restaurant of Aÿ is Le Vieux Puits/Les Clos St Georges.

The entranc to Aÿ along the D1 road from the westm, i.e., from the Dizy direction. The vineyards on the left belong to Moët & Chandon. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by October Ends, 2009).

 Vineyards

The vineyards are predominantly south-facing, and mostly contain Pinot Noir. The inclination varies in different Aÿ vineyards, and some hills behind the village are where the steepest vineyards can be found. The vineyards of Aÿ are often the source of the most powerful Pinot Noir wines of Champagne, since they are at a lower altitude than those of Bouzy and Ambonnay, the main competitors in the powerful Pinot category.

On the now-defunct échelle des crus, Aÿ was rated 100%, which made it a grand cru village. Aÿ is therefore rated higher than all its immediate neighbours. The other eight villages in the Grande Vallée de la Marne, all of which are on the same side of the Marne river as Aÿ, are all premier cru villages that were rated 93%-99% on this scale.

The current vineyard surface in the Aÿ commune is 367.0 hectares (906.9 acres). There are 325.4 ha Pinot Noir (88.7%), 30.8 ha Chardonnay (8.4%), 10.2 ha Pinot Meunier (2.8%), and 0.6 ha others (<0,2%). Numbers from CIVC, as of 2013. In 1997, the vineyard surface was 351 ha. There are 241 vineyard owners (exploitants) in the commune.

Champagne houses that control vineyards in the village include Bollinger, Duval Leroy, Moët & Chandon, Mumm, Perrier-Jouët, Philipponnat, Piper Heidsieck, and Roederer.

Vineyards just north of Aÿ, i.e., in the slope above the village. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by Pline, 2012).

 Specific vineyard sites and vineyard-designated Champagnes

  • Clos Chaudes Terres, one of two vineyard sites that are used by Bollinger for their Vieilles Vignes Françaises, a cuvée exclusively from ungrafted Pinot Noir. Located immediately behind the facilities of Bollinger in the direction of the slope.
  • Clos St.-Jacques, one of two vineyard sites that are used by Bollinger for their Vieilles Vignes Françaises, a cuvée exclusively from ungrafted Pinot Noir. This wall-enclosed vineyard is located inside the village, just below the slope.
  • Côte aux Enfants, a steep vineyard where Bollinger owns 4 ha (they are possibly the only owner). The vineyard is used for the vineyard-designated red wine produced by Bollinger. Rather small amounts of this wine is bottled, and the rest probably ends up as the red wine component of La Grande Année Rosé.
  • La Côte Faron, a vineyard north of the village, in a rather steep slope that is almost directly south-facing. This is the source of one of vineyard-designated Champagnes (lieux-dits) from Jacques Selosses, produced from 100% Pinot Noir.It receives an oxidative oak treatment in solera, and is non-vintage. The first release under this name was disgorged in 2010, and the base vintage for that release was 2003. Earlier, Selosse used this vineyard to produce his cuvée Contraste.
  • Le Léon, a vineyard located just below the D1 road between Dizy and Aÿ, i.e., in the direction of the Marne canal seen from the road, and on both sides of the commune border between Dizy and Aÿ. According to legend, this vineyard was the source of the Aÿ wine favoured by the 16th century pope Leo X. Philipponnat in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ  produces a vineyard-desigated Pinot Noir Champagne from this vineyard since the 2006 vintage.
  • La Pelle, a south-facing slope. Roger Brun produces a vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from this vineyard.
  • Les Sarments d’Aÿ is one of the vineyards from which Moët & Chandon have produced a vineyard-designated Champagne, in their box La Trilogie des Grands Crus (which hasn’t been sold for some years now). They grow Pinot Noir in this south-facing vineyard, which they have owned since 1798. Presumably the grapes from this vineyard usually end up in Dom Pérignon.
  • Vauzelle Terme, a south-facing slope in the western part of Aÿ, close to the border with Dizy and just above the D1 road. The soil is limestone with gravel over chalk. One of Jacquesson’s Lieux-Dits wine is produced from this vineyard. Jacquesson (the house is located in Dizy) only owns a small portion of this vineyard, and their 0.30 ha were planted with Pinot Noir in 1980.

Champagne producers

The buildings of Ayala in Aÿ. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by G.Garitan, 2013).

