Reims – the largest city in Champagne, part 2: major Champagne houses (A-L)

The Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo Tim Hodson, 2011).

The profile is divided into four parts
Part 1: Basic facts
Part 2: Major Champagne houses, members of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (A-L)
Part 3: Major Champagne houses, members of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (M-Z)
Part 4: Other Champagne producers – cooperatives and small producers – and former producers

Reims is home to the largest concentration of major Champagne houses. Of the ten largest Champagne houses, sex are located in Reims, based on sales under their own brand in 2015:

  • 2nd place: Veuve Clicquot, 19 million bottles
  • 4th place: G.H. Mumm, 7.6 million bottles
  • 6th place: Taittinger, 5.5 million bottles
  • 7th place: Pommery, 4.4 million bottles
  • 8th place: Piper-Heidsieck, 4.3 million bottles
  • 9th place: Lanson, 4.2 million bottles

The 45 million bottles sold by these six houses correspond to 14% of the total volume of Champagne sold in 2015 (313 million bottles) and 20% of the volume sold by Champagne houses (224 million bottles) as opposed to other categories of producers.

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

Unions des Maisons de Champagne (UMC) is the organisation of the Champagne houses, primarily the major ones. An older term for the major Champagne houses was Grandes Marques, so UMC often present themselves as the Grandes Marques & Maisons de Champagne. Of the 76 members listed on the UMC website, 22 are in Reims, but they take up six of the spots on the top 10, by size.

An advertisement for Henri Abelé from 1923, focussing on their founding in 1757. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons.

  • Henri Abelé, a house owned by Freixenet, the major Spanish Cava produce. This house has no vineyards of their own and their annual production is 600 000 bottles (2011). The regular vintage Champagne is composed of a majority of Chardonnay, together with Pinot Noir (2004: 55% Ch/45% PN, 2006: 70% Ch/30% PN). Soirées Parisiennes is composed of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir (refers to the 2006 vintage), has been produced since the 1988 vintage, and nowadays includes a higher proportion of Chardonnay than it used to. The prestige cuvée is called Le Sourire de Reims and has been produced since 1986. The white version is composed of  60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir (refers to the 2007 and 2008 vintages) and the rosé version is composed of 100% Pinot Noir from Les Riceys (refers to the 2003 vintage).
    The house counts his history back to 1757, when it was founded by Théodore Vander Veken (also written Van der Veken) who created the Vander Veken house. In 1837, Antoine de Muller established himself in Reims. In 1839, he took in François Joseph Charles Kilian Abelé as a partner and in 1842 the name became Abelé de Muller. In 1876, Henri Marie Joseph Louis Abelé (1852-1923) took over after his father, and it is from him the house has his current name. On his mother’s side, Abelé was related to Vander Veken. In 1884, Henri Abelé became the first house to use freezing of the bottle neck when disgorging Champagne; the invention was made by Armand Walfart. In 1908, Henri Abelé fused his father’s and his mother’s companies to the house Abelé-Vander Veker. In 1985, Freixenet bought the house Henri Abelé from the Compagnie Française.
  • Barons de Rothschild. The company address is in Reims, but they also have a facility in Vertus. The grapes originate from about 75 ha of vineyards, most of it from the Côte des Blancs and under contract. Their own vineyards include the 1 ha Clos Prieur in Vertus. The Champagnes include a high proportion of Chardonnay (60%-100%). The annual production is about 300 000 bottles (information from 2014), but is on the increase, with an initial target of 500 000 bottles within a couple of years. Initially, the range consisted of non-vintage Champagnes. In 2015, the first vintage Champagne was launched, a blanc de blancs of the 2006 vintage produced in a limited volume, which has been followed by the 2008 (as of 2017). (The front label doesn’t indicate that it is a blanc de blancs.) A true prestige cuvée is supposed to be on the way, but may only be launched in 2020 or thereabouts. Also a rosé which is either vintage or prestige is on its way. All the Champagnes of the range are kosher.
    The project was initiated in 2005 by three Bordeaux-based branches of the Rothschild family (the owners of respectively Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Mouton Rothschild, and Château Clarke) and they started to collaborate with the cooperative La Goutte d’Or in Vertus regarding production. In 2007, the cellar in Vertus used by Ch. & A. Prieur was bought as storage for the Rothschild Champagnes. Ch. & A. Prieur was a Champagne house bought in 2005 by the La Goutte d’Or cooperative. In 2010, a new vinification facility stood ready, and in 2013 an additional building in Vertus was bought. The first Champagnes were sold in 2009, in Japan, and they started to sell on a slightly larger scale in 2011. There used to be a Champagne named Réserve Baron Philippe de Rothschild, but it was initially produced by Ruinart and then by Henriot, both Reims-based houses. Philippe de Rotschild (1902-1988) was the owner of Château Mouton Rothschild.
  • Bissinger & C°, which is part of the Vranken-Pommery-Monopole group. Bissinger doesn’t seem to have its own website (2018) and isn’t mentioned in the group’s list of their Champagne houses. Consequently, my impression is that it is currently used as a secondary brand for the low price market. The 22 ha of owned vineyards (of which 21.7 ha in the Marne departement and 20 ha in a continuous holding) is made up of Domaine de Montchenois in Chenay in the Massif de Saint-Thierry.
    The house was founded in 1875. It was bought in November 2012 by the Vranken-Pommery-Monopole group. At this time, Bissinger had grape contracts of 228 ha and owned Domaine de Montchenois covering 22 ha of vineyards. The purchase of Bissinger, Domaine de Montchenois, and three other smaller companies costed a total of 37.6 million euros.

