Champagne Part II: Visit to Jeaunaux-Robin
Champagne Jeaunaux-Robin (the third producer I visited in Champagne – you can read about the first two in my previous post) is located in the wee village (population 100!) of Talus-Saint-Prix, about an hour’s drive south of Reims. The history of the house is that co-owner Cyril Jeaunaux’s grandmother owned a small plot (1 hectare) of vineyards and sold her grapes to the Champagne cooperative. When Cyril’s parents took over in 1971, they started making wine and over time, purchased or leased more land to grow grapes, and also built and added onto the winery operation.
A Family Affair
Jeaunaux-Robin now has 5 employees (including Cyril and Clémence, co-owner and Cyril’s wife) and produces about 12,000 bottles per year, of which about 25% is exported, but it’s available in the U.S. only in California right now. Cyril’s parents are retired, but they still live in Talus-Saint-Prix (according to Clémence, “about 20 metres down the street”) and help out at the domaine during busy times. The two grape presses are housed in garage-like structures behind the house and the winery. And talk about a small family operation – the bikes belonging to Cyril and Clémence’s 3 boys are parked in a garage just adjacent to the press house.
But don’t for a minute think that “small” means “unsophisticated.” The winery is built into the hillside so that gravity is used to move the precious juice from press to holding tanks to stainless steel fermentation tanks. In 2001, they built a large cellar into the hillside also, and have purchased riddling machines to mechanize the process for getting the lees into the neck of the bottle for disgorging. (If the last sentence read like Greek to you, check out this WineFolly article on how Champagne is made.) In 2002, they began experimenting with aging the base wine in oak barrels to add additional dimension to their cuvees. They’ve also added another hectare in another area of Champagne (the Aube) on which they are growing more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to give their blended wines further depth and complexity.
All Hail Pinot Meunier!
Jeaunaux-Robin produces a number of different cuvees, all of which Clémence graciously allowed me to taste. The environment (or terroir) of Talus-Saint-Prix is best for growing the least-known of the three grapes permitted to be used in Champagne, Pinot Meunier. (The other two – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – are the ones that usually get all the glam and glory.) Jeaunaux-Robin uses this to their advantage, creating unique wines that feature Pinot Meunier.
My two favorite wines of the tasting were the Zero Brut Sélection and the Brut Rosé de Saignée.
- The Zero Brut Sélection is 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, with (as the name implies) zero sugar added in the final dosage, creating a very crisp and delicious wine with gorgeous floral aromas and biscuit notes. The proportion of the grapes in the cuvee is roughly equivalent to the ratio of grapes that Jeauneaux-Robin has planted, so there is a very nice symmetry there. And although this is zero Brut, even their Brut cuvees are at the lower allowed limit of sugar in the dosage, as they feel that the lower sugar allows for the most honest expression of the grapes. (I’d agree!)
- The Brut Rosé de Saignée is 100% Pinot Meunier, and is made by macerating the grape skins along with the juice for anywhere from 10-15 hours to create the rosé base wine. (Most rosé Champagnes are made by simply blending white base wine with red base wine to obtain the rosy color.) The de saignée method is quite labor intensive, requiring constant monitoring to ensure that the perfect color is realized for the base wine. In fact, Clémence told me that during this year’s harvest, they realized that the ideal coloration had been reached at 11:00 at night…which meant that they worked through the night to capture perfection. With such a small operation, that is true dedication to making great wine! (Or as my frequent travel and wine tasting partner-in-crime CC would say, “you can really taste the love in this wine.”)
Love is also evident in the wines of another small producer I visited: Yves Jacopé. In the final post on Champagne, I’ll review this visit, as well as my final morning in Champagne with a sunlit walk down the “Rodeo Drive” of Champagne: the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay. For now, au revoir!