Grand Tasting : NV Blanc de Noirs Brut, NV Cuvée des Crayères Brut, 2016 Grande Ruelle Pinot Noir Brut, NV Rosé Brut
Gala Dinner : NV Cuvée des Crayères Cave Privée Brut Magnum, 2002 Collection Empreinte de Terroir Pinot Noir Brut
Éric Rodez is the eighth generation of his family to grow vines in Champagne, and he has been making wine at his family’s estate in Ambonnay since 1984. Prior to taking over, he worked both in Champagne and elsewhere, including a three-year stint in Burgundy that he says “permitted me to encounter another logic,” one that was more artisanal in spirit and closer to the land.
Today, viticulture is very much at the heart of Rodez’s philosophy. His six hectares of vines lie entirely in the grand cru of Ambonnay, and he is almost obsessive about maintaining the character of individual plots—from his 36 parcels of vines, he usually vinifies 60 different wines, separated according to both parcel and vine-age. In 1989, he began to focus on improving the health of the soil in his vineyards, believing this to be crucial to the production of a truly great wine. Eliminating both weedkillers and chemical fertilizers, he began planting various cover crops and tilling the soil between the rows, and soon afterwards, became interested in biodynamic viticulture. “It’s more difficult to make a grand vin in the vineyards,” he says. “It’s much easier to try to do it by blending in the winery.” Needless to say, however, the latter never produces the same results.
Rodez is critical of conventional viticulture, calling it “a logic of comfort” in its reliance on chemicals and its aesthetic of industrialization. At the same time, he’s not completely enthusiastic about organic farming, saying that it doesn’t do enough to preserve a sustainable ecosystem for the future. “I am not at all anti-organic,” he says. “But if tomorrow all of Champagne became certified organic, we would have toxic levels of copper in the soil. It would be pollution, just of a different sort.” For Rodez, the only true long-term solution is biodynamics, as it accounts for the overall health of an ecosystem, allowing it to develop a self-sustainable balance and harmony.
He notes in addition that it isn’t enough to focus only on the reduction of chemical products. “The issue is not only to choose what’s best for the vines,” says Rodez, “but also to think about how to cause the least amount of damage.” He cites cover crops as an example: “I plant crops between the rows and think to myself, ‘This is fantastic!’ But no, it’s not fantastic, because now I’m using so much more petrol, as I have to pass through the vines so often with the tractor. So you have to think about these things as well.” Among the ways that Rodez is now trying to decrease his overall carbon footprint is to combine vineyard operations, doing multiple tasks at one time to reduce his consumption of fuel.
While Rodez places a great deal of emphasis on work in the vineyards, it’s most likely his work in the cellar that sets him apart from many other grower estates. His time in Burgundy taught him how to work with oak barrels, and once back home in Champagne, working in the cellars at Krug taught him how to apply this knowledge to the making of champagne. Today, 80 percent of his vinification is in wood, which he says changes the texture of a wine, giving it another dimension.
As of 2014, his son Mickael has joined him at the estate, taking charge of the vineyards and working alongside his father in the cellars.