The Charles de Cazanoves buildings in Reims. Picture linked from Wikimedia commons (photo Alkhimov Maxim, 2012).

  • Charles de Cazanove, a Champagne house owned by G.H. Martel & Cie. The range is made up of four product lines – Tradition Père & Fils, Azur, Grandes Cuvées, Stradivarius – where the latter two are filled in bottles of a special shape. The vintage Champagnes in the Tradition Père & Fils line and the Stradivarius line are composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. The Grandes Cuvées Champagnes carry names related to musical instruments: Stradivarius is composed of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, and Grand Apparat is composed of 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier. Vieille France is composed of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.
    The house was founded in 1811 by Charles Gabriel De Cazanove in Avize. The house later moved to Épernay, where it remained for a long time. The house and the brand have changed owners a number of times in the late 20th century and early 21st century. In 1958, Martini & Rossi took over the ownership from the de Cazanove family, and in 1983 Moët-Hennessy became the owner. In 1985, the ownership was taken over by Société Anonyme de Magenta-Epernay (S.A.M.E.), a company in Épernay owned by the Lombard family. It might be mentioned that Moët-Hennessy/LVMH several times has bought other Champagne houses in order to absorbe their vineyards and then rather quickly sold on the brand (and possibly the inventory of bottles and some production facilities). Charles de Cazanove was then used by S.A.M.E. as the name of their company. SA Charles de Cazanove (i.e., the Lombard-dominated ex-S.A.M.E.) was introduced on the stock exchange in 1999. In 2003, the Charles de Cazanove brand was sold to G.H. Martel, and the stock company changed its name to SA Lombard-Ménot – see also Ménot & Cie in part 4. This means that quite different companies and activities have carried the Charles de Cazanove name until 1983/85, in 1985-2003, and after 2003, respectively. In late 2017, the house was sued for defamation by count Loïc Chiroussot de Bigault de Cazanove, a relative of the founder of the house. This followed the launch of a rosé Champagne named for and promoted by Clara Morgane, a lady with a background in the erotic business. The count didn’t want to see his family name on such bottles.
  • Chanoine Frères, which is part of the Lanson-BCC group, where Chanoine has provided the middle C in BCC. Production is about 3.5 million bottles, including Tsarine. The vintage Champagne is a blanc de blancs.
    The house was founded in 1730 by Jacques-Louis Chanoine and Jean-Baptiste Chanoine in Épernay and therefore counts themselves as the second oldest Champagne house. Since 1991, Chanoine is part of what initially was called Boizel Chanoine Champagne (BCC) and nowadays the Lanson-BCC group.

    • Tsarine is the prestige brand of Chanoine (with its own website) and exists (2016) in seven different versions with e.g. different varietal composition. All are bottled in “obliquely rifled” bottles of the same shape. The annual production is about 500 000 bottles. The range includes a vintage Champagne composed of 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier, a vintage blanc de blancs, and the non-vintage Tzarina composed of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir.
      Tsarine was launched in 2000 by Chanoine Frères. In 2015, Tsarine by Adriana was launched, named for the Slovak model Adriana Karembeu who is a brand ambassador for Chanoine Frères. — HERE —

Heidsieck & C° Monopole Blue Top. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo decar66, 2012).

