29 October, 2002

We need a clos as well

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Lanson in downtown Reims wants to make the most of the one and only hectare of vines, it controls completely: Another clos on its way.

The house of Krug will introduce a new clos champagne next spring. The house of Lanson are working on the same exercise with one hectare of vines, that grow within its walls downtown Reims. Bollinger has its Vieilles Vignes, and amongst others Billecart-Salmon, Duval-Leroy and Philiponnat have their own clos too. Headline: Trend with capital T.

At the moment it is not easy to increase your number of bottles in Champagne - the houses have difficulties to find more grapes to meet demand. Instead they focus more on better bottles than before. The philosophy behind the clos is a simply perfect match. The word means enclosure, the vines grow in a delimited area, typically behind walls.

A matter of legislation
Now, the problem is, you cannot just let yourself be carried away by the spirit of the times: Raise some walls, plant some vines and double the price. A clos is only a clos with a significant amount of age: That is, it must be a clos historically. Whether it meets these criteria, is the decision of INAO (the authority, that amongst others controls the AOC's). The clos of Krug for instance dates back to the middle of the 18th century. The concept goes hand in hand with an exclusive imange and the wish of more special and expensive bottles.

Funny to think, that a clos-champagne has been made of grapes from one single vineyard, which is the exact opposite of the normal philosophy behind champagnes, where you normally mix your cuvée from a number of basewines from different vineyards.

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Philiponnat in the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ was first to introduce the idea of a clos.

The house of Philipponat came first. It introduced its Clos des Goisses as early as the 1930'es. According to Charles Philiponnat the average temperature is one and a half degree Celsius warmer inside the walls. That is, I suppose, a sort of super microclimate within the walls compared to the other side. This is also the only real fact, I have seen, about the difference of a clos compared to any other vineyard without walls.

With five hectares you can hardly call thee Clos des Goisses scarce. Certainly not when you compare with collegues like the two vineyards of nongrafted, old vines of Bollinger: All in all they cover a bit less than half a hectare. Billecart-Salmons clos-vineyard has enough vines to fill 5.500 bottles - numbered of course - r and the famous Clos du Ménil of Krug fills 12.000 bottles from a vineyard of 1,85 hectares.

The new Krug is made from vines grown in the village of Ambonnay in the Montagne de Reims. It is a blanc de noirs-champagne - 100 percent Pinot Noir. A true contrast to the existing clos of Krug, which is a blanc de blancs from Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs. True to the philosophy of ultimate discretion of Krug - it adds to the expectations and may persuade your hand to dig a bit deeper in the pocket - they have revealed very little about such banalities as for instance price. The same philosophy as that of the Clos du Mésnil.

Pricewise the clos-champagnes cover anything from between 30 and 50 euros for the cheaper ones - amongst them Cattier, Cazals and Vesselle - up to 500 euros for the most expensive ones - Krug and Bollinger.

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One of the Bollinger plots of Vieilles Vignes in Aÿ. This is what vineyards looked like all over Champagne before the phylloxera-epidemic wiped out allmost all ungrafted vines in Champagne.

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