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Marie Courtin - Champagne Gets Dirty


Marie Courtin Resonance Extra Brut
Polisot, Champagne, France
Pinot Noir

Marie Courtin Efflorescence Extra Brut
Polisot, Champagne, France
Pinot Noir

We often think of Champagne as a solid bloc, opaque in its otherness, the one big idea overwhelming any sense of its constituent parts. Even those of us who have learned to embrace bubbles at the table, in everyday (and not just special) occasions, don't necessarily have a clear vision of Champagne as a place, multifaceted, dynamic, with its own divisions of class, philosophy, size, style and so on.

It helps to consider Champagne first as a region, breaking it down by geography. Here's a great infographic from the site Wine Folly.

Image courtesy of Wine Folly

These sub-regions really are distinct from one another, as much so as the colors that represent them on this map (apologies to the colorblind).

In a Times article from 2011, Eric Asimov noted a shift in global attention from the grandes marques of the Marne to the vignerons of the Aube. "Rather than the hushed pop of the cork and the silken rush of bubbles, these Champagnes suggest soil on the boots and dirt under the fingernails," he writes. That's the way it's gone ever since. Champagne doesn't have to be pretentious — peel back the curtain and you'll see calloused hands at work.

For decades, longer, growers in the Aube were seen as just that: growers, southern farmers who sold their crop to the rich producers in the north. But lately a small group of strong-headed grower-producers in Aube have begun to change that dynamic, leveraging their skills as farmers for a different kind of Champagne, emphasizing the specific over the general. In Aube, it's not so much about blending for consistency as it is searching for the soul of a wine.

Dominique Moreau has been at it for just over a decade in the village of Polisot, in the Aube, farming biodynamic vineyards, fermenting with native yeasts, and otherwise letting the vines do as much of the work as possible. She makes vintage wines from single vineyards, one varietal at a time, bucking everything typical about Champagne of the last century. This is the future of Champagne: a one-woman show, centered on the intuitive aspects of winemaking, that elevates dirt to its rightful place.

Her mainstays are Resonance and Efflorescence, both Extra Brut (see chart above), the former fermented in stainless steel tanks, the latter in oak barrels. The estate is named for Moreau's grandmother, Marie Courtin, "a woman of the earth." And she's been known to use pendulums to read the energy of her grapes, on the vine and in the cellar. It's a spiritual approach, in her words.

These are wines that happen to be bubbly. Hardy, firm, driven by the soils in which they're grown and the conditions of a particular vintage. In other words, wines focused on terroir, in the Burgundian style. They are the vanguard for the 21st Century in Champagne.