  • Heidsieck & C° Monopole is part of the Vranken-Pommery-Monopole group and therefore has a different owner than the other two Heidsieck houses. Heidsieck & C° Monopole does however share its early history with Piper-Heidsieck. Their standard Champagne is called Blue Top, the vintage Champagne is Gold Top and is composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay (refers to the 2005 vintage). The non-vintage top cuvée is called Cuvée Impératrice and is composed of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. Older vintages have the designation Millésimes d’Or.
    The house was founded in 1785 by Florens-Louis Heidsieck (1749-1828) from Westphalia. Heidsieck & C° was originally a trading company for cloth and wine, but got their focus on Champagne wines early on. In 1788, Florens-Louis presented his wine to Marie Antoinette, and in 1789 the house had already acquired a good reputation. The house was a big exporter early on, in particular to Russia and Germany. In 1814, the only son of Florens-Louis died, and he therefore brought four nephews into the company: Frédéric-Auguste Delius, Charles-Henri Heidsieck, Henri-Louis Walbaum, and Christian Heidsieck. In 1828, Florens-Louis died and left the company to Henri-Louis, Frédéric-Auguste, and Christian. Following various differences, the three cousins went separate ways in 1834, and Henri-Louis Walbaum (1813-1883) continued to run the company together with his brother-in-law Auguste Heidsieck (1796-1870), then under the name Heidsieck & C°. (The widow of Christian Heidsieck formed Piper-Heidsieck around this time.) In 1860, Walbaum and Heidsieck created the brand Monopole. Following the death of Auguste Heidsieck, his widow ran the house as “Veuve Heidsieck et Co, successeurs de Heidsieck & C°” for some years. She was succeeded by Florens Walbaum (-1893) and in 1882 again became Heidsieck & C°, while in 1889 it became “Walbaum, Luling, Goulden & CO, successeurs d’Heidsieck & C°” (apparently with some new partners brought in) and in 1907 “Walbaum Goulden & CO, successeurs d’Heidsieck & C°, Maison fondée en 1785”. In 1923, the house was bought by Édouard Mignot, the founder of a chain of shops called Les Comptoirs Français, and the name became Heidsieck & C° Monopole, by bringing the old brand into the company name. In 1972, the stock majority (84%) was bought by G.H. Mumm, and in 1985 they became fully owned by the Mumm group, which was then mostly owned by Seagram. In the late 1990s, Seagram started to sell off their Champagne holdings and since 1996 Heidsieck & C° Monopole is part of what today is known as the Vranken-Pommery-Monopole group. The purchase included 70 ha of vineyards. The former brand Diamant Bleu, which was used for their top Champagnes and was sold in transparent bottles, has been moved to Vranken by the current owner.
    In 1916, Heidsieck & C° Monopole shipped 3000 bottles of Champagne of the 1907 vintage to the Russian army. This shipment was loaded on the Swedish ship Jönköping en route from Gävle, Sweden to Rauma, Finland (which was then a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire), but on 3 November 1916, Jönköping was sunk by the German U-boat U-22. In 1997, the wreck was located by Swedish divers, with 2400 bottles of Champagne still on board. Bottles of this “wreck Champagne” have surfaced regularly at auctions ever since.
  • Charles Heidsieck is a high-quality sister house of Piper-Heidsieck and of the Heidsieck houses, this is the one with the most ambitious Champagnes and the smallest volume produced. What is special about them is the high proportion of old reserve wines in their non-vintage Champagne Brut Réserve. It includes 40% reserve wines of which the oldest are over 10 years of age, in some cases up to 15 years. This Champagne therefore shows more bready/biscuity notes of maturity than other “standard Champagnes” from major houses (and an almost oaky style despite no oak barrels being used in the production), and they have had this style since the early 1990s. The vintage when the bottle was laid the cellar is indicated on the back label (the base vintage is the year before), and also the year of disgorgement. The price tends to be quite reasonable considering what’s in the bottle. Brut Rosé includes 20% reserve wines, so the style is not quite the same. The same proportion is used for the newly (2018) added Blanc de Blancs. The vintage Champagnes are released at a rather high age; mid-2018 the youngest vintages released are 2006 for both the white and the rosé vintage Champagnes. The white is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. Their policy regarding vintage released is slightly odd; the white vintage Champagne jumped from vintage 2000 to 2005 in one step and the rosé from 1999 to 2006, which was released before 2005. (No releases from the excellent 2002 vintage and no regular vintage from the high-yielding but quite good 2004 vintage!) The current prestige cuvée is called Blanc de Millenaires, and is a 100% Chardonnay which has been produced since the 1983 vintage. The 2004 vintage was launched in early 2018 and followed the 1995, which was sold for a surprisingly log time, in different disgorgements. The former prestige cuvée was called Champagne Charlie, also included Pinot Noir, and was produced from the 1979 vintage to the 1985 vintage. The current owners have said that they will relaunch this cuvée some time 2021-2022 (the vintage hasn’t been revealed). Older vintages of different Champagnes are sold under then designation La Collection Crayères.

