I have watched the various releases of the 2013 Champagne vintage with interest. As I recall, aside from a tricky period at flowering, which affects yield not quality, 2013 was characterised by a long, cool growing season without any real extremes of temperature. On paper, it sounded like it should make for a good Champagne vintage as such conditions bode well for complexity and acidity. In reality, it was trickier than my simple summation as some vineyards struggled to achieve full ripeness in such cool conditions, though oddly enough, those vineyards that were affected by poor flowering, which served to lower the yield, had the best chance of ripening as the vines’ efforts were concentrated on a smaller crop. It is odd to think how nature can often compensate. The result of all of this is a mixed year with varying results, but where they are good, they are actually very good, indeed, as my tastings have revealed sometimes exceptional.
Consensus amongst the critics, whether it be Antonio Galloni on vinous.com or Michael Edwards on Decanter’s website, seems to suggest that 2013 is a year for Chardonnay, with many Blanc de Blancs impressing, which leads me to the wine in question, the remarkably consistent, hugely impressive Coeur du Cuvée from Vilmart. Laurent Champs has crafted a great 2013 with his Chardonnay showing fine ripeness and concentration as well as very good acidity and a low pH. By way of background, 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. 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 such as Peter Liem of Champagneguide.net heap on the praise…‘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’. This is a bold statement, particularly when you consider none of Vilmart's vineyards are classified Grand Cru.
Vilmart belongs in a very select group of Champagne producers, several of whom I am proud to say feature prominently in our range. Vilmart is now established in that group with their flagship Coeur de Cuvée taking centre-stage. No major critics have published their notes, so please see my note below.