‘Vilmart is the greatest grower Champagne I know…the Vilmart range begins at brilliant and just keeps getting better.’ Tom Stevenson, leading specialist Champagne writer.
‘Vilmart & Cie. is not only one of the greatest grower-estates in Champagne, but one of the finest champagne producers of any type in the region.’ Peter Liem, champagneguide.net
‘This is one of Champagne's top estates, and the wines reviewed here come warmly recommended.’ Willam Kelley, robertparker.com
‘These are majestic wines that no one who loves fine champagne will want to be without.’ Antonio Galloni, vinous.com
I think you get the picture. There are so many great quotes that testify to the quality of Vilmart’s champagnes. I have followed this estate for quite some time (since the 1996 vintage) and I would suggest that, if anything, the range has stepped up in recent years. I rate Laurent Champs’ wines as highly as any produced in Champagne today and, even in challenging years, Laurent’s wines tend to come in among the handful of wines that constitute the best of the vintage.
Laurent is the fifth generation of his family to run Vilmart & Cie, which can trace its history back to 1890. Vilmart has always made its own wines from its own vineyards – a récoltant-manipulant as the French say. They own 11 hectares of vineyard in Rilly-La-Montagne, about five kilometres to the south of Reims in the region known as the Montagne de Reims. Their vineyards are planted largely with Chardonnay (60%) and Pinot Noir (36%) with the balance Pinot Meunier and total annual production comes in at a modest 8,500 cases. Interestingly, Laurent has never employed herbicides or chemical fertilizers since he assumed control of the estate.
To the best of my knowledge, Laurent has always vinified the base wines in oak, some of which is new, yet you wouldn’t tell that easily and, as the years have passed, the use of oak has become increasingly sensitive and refined. The wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation either, and dosage is kept to a modest 7 grams per litre. With Vilmart, you quickly get the sense that the potential of the fruit at harvest is the focus, as Laurent has an uncanny habit of turning out great champagnes in challenging vintages. As Antonio Galloni once commented, ‘one of the things I admire most about Laurent Champs is his ability to turn out not just good – but great – wines in challenging years in which other growers struggle.’ It is in such years that growers demonstrate their skill, and it should be said that comparatively few can match Vilmart for sheer consistency. It is no surprise, when you consider this approach, coupled with high-class winemaking, that critics are so ready to heap praise on this small producer. At this point, it is worth noting that none of Vilmart's vineyards are classified Grand Cru…but you wouldn’t tell that from the quality in the glass.
The Coeur de Cuvée is the flagship wine, and no critic has yet released a note. I am typing this with a glass in front of me and can happily confirm the 2014 has outstanding potential. Antonio Galloni has tasted the 2014 Grand Cellier d’Or from Vilmart on two occasions, choosing to increase his score and comment that ‘the 2014 Brut Grand Cellier d'Or is one of the best vintages of this wine I can remember tasting. Bright, explosive and full of energy, the 2014 captures a striking balance of depth and vibrancy.’ The Grand Cellier d’Or is one rung down the ladder from Coeur du Cuvée, but if he has found those traits in that wine, I look forward to his review of the Coeur du Cuvée in due course.
We know that 2014 is not a year of generalised success, but Vilmart is not a wine to be judged by the success of the major marques. It is a grower champagne crafted on a small scale. The 2014 is not to be missed.
Please see my full note below.