    Charles Heidsieck (1820-1871), “Champagne Charlie”. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons.

    The house was founded in 1851 by Charles Heidsieck, also known as “Champagne Charlie”, and his father Charles-Henri Heidsieck was a nephew of Florens-Louis Heidsieck who was behind the original Heidsieck & C° house. In his day, Champagne Charlie was particularly successful in the United States. The house Charles Heidsieck, which then was in trouble, was bought by Henriot in 1975, who in 1985 sold it on to Rémy Martin (which later became Rémy Cointreau). It was the change of ownership in 1985 which meant that Champagne Charlie stopped being produced, since Krug had the same owner which didn’t see the need of another Pinot-dominated prestige Champagne in their stable. Since 1988, Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck have had the same owner and have partly been managed together. In some periods they had the same chief wine maker, and in other periods separate ones. In  2011, both houses were bought by the luxury good investment company Européenne de Participation Industrielle (EPI), owned by the Descours family. In recent times, Charles Heidsieck has had two chief wine makers that died prematurely: Daniel Thibault who died in 2002 and Thierry Roset who died in 2014, at 55 years of age. Following the purchase of Charles Heidsieck by Rémy Martin in 1985, Thibault (who had been chief wine maker since 1975) got the task to produce the very best non-vintage Champagne on the market. This was how he got the financial means to build up the substantial quantity of reserve wines of sufficient age needed for the 40% reserve wines that since then have been used in the blend for their non-vintage Champagne. Originally, eight earlier vintages were used as reserve wines. In 1997, the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve was changed to the Brut Réserve Mis en Cave, which had a neck label indicating the year when the bottles had been laid in the cellar, which is the year after the base vintage. Three versions were launched at this time: Mis en Cave 1992, 1993, and 1994, with 1991, 1992, and 1993 as base vintage. This was very appreciated by Champagne geeks of the day, but many consumers misunderstood the Mis en Cave concept and thought they were vintage Champagnes from the year indicated on the neck label. The successor of Thibault, Régis Camus, therefore decided in 2004 to remove the Mis en Cave designation, but the information could still be found on the back label, with the exception of bottles disgorged in 2010-2011. In fall 2012, Brut Réserve and the rosé were launched in a new bottle shape, and the cuvée was adjusted to include fewer base wines (60 crus instead of 110-120) but even a little older reserve wines than previously. It might be mentioned that the original increase in quality was followed by reduced sales – from 3.5 million bottles annually just before the Rémy Martin purchase to just over 1 million bottles in the early 2000s. On the other hand, Piper-Heidsieck increased from 4.5 million to 7-8 million, so to a large extent this was a relative repositioning of the two houses under common ownership from 1988.
    Vintages of Champagne Charlie: 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985.
    Vintages of Blanc de Millenaires: 1983 (launched in 1993), 1985, 1990,  1995, 2004 (launched in 2018).

Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo jen, 2012).

