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Champagne Guy Charbaut

An exceptional historical terroir

The Guy Charbaut Champagne house is located in the very center of the “premier cru” village of Mareuil-sur-Ay. One has to walk through the porch to grasp the full view of the XIXth century stone house, built around a paved courtyard. It is the realm of Xavier and Nathalie Charbaut, a husband and wife team, who run the domain, and have converted part of this former farm house to a bed and breakfast activity.

Xavier et Nathalie Charbaut

The winepress is set across the street. So is the cellar dug deep underneath a chalky hill. This underground cellar is a historical monument in and of itself. It’s a mile long and can stock up to three million bottles. In 2015 it was included on the Unesco World Heritage list as part of the Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars. It’s a vaulted cellar, wide enough to allow horse-drawn carriages, laden with bottles, to roll down its aisles. The ringing of the horses’ hoofs on the paved floor has long ceased, but the spirit of their work still remains. In one area of the cellar, light indentations in the floor are still visible, next to where the bottles were set to rest and mature on the lees. These date back to the XVIIth century and the dawn of the Champagne method, when bottles would sometimes explode under pressure. So as not to waste the spilled wine, it would drip into these channels and flow into retention reservoirs.

Today the domain covers 20 hectares of vineyards, located mostly in the Grand Marne Valley, over plots ranked as “first growth” ( premier cru), or “great growth” (grand cru). The oldest vines are to be found in the villages of Mareuil and Bisseuil, and are over fifty years old. They make up part of the ‘Cuvée de Réserve Vieilles Vignes Premier Cru’, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with up to 30% reserve wines.

The domain started with just a few acres bought in 1936 by André, the grandfather. At the time vineyards were scarce in the region, and André was not even a winemaker, but he had faith in the terroir’s potential. Back from the war, André bought a winepress and the first Charbaut cuvee came to life in 1948. André’s efforts, combined to that of his sons, including Guy, the second born, made it possible for the domain to grow and expand throughout the 1960’s. Xavier came in, in 1981. After studying oenology at Beaune for three years, he came to lend a hand to his father. Guy passed away in 2010 and since then, Xavier and his wife Nathalie, have been the sole managers of the domain.

In spite of this success, Xavier remains modest. His approach is focused on quality, simplicity and family values. Work in the vineyard is conducted according to the principles of sustainable viticulture and the HEV certification (High Environmental Value) is pending.

Excellence is at the heart of the domain’s ambitions. “Champagne is all about excellence, it has to be perfect,” Xavier says. Because his plots are all in premium locations, he lets the terroir express itself, and gives his wine the time to reach its full potential. The brut cuvee called ‘Sélection’ is a blend of the three Champagne grape varieties that spends three years maturing in the cellar (twice the minimum time required by the appellation rules) and receives a dosage of 8 grs. “You have to give your wine the time it needs to become sublime,” Xavier insists.

The complete range of Guy Charbaut Champagnes include eight different cuvees, all made using grapes from the family vineyard, and all, except the Sélection, coming from first or great growth plots. Vinification always takes place in stainless steel tanks. Even though he studied in Beaune, Xavier is weary of overoaking his wines. “We’re not trying to make Meursaults, he says with a smile, oak must remain discreet, I prefer to focus on the grape, the aromas and the minerality.” Case in point the Blanc de Blancs cuvee, a 100% Chardonnay brut from first growth plots that spends seven years maturing in the cellar, is all about the great subtlety of the grape variety with its aromas of bergamot and fresh almonds.

Champagne Guy Charbaut also recently released a Blanc de Noirs cuvee, vintage 2009. It is a limited edition Champagne made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes grown in the village of Mareuil-sur-Ay. It has undergone six years of cellar maturation and its low dosage puts it in the extra-brut category. Yet it is lush, crisp, and open, a real gastronomy Champagne.

The most exceptional cuvee is yet to be released. The ‘Memory 2005’ is a Blanc de Blancs made with the best grapes from first and great growth villages such as Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger and Avize, and cellar-aged for ten years.

It is the living proof that the greatest years of the history of Guy Charbaut Champagne are still to come.

Gérald Olivier