Major champagne houses, members of the Union des Maisons de Champagne

  • Ayala, now owned by Bollinger. It is easy to think that the name of the house is connected to the village name, but it actually comes from the founder Edmond de Ayala, who started his activities in 1860. René Chayoux bought the house in 1937 and fused it with the Champagne house Montebello of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ to create Ayala-Montebello. Jean-Michel Ducellier (1918-2003) took over Ayala-Montebello after the widow of Chayoux (who lived 10 years longer than him, until 1979), but focussed more on activities in Champagne organisations than on his own Champagne house. In 2000, Jean-Jacques Frey bought 34% of Ayala (in the form of Société Générale de Champagne, SGC, the owning company of Ayala and Montebello) by the son Alain Ducellier. In 2005, Bollinger bought Ayala from Frey (who then focussed their Champagne holdings on a share of Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ), and this seems to have provided more stability than before. Compared to Bollinger, Ayala produces Champages with a higher proportion of Chardonnay – the range also includes some blanc de blancs – and in a drier style. Ayala also produces Champagnes under the brand:
    • Montvillers, that originated from Hennequin Comte de Villermont, a relative of one of the founders of Bollinger. The brand was owned by Bollinger’s owner before Ayala was bought by them.
  • Bollinger – a very famous Champagne house founded in 1829 by Athanase de Villermont, Joseph Bollinger, and Paul Renaudin as Renaudin-Bollinger & Cie. Some generations later, in 1920, Jacques Bollinger took over and led the house through a difficult time consisting both of the Great Depression and the first years of World War II. The actual holding company of Bollinger carries his name, Société Jacques Bollinger (SJB). His widow Madame Elizabeth “Lily” Bollinger (who was of Scottish origin) took over after his death. Bollinger has 164 ha of vineyards, their Champagnes are always Pinot Noir dominated, produced in a powerful style, and with at least some degree of oxidative oak treatment. Rather than a clear division into a regular vintage Champagne and a prestige cuvée, Bollinger has a powerful vintage Champagne that is first released under the name La Grande Année, which then returns after a longer time on the lees as R.D. (récemment dégorgé or recently disgorged), then as an Extra Brut. The first vintage of R.D. was the 1952, and not quite all vintages of La Grande Année make it to an R.D. release. La Grande Année (but not R.D.) also exists in a rosé version. The house also produces a small amount of a very special prestige Champagne by the name Vieilles Vignes Françaises, sourced from two (used to be three) small plots with ungrafted Pinot Noir. The range also includes a red wine called Côte aux Enfants. Bollinger is also known for featuring frequently in the James Bond films. Bollinger (or rather SJB) is also the owner of the Champagne house Ayala, the Loire producer Langlois-Château, the Burgundy négociant Chanson Père & Fils, and Cognac Delamain.
  • Edouard Brun & Cie – a house founded in 1898 that has 8 ha of their own vineyards, in Chigny-les-Roses, Ludes, Rilly, and around Aÿ. The annual production is 250 000 bottles. The prestige cuvée is called l’Elégant and exists in white and rosé versions.
  • Deutz – a good-quality Champagne house founded in 1838 by William Deutz and Pierre-Hubert Geldermann, and originally called Deutz Geldermann. Roederer bought Deutz in 1983. Deutz has 37 ha of vineyards, and 80% of the grape supply comes from grand cru and premier cru villages. The traditional prestige cuvée is called William Deutz, is produced in white and rosé versions, and is highly regarded by many Champagne fans. Later, a blanc de blancs by the name Amour de Deutz has been added to the prestige range, and thanks to its transparent bottle (notice who owns the house…) and some celebrity endorsements it has received more “bling” attention than the older prestige cuvées of Deutz.

The entrance to the Deutz facilites in Aÿ. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by G.Garitan, 2013).

