My Love/Hate Relationship With Grower Champagne: Marc Hebrart 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut NV

Grower Champagne has creeped into popularity for at least a decade. That little RM (récoltant manipulant) on the label provided wine geeks another means to stand out from the seething masses. It allowed shops and restaurants to charge more to customers unfamiliar with it.  We have all seen and bought the likes of Mumm, Veuve, Moët, Nicolas Feuillatte, et cetera, and known when we are getting hosed.  But today’s grower, Marc Hebrart, probably is not on your grocery store shelf.

Now, I love the endless variety that single source terroir can create.  Grower Champagne can vary from the terrible to the fantastic and reflect the best and worst of each vintage.  However, clear your head that a “grower” just tends to their adorable plot with a horse-pulled plow.  Equally, forget that the big houses are glamorous, bubbly, pleasure palaces: they are modern, often massive, multi-million case, industrial complexes (with some cool caves).

Growers own Champagne. The big houses pay them. There are 19,000 independent growers in Champagne. They own nearly 88% of all vineyard land. 5,000 make their own wine. The relationship is symbiotic, competitive, and complicated. But everyone’s goals are to make great wine and get rich.  For more detail, let us look at grower Marc Hebrart.

Son Jean-Paul Hebrart farms 15 hectares of vines, but they are spread out into 65 different sites in five other villages, including, Avenay, Val d’Or and Bisseuil and the grand crus villages of Aÿ, Chouilly, and Oiry in the Côte des Blancs.  Yes, each parcel is vinified separately, but most Champagne houses and growers do this. Like the big boys and girls, he also uses cool, glass-lined stainless steel and ceramic tanks. Yes, he might hand sort much of the fruit, but most do too.

The end difference, only 60 cases of Hebrart get imported stateside. He makes 6,000. That creates a sense of exclusivity.


Jean-Paul Hebrart’s Blanc de Blancs comes from his 1er cru vineyards of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. Hebrart uses roughly a quarter of the last vintage to calm and balance the present. Big houses can blend back 20 years. Too compensate further for his lack of reserve wine, Hebrart allows malolactic fermentation and ages three years on lees in the bottle. This gives his Blanc de Blancs, like most growers, a distinctly nutty, orchard fruit quality. But let’s try it. Luckily, an account gifted me a bottle:


Marc Hebrart, Blanc de Blancs, Premier Cru Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Champagne NV $45-$60 (Nov 2015 disgorgement).

Its APPEARANCE looks a clear, straw gold color, cut through with a rapid, medium-sized bubbles.  AROMAS waft with controlled intensity of golden delicious apple, lemon, poached pear, cut hazelnut, spices, and fresh-churned butter.  The PALATE feels dry yet silken, with pinging, zesty, citric acid, mild alcohol (12% abv), and a mid-weight body. FLAVORS follow aromas and the citric yet nutty profile with chamomile honey rounding it out for a medium plus length.

Hebrart’s Blanc de Blancs is very, very good (4 of 5). You can feel it comes from one place. You can taste Hebrart’s methods to make it drinkable.  He has to show all his cards. Meanwhile, negociant house Champagne can blend away these “defects”, providing reliable, consistent quality fizz.  Past reviews of Hebrart’s BdBs range widely from year to year, from salty to nutty, fruity to citric.  Either way, expect something interesting, complex, and honest: human, changing, warts and all.

Without big Champagne, little Champagne would not matter as much as it does today. We cannot define good without evil. Santa cannot exist if you don’t believe in him. Wait… Anywhichway, growers like Hebrart, just as big houses like Veuve, provide us, the thirsty masses, with an endless supply of variety. I say, drink it all and ignore when a hipster, wine geek gets all dogmatic about bubbly.  Our goal should not search out better or best, rare or ubiquitous, but instead we should live for the journey, respecting and learning about each in their own right.  If only we could treat people this way.

