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TERROIR TRACKER

A series of article to help you get to know the Champagne terroirs.

Champagnes de Terroirs from one village (cru), or from just a few neighbouring villages, are becoming more and more popular these days so it pays to increase your knowledge of the these little communities and their vineyards.

In this series of short articles we’ll bring you a brief introduction to some well-known villages - plus some you should get to know - and we’ll give you an insight into each one

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VERZENAY

 Facts & Figures

Grande Montagne de Reims

198 growers

418 hectares

358 hectares (83%) Pinot Noir

57 hectares (15%) Chardonnay

2 hectares (1%) Meunier

Nickname for local residents : Bouquins / Bouquinnes

Moulin-in-early-morning-mist300Verzenay has long been recognised as one of the foremost terroirs in all of Champagne, indeed it was one of the original 3 villages rated as Grand Cru, the other two being Cramant and Aÿ, and it has been Grand Cru ever since.

All the major champagne houses source some of their grapes from Verzenay and almost all have a permanent presence in the village in the form of a ‘vendangeoir’, yet at first sight the high regard in which the wines of Verzenay are held seems completely illogical because the vineyards in Verzenay face north or north-east whereas standard viticultural theory tells us that vines, especially vines to produce red grapes, should be planted on south or south-east facing slopes.

So how is it that grapes from Verzenay are rated so highly?

One of the features that have led to Champagne’s position as the leading sparkling wine region of the world is the fact that its northerly situation produces grapes with a relatively high level of acidity that lends freshness and character to the wines. If this is true for Champagne in general it is even more true for Verzenay.

Harvesting-above-Verzenay300On the north facing slopes the grapes are fairly slow to ripen - the village is often amongst the last to start picking - and they undeniably have quite a high level of acidity; this results in wines with plenty of ageing potential that often need a few years to develop their full potential. There is also a slight saltiness to the wines which makes for some wonderful food pairings.

Verzenay-terroir crop300Like many terroirs in Champagne you can find a multitude of different soils within the boundaries of the terroir of Verzenay: chalk, limestone, sand, clay and more. Not surprisingly therefore wines from Verzenay have great complexity, but whichever plot the wines come from they are all said to be vertical, linear and to have narrow shoulders as opposed to their cousins on the other side of La Montagne de Reims ( in Bouzy or Ambonnay for example) which are broader and fatter.

80% of the plantings in Verzenay are of Pinot Noir which is ideally suited to the cool conditions. They lend depth complexity and power to blends without losing any of the lean edginess that a well-balanced champagne needs.

Last but not least, the exposed slopes are often quite breezy and this keeps excess humidity at bay and reduces the risk of rot.

It’s not just the quality of the wines that brings people to Verzenay; the village is also home to two of the most iconic landmarks in Champagne each one perched on top of the hills that cradle the houses in the dip between them.

The presence of a windmill on the promontory called Mont Boeuf is testament to the windy micro-climate mentioned above and, in fact, there used to be 3 windmills a long time ago. The remaining mill was built in 1818 but hasn’t been used as a used as a mill for many decades and of course there’s no miller either ( miller = meunier in French). The villagers used to joke that there was no Meunier in Verzenay , but this no longer holds true because 2 hectares of Meunier have been planted fairly recently.

Lighthouse-at-Verzenay300On the other promontory, Mont Rizan, stands the lighthouse built in 1909 as a promotion idea for Champagne Goulet which no longer exists. Today the lighthouse is home to a popular museum and it affords some excellent views across the vineyards and the plain below.

It’s remarkable that whilst almost all the houses in the village were destroyed in WWI and only 50 hectares of vines remained under cultivation, both the lighthouse and windmill were left standing even though the front line trenches were a matter of a kilometre or so away.

There are some 80 champagne producers in Verzenay and too many fine champagnes to mention them all, but a few that are worth particular attention are:

Champagne Péhu Simonet

Champagne Godmé

Champagne Jean Lallement

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