The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 45 of 124

{ cover story } { }  45 The late, great Jim Croce sang wistfully about how he wished he could capture "time in a bottle . . ." It seems—sadly for him—that he never had the chance to discover Cristal, but for three sommeliers: June Rodil, MS (Mcguire Moorman, AustIn), Pierre Lasserre (The Carlton Club, Chicago) and Diego Ruiz de Porras (The Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles), guests of Champagne Louis Roederer in Reims, this was not going to be an issue. They were in Champagne for two days to witness the harvest and learn more about Roederer's iconic cuvée Cristal from none other than Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, the Chef de Cave. When he was appointed Chef de Cave in 1999 at the age of just 33, Jean-Baptiste insisted that he be put in charge of the vineyards as well. He had a vision of the future of Cristal in which the wine is inextricably linked to the vineyard, and he's turning that vision into reality. WITH THREE AMERICAN SOMMS, WE VISIT ROEDERER FOR THE HARVEST OF GRAPES DESTINED FOR by Jiles Halling / photos by Eric Vandenbossche Cristal and Cristal Rosé Simplicity amidst Complexity Picking gets under way under a bright blue sky with a beautiful fall freshness just creeping into the air. The vendangeoir in Avize is a hive of activity, but it looks to be a smooth-running operation with everyone knowing exactly what to do and when. "My job is to simplify everyone else's job." explains Jean-Baptiste, "If all goes well, I won't be needed at all and then we'll all be happy." Simplicity amidst complexity—it was a theme that would crop up again. 2015 has been a "continental" year in Champagne: warm and dry, rather than an "oceanic" year : cool and damp. The balance between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varies every year, with more Pinot Noir in continental years . Both varieties are essential, but Jean-Baptiste admits to a weakness for Chardonnay. "Chardonnay is all about freedom—it brings a smile to the wine," and some of the best Chardonnay is to be found in Avize, which he calls "the Montrachet of Champagne." However, he's quick to point out that Cristal is not a varietal wine; it's not a climate wine either—it's a sub-soil wine, a terroir wine if you like but, rather than individual plots, it's the estate as a whole—the 90 hectares out of the 240 hectares owned by Louis Roederer that are reserved for creating Cristal and Cristal Rosé— that determines the Cristal identity. Then this consistency of identity and origin translates into consistency of taste, although as Jean-Baptiste admits with a smile, exactly how the team achieves this each year is a bit more freestyle. Elegance and freshness are essential so all the plots in the Cristal estate are on slopes where the chalk is barely 40 centimeters beneath the surface. Chalk allows the grape to fully ripen and still retain acidity, but freshness, according to Jean-Baptiste, is not the same thing as acidity. "Sometimes people pick grapes too young in order to get acidity, but they lose aromatic ripeness which is much more important. Freshness is more about dryness." "In touch with the vines." Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon makes a point about farming in the Roederer vineyards. A basket press ready for action during the 2015 harvest of grapes for Cristal.

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