Seven Families, One Champagne House

Jean-Philippe Moulin could have simply retired in 2007 when he stepped down as head winemaker at Champagne Ruinart, Champagne’s oldest House. Instead he joined Champagne Paul Goerg as managing director and head winemaker, choosing to learn about Champagne from the point of view of the growers. Paul Goerg is an association of seven families with more than a hundred relatives who collectively own and farm nearly three hundred acres of Premier and Grand Cru vineyards in the area known as the Côte des Blancs. Freed from vying with competitors to purchase the best grapes, Jean-Philippe’s work now begins with cultivating exceptional quality fruit. Subsequently, he manages each detail of the Champagne-making process from pressing, to vinification, blending and disgorgement.

The families behind Paul Goerg began collaborating in the 1950s, providing fresh-pressed chardonnay to well established Houses such as Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger, and Charles Heidsieck for use in their blends. In 1984, the families set out to build their own line of Champagnes named for Paul Goerg, the renowned négociant and mayor of the village of Vertus, remembered for his passionate commitment to preserving the quality of the local vineyards.

The Paul Goerg Blanc de Blancs Brut is an ideal place to begin to understand Champagne, not just as a party drink, but as a fine wine and aesthetic experience. The Champagne is 100% chardonnay sourced from Premier Cru vineyards at the base of the Montagne de Reims. There, the south-facing slopes provide rich supple wines and the east-facing slopes yield wines that are firmer and more mineral driven. Made with 40% reserve wine and aged for more than three years before being released, the Champagne has fine bubbles, delicate citrus and acacia aromas, and a long creamy finish. Serve it as an aperitif or with seafood, sushi, or sole meuniér.

The Gold Standard in Grower Champagne

Terry Theise calls himself an introvert capable of portraying an extrovert in small doses. In those small doses he has done more than perhaps any person on earth to bring respect, attention and legions of fans to the grace and precision of rieslings from the classic growing regions of Germany and Austria. With far less fanfare, and arguably even greater success, over the last decade and a half he has also introduced Americans to the pleasures of ‘grower Champagne’. Today his portfolio, Terry Theise Estate Selections, is the gold standard of this category, broadly defined as sparkling wines from the Champagne region produced by the estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. Grower Champagnes can be identified by the presence of the initials RM (for récolant-manipulant) in tiny print on the wine label. At their best, grower Champagnes express choice vineyard sites and artisanal winemaking. For example, Denis Varnier of Varnier-Fanniére forgoes temperature-controlled fermentation when making his Grand Cru Champagnes, and Alexandre Chartogne of Chartogne-Taillet includes within his blends a high percentage of wines from older vintages. This gives his final Champagnes a sense of integration and richness.

Grower Champagnes can sometimes deliver higher quality at lower prices than the large Champagne firms , since large PR and marketing budgets are not built into the cost of each bottle. But not all grower Champagnes are created equal. With their soaring popularity, it can be difficult to sort the transcendent from the mediocre. That’s why it’s helpful to have a passionate and experienced treasure hunter as your curator. If you look at the back of a Champagne bottle and see it is one of the Terry Theise Estate Selections, you are in for the real deal.