For me it’s the people behind the champagne as much as the champagne itself that really make the difference between one champagne and another.
Take Hugues Godmé for example.
When you meet Hughes Godmé he'll probably strike you as a modest sort of man, not given to large gestures or loud statements and certainly not someone who will boast about how wonderful his champagnes are, but there again he doesn't need to resort to gimmicks.
Well, first of all his champagnes speak for themselves and secondly he has a secret weapon that is incredibly simple but which very few other champagne makers use and it was only last week that I discovered what it is.
Last Thursday I was asked to go along to Champagne Godmé to act as their interpreter for a group of sommeliers, restaurateurs and other champagne lovers from Texas.
Godmé is in Verzenay which is the next door village to Verzy, where I live, so it was on with the walking boots and off I set for a 20 minute walk through the vineyards.
It can be a bit damp here in the early weeks of the year, but there’s still something beautiful about being out in the vineyards as you can see from this picture taken about halfway between Verzy and Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims
If you don't know Champagne Godmé it is well worth discovering.
If you follow the reviews in the various wine magazines and by the many wine writers out there you'll be comforted to know that the Wine Spectator has rated Godmé Brut Réserve 53rd amongst the year's Top 100 wines of the world (pretty impressive seeing that they must taste thousands of wines) and that Brad Baker, the Champagne Warrior, also rates Godmé highly
Our visitors from Texas certainly had a wonderful visit too and were treated to an eye-opening tasting of the 2011 base wines, still in vat or barrel, plus 6 champagnes (8 had been prepared but we ran out of time - too much talking I’m afraid )
Godmé is intriguing champagne in many ways.
When he took over the running of the family business 30 years or so ago now, people used to think Hugues was bit odd because of his insistence on using as few artificial treatments on the vines as possible.
He's taken that several steps further over the years and now the estate is in the process of converting entirely to bio-dynamic production.
You can tell from the way Monsieur Godmé talks that he is deeply committed to looking after the land and that he loves his work.
He is horrified by people who have a planned programme for uprooting vines, and replanting with young stock, just because the vines are a certain number of years old: Hugues would consider 30 year old vines as just youngsters.
Some of the vines on the Godmé estate are 95 years old! Of course they give a small yield, but the quality of the grapes means they are well worth hanging on to and it's quality above all that Hugues is looking for, not some formulaic process that leaves no room for imagination, flexibility and those subtle human touches that can make a wine so special.
Everything at Godmé is kept as natural as possible because that's the way Hugues likes it.
This means that in general the dosage is kept low: none of the champagnes in the Godmé range have more than 9gr / litre of added sugar and most are 6gr or less. This makes for champagnes that are fresh and clean to taste but never aggressive. That smoothness is down to a high proportion of reserve wines and long ageing to give the wines the times to develop full round flavours to balance the lively acidity.
Take Brut Intégral for instance which has zero dosage.
70% of the blend is from the 2005 harvest and was bottled in 2006. That means that it's had 6 years ageing in the cellars - far longer than usual.
Add to that the fact that the remaining 30% of the blend is made up, in equal measure, of base wines from 2005 and 2004 and you can see that Hugues is a patient man who doesn't rush to sell his champagnes before he considers them to be well and truly ready.
But what's the secret weapon I told you about earlier?
No it's not the old vines, it isn't the reserve wines and it's not even the conversion to bio-dynamic production either. It's far simpler than that and yet I bet no one else has thought of it. It isn't even something that Hugues knows he's doing.
All was revealed recently when an importer who had tasted Godmé champagnes came to place an order.
"I'm going to order your champagne," he said, ”because I can tell that you're smiling when you're making them and that comes through when I taste them"
You can't get anything simpler and more natural than that, so if you're looking for a champagne that will lift your spirits, be sure to try Godmé, The Smiling Champagne.