  • Piper-Heidsieck, one of the largest Champagne houses, which in 2015 was in 8th place with sales of about 4.3 million bottles. The larger Piper-Hiedsieck and the smaller Charles Heidsieck have the same owner, but are run separately and have different wine makers. Together they have 65 ha of their own vineyards. Most of the Piper-Hiedsieck Champagnes are dominated by Pinot Noir, and their non-vintage Cuveé Brut is composed of 50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Pinot Meunier, and 15-20% Chardonnay, as includes 10-20% reserve wine. (The proportion of Meunier indicated on the website has increased somewhat in recent years; these numbers are from 2017.) Rosé Sauvage is characteristic among rosées from major houses for an unusually high proportion of red wine (20-25%) and therefore a deep rosé colour. The vintage Champagne is nowadays composned of about equal proportions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, after having formerly sometimes been Pinot Noir-dominated. The 2008 is 52% Chardonnay and 48% Pinot Noir. The prestige cuvée is called Rare and features a lot of gold detail on the bottle. It has been produced since the 1976 vintage. Nowadays (refers to the 2002 vintage, the most recent release) it is composed by 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, all from the Montagne de Reims, i.e., also the Chardonnay. In some former releases, Rare has been non-vintage. Raré Rosé was launched in fall 2016, in the 2007 vintage, and is composed of 56% Chardonnay and 44% Pinot Noir. Piper-Heidsieck is a house which in recent years have increased their quality.
    The house Heidsieck & C° was founded in 1785 by Florens-Louis Heidsieck, and its early history is described above under Heidsieck & C° Monopole. When Florens-Louis died in 1828, he left the company to his three nephews Henri-Louis Walbaum, Frédéric-Auguste Delius, and Christian Heidsieck. In 1834, the three cousins went separate ways, and Piper-Heidsieck originates from Christian Heidsieck (while Henri-Louis Walbaum ran what later became Heidsieck & C° Monopole). In 1835, Christian died. In 1838, his widow married Henri-Guillaume Piper, who had worked with Christian, and the name Piper-Heidsieck was created. In 1870, Henri-Guillaume died and management was taken over by Jacques-Charles Théodore Kunkelmann, who had worked in the company since 1851. His son Ferdinand-Théodore took over in 1892, and in 1926 his daughter Yolande married the marquis Jean de Suarez d’Aulan, who was an aviation pioneer. Their oldest son François d’Aulan took over in 1957, and continued until Rémy Martin (later Rémy Cointreau) took over the ownership in 1988. Since then, Piper-Heidsieck has had the same owner as Charles Heidsieck. In 2010, Rémy Cointreau announced that they wanted to sell their Champagne houses, due to financial problems when the financial crisis that started in 2007-08 had hit them and the Champagne sales had decreased. In 2011, both houses were bought by Européenne de Participation Industrielle (EPI), which is owned by the Descours family. This most recent change of ownership is seen by most as positive for the house, since the new owners seem to have higher ambitions. In 2013, their chief wine maker Régis Camus (who has been on the post since 1994) to the chef de cave of the year in Champagne by IWC.

    Composition of the vintage Champagne: 1996: 39% Ch/61% PN, 1996: 47% Ch/53% PN, 1998: 40% Ch/60% PN, 2000: 55% Ch/45% PN, 2004: 42% Ch/58% PN, 2006: 51% Ch/49% PN, 2008: 52% Ch/48% PN.
    Vintages of Rare: 1976, 1979, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1998, 1999 och 2002. (No 2004 was produced, but otherwise no information about future vintages.) In some releases, Rare has been non-vintage, but I don’t know if those bottles are the same as some vintage-dated release, or different.
    Vintages of Rare Rosé: 2007.
