by Paige Donner
March 7th was a day clearly marked on my calendar. I was invited to participate in my first-ever “Vin Clair” or still wine tasting for champagne. In Champagne this is monumental because these are the newly vinified wines that are used in the blendings, the “assemblages,” for the year’s batch of champagnes, both Vintage, if the year merits it such as 2012 (by most everyone’s estimation), and the Brut NV, or basic champagne.
So it was to great consternation, and resolute shock – that I returned after this vin clair tasting in Oger – to my little room above a garage that I’ve been using as an office, to find that my computer had been smashed. It hadn’t just been tampered with or broken, but had been smashed, motherboard and all. My first thought was How in the world am I going to post this blog article about my very first champagne vin clair tasting?! Followed immediately by thoughts of all the files, photos, video footage and everything else precious that a computer stores of your life’s work these days.
Luckily, I had had a hard drive scare earlier this year so once my computer had been repaired, I had taken the time to backup nearly all my files. Whew! But one thing that was stored on that computer’s desktop was all the photos I’d taken at the Lallier Cellar visit in Aÿ a few weeks earlier. So all those photos are now lost. But at least these photos, taken at their new Oger facilities, were still on my camera’s memory card when I discovered my smashed computer after the tasting and exquisite lunch that memorable day in Oger.
During the tasting of the dozen or so vinified still wines – the pinots, the chards the meuniers – there are a few comments that remain like song lyrics in my mind:
“There are no machines yet that can do a vin clair tasting.”
This comment was made by the man to my right. To which I and a few others chimed in, “heureusement” which translates to “thank goodness.”
All the men gathered that day were the winegrowers and vineyard owners from the various assembled and vinified wines. In essence, they were there to pay homage and bear witness to their newly born “babies” from the 2012 harvest. Every one of them had shown up punctually and on time. Save for the “courtier” who arrived just at the moment of the l’aperitif. I guess that’s how courtiers roll…
Another comment that remains etched to memory is the discussion about malolactic and non-malolactic fermentation for several of the cuvees. Since ’12 was such an interesting year weather-wise, even among this group of professional and very sophisticated tasters, most of them were surprised by one of the cuvees that had not been given malolactic fermentation. An interesting discussion ensued about malo vs. non-malo and can you really always choose one or the other as a house style or does it depend on the year, the weather and many other factors? And isn’t it really the final result that you’re after?
The final “lyric” that remains in my mind from that day of baby wine worshipping that I’ll share with you is that the house of Lallier, having expanded its production from about 50,000 bottles per year to about 400,000 bottles per year in 8 short years, is positioning itself as a grower-champagne house. Their Oger facility, floating as it does above the vines in this beautiful village in the Côte des Blancs, thoroughly represents their dedication to this image and to cultivating themselves as an up-and-coming great grower-based Champagne House.
One thing remains an unequivocal certainty, however – and that is that as it’s so very true that no machine can effectively do a vin clair tasting, nor the assemblage, …as a writer, blogger and publisher in today’s age of digital publishing, I can’t live my professional life without one. Translation: Calling all angels for a new computer. ASAP please!!!