  • Henri Giraud – a producer with a powerful style and a rather generous use of oak, and with rather peculiar retro-styled bottles for the more expensive parts of the range as well as the origin of the oak specified for some cuvées. Has 9 ha of their own vineyards. The basic level Esprit (apparently the name is about to change) is usually quite good, the top cuvées are fairly high in price.
  • Gosset – a high quality medium-sized Champagne house, now having their main seat in Épernay. Characteristic of their Champagnes are high acidity (all cuvées except one see no malolactic fermentation), some oxidative notes, and a low dosage, which combine to give a firm and long-lived style. The range starts with the non-vintage Excellence, the only cuvée to go through malolactic fermentation. The similarly non-vintage Grande Réserve represents one step up and is more “typical Gosset”. Grand Rosé always gets good reviews. The vintage Champagne Grand Millésime is never produced in the same vintages as the prestige cuvée Celebris. The first vintage of Celebris was the 1988 (launched in 1995). The current vintage (as of 2015) is the 2002. A Celebris Rosé also exists, with 2007 as the current vintage. A non-vintage Celebris Blanc de Blancs has so far been produced once (then a blend of 1995, 1996, 1998, and 1999).
    History
    The company was founded in 1584 in Aÿ by Pierre Gosset (1555-1633), who were active in both wine production and other trade. Gosset is therefore the oldest wine company among the Champagne houses (although Ruinart is usually counted as the oldest pure Champagne house). Gosset remained family owned until the 1990s, with Antoine and Laurent Gosset being the last owners. In 1994, Gosset was bought by Renaud-Cointreau, and under their ownership the annual production has been expanded from 400 000 to 1 million bottles. This meant a need for more cellar space. In 2009, Gosset bought larger facilities in Épernay from Laurent-Perrier, including a house that was formerly owned by the Trouillard family, and in 2010 most of the activities were moved there from Aÿ. Their Épernay cellar was originally built for the grocery chain Félix Potin and has later been used by the Trouillard-owned Champagne house Château Malakoff. Gosset has kept part of their production in Aÿ, though.
  • Lallier (also René James Lallier) – Francis Tribaut bought the company in 2004, the price was 17 million euro and 12 ha of vineyards were included in the deal, of which 8 ha grand cru. States that they have 50 ha of vineyards, of which a large part in Aÿ, but this number likely includes vineyards not owned by them, from which they source grapes.
  • Malard, a Champagne house founded in 1996 by Jean-Louis Malard. The company has its seat in Aÿ, but the production facility is located in Oiry. The annual production is 1.3 million bottles. The prestige cuvée is called Lady Style and was launched in 2012.

Other champagne houses/négociants

The producer status NM = négociant-manipulant means that purchased grapes can be included in the Champagnes. NM producers can be anything from small producers that supplement their own grapes with some that they buy in, to large Champagne houses that primarily rely on purchased grapes. ND = négociant-distributeur, which means that they at least partly sell Champagnes produced by someone else, but under their own name.

  • Louis Barthélémy (NM?), a small Champagne house with a background in Baudry-Lebrun & Cie, which was founded in 1923 in Épernay by the princess Baudry after she had fled Moscow following the Russian revolution. In 1994, Baudry-Lebrun was bought by Lombard & Cie (later known as Lombard & Médot), another Épernay house. In 2002, the then 25 year old Jean-Barthélémy Chancel entered the picture, with a purchase sum of 72 000 euro. His family owned Château Val Joanis in the Cotes du Luberon in the southern Rhône valley. During an intermediate period, Baudry-Lebrun (as a fully owned subsidiary of SA Lombard & Médot) produced the Champagnes that were sold under the name Louis Barthélémy, while Chancel Père & Fils distributed them. From the 2007 vintage, Jean-Barthélémy Chancel has been producing them himself. Since 2011, Louis Barthélémy is located in Aÿ, in what once was the royal press house of Henry IV, and until recently a part of the cellars of Gosset. The Louis Barthélémy Champagnes are all named after gems, and the house has received rather much attention for a small and young house. In 2013, the production was just over 50 000 bottles.
  • Brimoncourt (NM), located in Aÿ and Reims.
  • Roger Brun (NM), the range includes e.g. a vintage Champagne named Cuvée des Sires (70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay from Aÿ) and a vineyard-designated 100% Pinot Noir from the vineyard La Pelle, both with some oak.
  • De Méric (NM), a producer founded in 1960 by Christian Besserat, the year after the family had sold their Champagne house Besserat de Bellefon (located in Épernay and today part of the Lanson-BCC group). In 1997, the company was sold to American businessman Daniel E. Ginsburg, and in 2009 Reynald Leclaire took over. Annual production is about 50 000 bottles.
  • Duc de Romet (ND), the company behind is called Terroir & Talent and Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy of the grower-producer Geoffroy (see below) is apparently behind it. All bottles I’ve seen are produced by the cooperative in Vandières.
  • Régis Fliniaux (NM), has 2.5 ha of vineyards, mainly in Aÿ, but also a smaller part in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ (0.25 ha) and Dizy (0.10 ha).
  • Hamm (NM)
  • Georges Lacombe (NM), has 12 ha of vineyards, of which 9 ha in the Vallée de la Marne (7 ha Pinot Meunier and 2 ha Chardonnay) and 3 ha in the Montagne de Reims (Pinot Noir).

Champagne growers

Producer status is indicated where known: RM = récoltant-manipulant, or grower-producers. RC = récoltant-coopérateur, growers that are cooperative members but sell Champagnes under their own name.