  • Henriot, a Champagne house of high quality and with a very classical style. At an annual volume of 1.2 million bottles (figure from 2015) Henriot is one of the “medium-sized” houses. They have 35 ha of vineyards of their own which provide 15-20% of their grape supplies. To me, the Champagnes of Henriot tend to come across as more dominated by Chardonnay than what the actual numbers say, and this is particularly true for the vintage and prestige Champagnes which both are about 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. They also count the 15-18% blanc de blancs produced by them as their flagship and Chardonnay as their favorite grape variety. Henriot often launches magnum versions of their vintage Champagne (both white and rosé) with additional age. From 2018, the prestige cuvée is called Cuvée Hemera and is named for the goddess of light in Greek mythology. The first vintage to be released under this name was 2005, and Henriot has stated that they wished for another style than their previous prestige Champagnes while the composition still is 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. The previous prestige release was the 2000 vintage and then the name of the prestige cuvée was still Cuvée des Enchanteleurs. This was always released at a rather high age and it was common for several vintages at the same time to be available on the market. The name Enchanteleurs was introduced in the 1985 vintage. Before it was called Cuvée Baccarat, but later releases of older vintages have also been called Cuvée des Enchanteleurs. The 1999 vintage was produced in a limited edition in magnum only and was given the additional name Eclipse, after a solar eclipse that year. Cuvée 38 is a prestige blanc de blancs produced in a solera (which means it’s non-vintage) and it was launched in 2014. Cuvée 38 is only sold in magnum, currently in a volume of 1000 per year. The foundation of Cuvée 38 was laid in the excellent vintage 1990 when a 480 hl tank of Chardonnay was set aside. In each vintage, 1.5%-20% of the content is renewed depending of the quality of the vintage.
    The house was founded in 1808 as Veuve Henriot Ainé by the then 33 year old Apolline Henriot (born Godinot), widow of Nicolas Henriot. Apolline was related to Abbé Godinot, who is one of the well-known names in the Champagne history. After Apolline, the grandson Ernest Henriot took over. After him his newphew Paul Henriot took over. In 1880, Paul had married Marie Marguet, who owned vineyards in the Côte des Blancs. Paul’s son Etienne Henriot (1889-1957) took over in 1926. Under Etienne, the vineyard holdings expanded to almost 110 ha with a focus on grand cru vineyards. Etienne’s son Joseph Henriot (1936-2015) started in the company in 1957, when his father died, and took over in 1962. Henriot bought Charles Heidsieck in 1975, but sold to Rémy Martin in 1985. In 1987 Henriot was bought, then with 125 ha of vineyards, by Moët-Hennessy, and in exchange the Henriot became shareholders. Joseph Henriot became a board member of LVMH and head of Veuve Clicquot. In 1994, Joseph Henriot bought back Henriot from Moët-Hennessy/LVMH. Joseph expanded their holdings to Burgundy; in 1995 they bought Bouchard Père & Fils in Beaune (including 130 ha of vineyards, of which 12 ha grand cru and 75 ha premier cru), which was followed by a substantial increase in quality at Bouchard over the next 10 years, and in 1998 they bought William Fèvre in Chablis. In 2004 the distribution company Lejay-Lagoute followed and in 2008 Villa Ponciago (50 ha of vineyards) in Fleurie in Beaujolais. Joseph’s son Thomas Henriot took over in 2008.
    Réserve Baron Philippe de Rothschild was a vintage Champagne produced by Henriot in the vintages 1965-1981 (1982?), in a period when they had a distribution and marketing collaboration with the baron (who owned Mouton Rothscild). I have contradictory claims if it was on the level of a prestige Champagne (both Rotschild and Baccarat was produced in a number of vintages) or a regular vintage Champagne.
    Vintages of Cuvée Hemera: 2005.
    Vintages of Cuvée des Enchanteleurs (Cuvée Baccarat for original releases before 1985) include: 1970 (released about 1980), 1976, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985 (the first original Enchanteleurs, released about 1995), 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999 (only in magnum), 2000. (None of the vintages 2001-2004 were produced.)
  • Irroy, an old Champagne house now owned by Taittinger. Doesn’t have a website of their own and is run as a secondary brand by Taittinger.
    The house was founded in 1820.

