The Champagnes of Vilmart are not short of endorsements, and yet, somehow, despite the surge of interest witnessed in the Champagne market last year, they seem to be something of an insider’s secret. It doesn’t really add up when you consider how strong the following statements are:
‘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 am also surprised that the range of Champagnes from Vilmart is not routinely reviewed; no notable critic has yet pronounced on the 2015 Coeur de Cuvée. I was lucky enough to taste a sample and once more was hugely impressed by the quality on show. I have followed this estate for quite some time (since the 1996 vintage in fact) 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.
Laurent commented as follows on the 2015 vintage:
‘The vintage 2015 was an incredible vintage, we had simultaneously high temperatures and very low rainfall during a good part of the vegetative phase of the vine. In Autumn, it was very mild, the mildest in over 20 years. But in August, it was very sunny like in 2003. We have not been victim of any disease whether it is mildew, oidium or any other. We began the harvest on the 10 September, The grapes had a beautiful maturity with no rot and perfect sanitary condition. I could say, the vintage could perhaps be compared to 2013, for the maturity and the structure. Although, of course 2013 was a late harvest in october and 2015 from 10th to 20th September. 2015 has a beautiful balance, with great complexity of flavours and good structure.’
Please see my full note below – it is clear this is a vintage in which Vilmart excelled.