Grand Tasting : NV Cuvée M Extra Brut, NV Brut, 2014 Special Club Blanc de Blancs Brut, NV Rose Brut
Gala Dinner : 2014 Millesime Brut Magnum, 2011 Millesime Brut Magnum, 1999 Millesime Brut Magnum
Lying on the main road in Villers-Marmery heading towards Verzy, this small, family-owned estate has been impeccably managed by Arnaud Margaine (pictured) since 1989. The “A” in A. Margaine doesn’t stand for Arnaud, as one might think, but for André, Margaine’s grandfather. Margaine’s great-grandfather, Gaston Margaine, was already bottling estate wines in the 1920s, but these were often still white wines, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that André increased champagne production. Bernard, Margaine’s father, expanded the estate in the 1970s, and in 1977 he joined the Club Trésors de Champagne, known at the time as the Club des Viticulteurs Champenois.
Since taking over the estate, Arnaud Margaine has focused heavily on improving quality in the vineyards, eliminating chemical herbicides and increasing the amount of cover crop in the vines. Today about 70 percent of his 6.5 hectares of vineyards are planted with various cover crops, with the aim of eventually reaching 100 percent. While Margaine hasn’t noted a tremendous difference yet in the quality of the wines, he believes that this will emerge in time, as he notices roots descending deeper into the soil and vine leaves appearing greener overall. Average vine-age is relatively old at this estate, about 32 years.
Margaine has a large press-house for an estate of this size, as he also presses grapes at harvest for other houses, including Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Lanson. In the cellar, nothing is done according to any recipe or formula, and policies such as reserve wines, malolactic or blending of parcels often change from vintage to vintage depending on what Margaine feels is best for quality and balance. He is increasingly blocking the malolactic in a larger proportion of his wines, however. “I’m becoming more and more convinced about the style of non-malo wines,” he says. “It’s not just the acidity, but the fruit as well. With the malo you lose a little of that fresh fruitiness.”
Since 1999, Margaine has been cautiously working a little in barrel, using three- to four-year old barriques that he purchases from Louis Jadot in Burgundy. About 20 percent of the harvest is now fermented in oak, although these wines aren’t destined for any particular cuvée, but chosen for blending according to taste. “A maximum of 20 to 30 percent [of barrel-fermented wine] is a good complement for my blends,” says Margaine. “I don’t want to go any higher.” He also uses oak barrels to store the wine for his liqueur d’expédition, as he thinks this gives more character to the dosage, which he prefers. “I’m not looking for neutrality,” he says.
Margaine keeps an unusually high quantity of reserve wines for a grower-estate, giving him more flexibility with his non-vintage brut. Prior to 2005, all reserve wines were stored in stainless steel tank, but since then he has chosen to store some in bottle with a very slight mousse, in a fashion similar to Bollinger (who stores its reserves in magnum). “Aromatically the wine stays very fresh and vivacious when stored this way,” explains Margaine, and while this practice requires a lot of manual labor, he feels that the resulting increase in quality is well worthwhile.