The courtyard of Krug, on this occasion filled with the oak barrels characteristic of their production. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo by me, 2010).

  • Krug, a legendary and prestigious Champagne house that I consider to be the very best, both within UMC and in Champagne as a whole. The entire production is vinified in used oak barrels and all Krug Champagnes are, on good grounds, considered prestige cuvées (and are priced accordingly). Krug keeps a high quality of their grape material by handling much smaller batches of grapes and base wine than other houses, which makes it possible for them to mak use of small plots of good grapes wherever they find them. They also use a certain proportion of Pinot Meunier, which is unusual in prestige cuvées. Villages of origin for this Meunier is usually Saint-Gemme and Villevenard. The cuvée produced in the largest volume, Krug Grande Cuvée, has a very high proportion of base wines with a high age. It is composed of about 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier. Using the terminology of Krug, Grande Cuvée is a “multivintage” Champagne. (They don’t like the term non-vintage.) Krug always manage to keep a very high quality in all their releases, due to their large stocks of old reserve wines of intrinsic high quality, but the vintage style comes though to some extent. This means that some Grande Cuvée releases will be more in need of cellaring than others. In recent years, Grande Cuvée has also started to get more time on its cork before release, so they tend to be more ready to drink already at purchase, compare to the situation some years ago. On bottles delivered from late 2011, thre is also information on the label (initially the back label, now the front label) which makes it possible to figure out which base vintage and batch is in the bottle. This makes it possible to get information about the exact varietal composition, via the Krug website.  Here is page where i explain how to figure this out, to some extent also on older bottles. The Édition number, added most recently to the front label, is the easiest to explain. One number is used per year, add 1844 to get the base vintage. (The hypothetic 1er Édition = base vintage 1845.) Examples: 164ème = base 2008, 165ème = base 2009, 166ème = base 2010. Krug Rosé is the multivintage (i.e., non-vintage in the vernacular) rosé version. It is an assemblage rosé which includes about 10% red Pinot Noir from the base vintage. The blend for Krug Rosé isn’t quite the same as for the white Krug Grande Cuvée, because it doesn’t include quite as old reserve wines. The composition is about 50-60% Pinot Noir, 30-40% Chardonnay, and about 10% Pinot Meunier. Nowadays, the rosé gets about the same time in the cellar as he Grande Cuvée, while it used to be sold a little younger. Krug Rosé has also been included into the Edition numbering, a little later than Grande Cuvée, and with different numbers. Add 1987 to the Edition number to get the base vintage.(1er Édition = base vinatge 1988.) Examples: 20ème = base 2007, 21ème = base 2008. Krug Vintage is the regular vintage Krug with approximately the same varietal composition as Grande Cuvée, but is sold with a slightly higher age and is on average even a little better. The most recently released vintage (in 2017) is the 2004. Krug Vintage is produced if the vintage is good enough, and when they don’t need to set aside everything as reserve wine for the Krug Grande Cuvée. Vintage Krug sold at a higher age is called Krug Collection, and the most recent release (as of 2017) is 1990. (1988 hasn’t been released yet.) Krug produces two single-variety vineyard-designated Champagnes at a higher price point: Clos du Mesnil (100% Chardonnay) since the 1979 vintage (launched in 1986) and Clos d’Ambonnay since the 1995 vintage. Clos du Mesnil originates from a 1.84 ha vineyard inside Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, and has by several knowledgeable commentators been dubbed the world’s best Champagne. Although it is a blanc de blancs, it is a Krug first, and there is a distinct similarity to the Krug Vintage. It is usually launched at about the same time as the Krug Vintage of the same vintage. In some vintages (e.g. 1992), a Clos du Mesnil has been released although no Krug Vintage was produced. Clos d’Ambonnay originates from a 0.68 ha vineyard in Ambonnay and is sold at a noticeably higher price than the Clos du Mesnil. Clos d’Ambonnay is released a little later than the Clos du Mesnil, and I think this is due to a slow turnover of the bottles, i.e., they have been priced a wee bit high when they were introduced. I’ve never tasted it, but stylistically it is said to be close to Krug Vintage.
    The house was founded in 1843 by Joseph Krug, who used to work for Jacquesson, which was then in Châlons-en-Champagne. In 1977, Krug was purchased by Rémy Martin (later Rémy Cointreau), and was sold in 1999 to LVMH, where it is run independently within the group, e.g., in terms of grape supply.
    Already in 1848, Joseph Krug wrote down the product philosophy which has guided the Krug range every since. He opined that a good Champagne house should only produce two Champagnes of the same quality. Champagne No.1 should be produced every year and Champagne No.2 should express a certain vintage. No.1 is today’s Krug Grande Cuvée and No.2 is Krug Vintage. (I think we should excuse Joseph Krug for not prognosticating a later interest in rosé Champagne or vineyard-designated Champagnes.) Not to have several Champagnes at different quality levels was a different idea – then as now. The non-vintage/multivintage version of Krug used to be called Private Cuvée, but changed its name to Grande Cuvée in 1978.
    In 1971, several vineyard plots in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger were bought, including Clos du Mesnil. After spending some years getting the vineyard in sufficiently good shape, the first Krug Clos du Mesnil was produced in 1979. After some years of experimenting with a rosé, they decided in 1983 to start the production. In 1994, Clos d’Ambonnay was bought after Krug having had their eyes on it for some years. The first vintage of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay was the 1995.

    Vintages of Krug Vintage since 1969: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003 (released before 2002), 2004. Future vintages not produced include 2012 (was needed as reserve wine for GC).
    Vintages of Krug Clos du Mesnil: 1979 (the first vintage), 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003 (released before 2002), 2004.
    Vintages of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay: 1995 (the first vintage), 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002.
    Blog post about a Decanter Masterclass with Krug in 2011.
    Blog post about a visit at Krug in 2014.
    Blog post about a Krug Grande Cuvée tasting in 2014, and more about Grande Cuvée.

The Lanson main building in Reims. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo Sabrinaharmas, 2013).