  • Hubert Ballu (RC?)
  • Dauby (RM), member of Vignerons Indépendants, has 8 ha of vineyards in five villages including Aÿ and the premier cru villages Mutigny, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, and Avenay-Val-d’Or.
  • Ferry
  • Gatinois (RM), an excellent producer who produces Champagnes in a powerful but unoaked style using about 90% Pinot Noir. Also produces a good red wine.
  • Geoffroy (RM), also René Geoffroy, member of Vignerons Indépendants. Has 14 ha of vineyards, of which 11 ha in Cumières, where they were formerly located.
  • Serge Godme
  • Gosset-Brabant (RM), has just under 10 ha of vineyards, of which 5 ha in Aÿ, 0.45 ha in Chouilly, and a total of 4 ha in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Dizy, and Avenay-Val-d’Or with 75% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier, and 15% Chardonnay.
  • Henri Goutorbe (RM), a Special Club producer and member of Vignerons Indépendants. Run by René Goutorbe. Has 22 ha of vineyards in Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Mutigny, Bisseuil, Avenay-Val-d’Or, Cumières, Hautvillers, Gyé, and Sezanne with 25 % Chardonnay, 70% Pinot Noir, and 5% Pinot Meunier. The annual production is 180 000 bottles.
  • Alain Grillat & Fils
  • Sylvain Guinard
  • Pascal Hénin (RM), member of Vignerons Indépendants, has vineyards in Aÿ, Chouilly, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Dizy, Cerseuil, and Troissy.
  • Hénin-Delouvin (RM), member of Vignerons Indépendants, has 7 ha of vineyards in Aÿ, Chouilly, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Dizy, Grauves, and Cerseuil.
  • Jeanne Husson
  • Pierre Leboeuf (RM)
  • Fred. Leroux, has their press house in Chigny-les-Roses and the cellar in Aÿ.
  • Christophe Luc
  • Eric Luc (RC)
  • Michel Nicaise (RM)
  • Michel-Gentilhomme (RM)

This globe and fountain is located at the intersection of Rue Marcel Mailly, Rue de la Brèche, Rue Jules Lobet, and Rue Paul Bert, and at this small square, Richard-Fliniaux is also located. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by Garitan, 2012).

  • Richard-Fliniaux, the Champagnes are also sold under the names:
    • J.J. Richard & Fils
    • Henri IV
  • André Roger (RM), has 5.5 ha of vineyards (mainly grand cru), of which 4.6 ha Pinot Noir and 0.9 ha Chardonnay.
  • P. M. Roger & Fils (RM), also Henri Roger & Fils and Roger Père & Fils, has 4.5 ha of vineyards, mainly in Aÿ.
  • René Roger (RM), annual production 35 000-40 000 bottles.

Comment: the list is probably not complete.

Cooperatives

  • Association Coopérative de Viticulteurs de Premiers Crus de la Marne à Ay (A.C.V.P.C.M. à Ay, also called Coopérative de la Brèche) – one of the cooperatives that are members of Union Champagne. It is a small cooperative with 90 members that have a total of 18 ha. Their own brand is called De la Brêche.
  • COGEVI – Coopérative General des Vignerons – an old and large cooperative founded in 1921. The members have 670 ha of vineyards, the production capacity is 10 million bottles per year, and their have cellars with a storage capacity of 34 million bottles. Besides the “Collet plant” in Aÿ, there is a production facility in Oger. The Champagnes are sold under three brands, one which is their own and two that are produced in cooperation with other cooperatives:
    • Collet (earlier written Raoul Collet) – COGEVI’s own brand, with a presence in Aÿ.
    • Jacquart – owned by COGEVI together with l’Union Auboise and COVAMA. Jacquart is located in Reims and was founded in 1964.
    • Montaudon is a brand that belongs together with Jacquart, i.e., it is owned by  COGEVI together with l’Union Auboise and COVAMA and has a presence in Reims.

An interesting historical picture. In connection with the Champagne riots 1911, many Champagne houses were stormed and wrecked by angry vine growers, including in Aÿ. Here a picture of the house Ducoin, which suffered an arson attack on 12 April 1911. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (uploaded by JPS68).

 Links

Video clips

A video collage composed of old postcards from the 20th century, featuring views of Aÿ.

A video quickly showing a year in the Aÿ vineyards of Roger Brun.

© Tomas Eriksson 2014-2015, last updated 2015-11-27

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One Response to Champagne village profile: Aÿ – famous grand cru village and the centre of the Grande Vallée de la Marne

  1. Pingback: How Champagne Became the Drink of Kings – Travel Is The New Club

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