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Primitivo for Frozen Days: Castello Monaci

Sick of winter already? Me too. Let us draw the shades, turn up the thermostat, play Hawaiian music, don shorts and a t-shirt and grab a pair of sunglasses. Our wine glass might as well play pretend. I say send it to the hot iron tip of the heal of the boot of Italy: Puglia, specifically Salice Valentino DOC:

italy-puglia-wine-map-salice-salento-regionThere, baking under an eternal sun, sits Castello Monaci. Lina Memmo owns the fairytale 16th century castle: a hub for weddings with its gardens and crenelations. TripAdvisor loves it (book your stay/wedding/escapism here).


Maybe we can renew our vows here…

But we came for vineyards. Vitantonio Seracca Guerrieri supervises certified sustainable farming. Baked earth of dry clay, volcanic gravel, and limestone forces Primitivo roots in deep search for the water table. Vity has grapes picked at night. Immediately, Leonardo Sergio presses and ferments grapes entirely under cool temperatures thanks to small stainless steel tanks. It ages a mild 6 months in 75% stainless steel and 25% 2nd and 3rd use French oak. They produce 300,000 bottles of Pilùna Primitivo annually (the name Pilùna nods to clay pots that once dominated ancient winemaking).  With no further ado:

Castello Monaci, Pilùna Primitivo, Salice Salento Italy 2012: $10 – $15


APPEARANCE: the Primitivo has a rich purple core with a moderate clear rim of cranberry and tree trunk legs. AROMAS and FLAVORS: smell plump and warm with plum and prune, boysenberry syrup, scrub bush, dried sage, and licorice lingering a medium plus length. The PALATE: feels dry, with mild acidity, ripe tannins, warm alcohol, and a full body.

Castello Monaci’s Pilùna Primitivo is modern but not so squeaky clean that one forgets its origin. It serves up sunshine with ripe fruit and hot earth.  It is supple enough to enjoy alone but carries enough structure for grilled meats (even if they have to be grilled indoors), hard cheeses, sausage pizza, even a savory dark chocolate.

It is very good (4 of 5) and a lovely way to warm oneself through winter. So make your own realty. But do not forgot to take Vitamin D supplements.


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Prohibition Leading Me to Drink

We are watching Ken Burns’ documentary on Prohibition. But in emotional rebellion, it drives us to drink. While Capone bootlegs beer, Le Chiuse’s organic Rosso di Montalcino 2012 stands up, richly textured, smoothen, cherry skinned, licoriced, and earthen. Magnificent (5 of 5) anti-establishment drink.


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Champagne Sunday: Starting 2017 Off Right

We lived the cliché and ended New Year’s Eve with grower Champagne (read here). But if we want to ensure 2017 is auspicious, we need to make resolutions reality. That starts by going to the gym first thing…oh who am I kidding. Let’s drink more Champagne.

Luckily, I found something cold. This label looks shiny and golden enough:


OK. Veuve Clicquot needs no introduction. And that makes it great. Its ubiquity normalizes Champagne and makes it widely available with 10 million bottles a year.  It regularizes fizzy celebration into an affordable excess (under $50), which is what January 1st should be all about. Or you can buy another sweater.

I do not adore its Pinot heavy, fruity yet green, mildly fizzed, over-adjusted style. It lacks complexity, edge, and length to be great.  But it tastes undeniably of Champagne and is very good (4 of 5). I can hang out, chat with guests, relax, and then occasionally disappear into sparkling French refreshment without feeling guilty.

So, gold bottle of bubbles: check.

But to recharge our annual prosperity, I cook black eyed peas and collard greens. First time lucky:

black-eyed-peas-and-colored-greensVeuve’s acid would slice the bacon fat and race through the palate far better than a cheap mimosa.

So drink more Champagne, any Champagne really, and have a happy, bubbly 2017.

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Have a Happy 2017

Alexandria and I wish you and yours a happy, prosperous, and peaceful new year. May your glasses fill with Champagne for all of 2017.

(And try grower Champagne, Marc Hebrart, Blanc de Blancs: dry and taut yet redolent of orchard apples, apricot,  biscuit, and salt. Newborn and fondue approved).

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