  • Lanson, one of the largest houses in Champagne, in 2015 on 9th place among all Champagne houses with a sale of about 4.2 million bottles. Today part of the Lanson-BCC group and recognisable by the Maltese cross on their labels. More than 500 ha of vineyards is used in their production. Characteristic for Lanson is that their Champagnes are produced with no malolactic fermentation (which under their current wine maker is about to change to “mostly without malolactic fermentation”), and therefore are long-lived. The style of Lanson is classical in the sense that no oak barrels are used (with one small exception). The non-vintage Black Label is composed of 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier. The style it is produced in means that it often combines Pinot notes with a very distinct acidity, and it is typically the most long lived among the non-vintage “standard Champagnes” of the major houses. Extra Age is a series of non-vintage Champagnes with a longer cellaring before release, that is usually composed of three vintages (which are sometimes mentioned) and a different grape material than the Black Label. At the launch in 2009, the white Extra Age was composed of the vintages 1999, 2002, and 2003, and there was 60% Pinot Noir + 40% Chardonnay. Extra Age exists in three versions: white blended, rosé, and blanc de blancs. Ivory Label is a Demi-Sec (off-dry/sweet) which in the past also has been available in a vintage version. Green Label is an organic non-vintage Lanson from vineyards in Verneuil, launched in 2017. The vintage Champagne is called Gold Label (the name used to be Red Label) and is composed of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir (refers to the 2005 vintage). Lanson also relases recently disgorged bottles of older vintages under the name Vintage Collection but their price point is higher than their prestige Champagnes when newly released. The  prestige Champagne is called Noble Cuvée and exists as white blended, blanc de blancs, and a non-vintage rosé. The white blended has existed since the 1978 vintage. Noble Cuvée Blanc de Blancs was added later and replaced a Blanc de Blancs sold in a similar bottle from the 1989 vintage. Noble Cuvée is released at a high age; current vintages for both the blended and the blanc de blancs is 2002 (relased in fall 2017, last among the major houses; magnums are released later). The blended 2002 is composed of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Lanson is a house where I think the prestige – Noble Cuvée – often has ended up in the shadow of the regular vintage Champagne in terms of attention. A vineyard-desugnated Champagne named Clos Lanson, with 2006 as the first vintage, was launched in 2016. Clos Lanson is located behind Lanson’s facilities in Reims, is made up of Chardonnay only and is vinified in oak barrels, unlike the rest of the range.
    The house was founded in 1760 by François Delamotte, who through his wife had vineyards in Cumières and Aÿ. The house got its characteristic Maltese cross by the founder’s son Nicolas-Louis Delamotte, who was a Maltese knight. After his death, Jean-Baptiste Lanson took over the company in 1837, and it then became J-B Lanson et Compagnie. In 1855, the son of Jean-Baptise, Victor-Marie Lanson, took over the house which was then renamed Lanson Père et Fils. Victor Lanson took over the house in 1928, and in 1937 he renamed the non-vintage brut of the house to Black Label, i.e., a name in English, because Lanson sold so much to the United Kingdom. Victor’s son Etienne Lanson took over in 1967. He was the last of the Lanson family to led the house. The ownership of Lanson has changed several times in the last decades. In 1980, Lanson was sold by Etienne and Pierre Lanson to the Gardinier group. In 1984 both Lanson and Pommery fell in the hands of BSN (formerly BSN-Gervais Danone, later Danone). In 1990, both these houses were sold to Moët-Hennesy/LVMH for 3.1 billion francs (473 million euro using the 1999 conversion rate). In 1994, Lanson was bought by Marne et Champagne, which then changed its name to Lanson International. At the sale, Moët-Hennessy kept the vineyards that Lanson used to have, which are supposed to have been 210 ha in excellent locations. This large vineyard holding had to a large extent been built up in the 1930s by Victor and Henri Lanson. In 2006, Lanson International was bought by Boizel Chanoine Champagne (BCC) for 122.7 million euro (but then there were also 400 million euro of debt in the company). The price also included the former activities of Marne et Champagne, the Champagne house Besserat de Bellefon, and four Bordeaux châteaux. At the purchase, the Mora family owned 55% of Lanson International, and the investment bank Caisse d’Epargne 45%. The new group then became the second largest in Champagne. In 2010, BCC changed its name to Lanson-BCC. Lanson’s facilities at Rue de Courlancy in the south of Reims was originally built for the house Binet and was finished in 1886.
    Vintages released of Lanson Noble Cuvée since 1978 (possibly not complete): 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002. Future vintages are 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012, and probably 2013 and 2015.
    Vintages released of Noble Cuvée Blanc de Blancs since 1989 (possibly not complete): 1989*, 1990*, 1994*, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2002. * = under the name Blanc de Blancs in a similar bottle.
    Vintages released of Clos Lanson since 2006: 2006. The aim seems to be to produce every vintage, and all 2007-2015 have been shown at “pre-tastings”.
    Blog post about Lanson Extra Age.


© Tomas Eriksson 2018, last update 2018-12-17

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