A week on the slopes


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Trading her skis for secateurs, Stephanie Barlow from the Warehouse Shop recounts a week on the slopes of the Montagne de Reims at Champagne Mailly, the producer behind two of our own-label Champagnes.

The Grand Cru village of Mailly is nestled on the north face of the Montagne de Reims and grows some of the best Pinot Noir in the region. Champagne Mailly comprises 70 hectares, all of which are located within the eponymous Grand Cru village. The vineyard consists of 75 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Chardonnay. Mailly benefits from slopes facing in various directions, although the majority are north-facing and thus give the Pinot Noir more finesse, creating subtle, beautifully balanced wines.

I was fortunate enough on my first morning to join the final vins clairs tasting of the year; where the tasting panel decide on the blends of the different Champagnes within the range. The panel consists of Chef de Caves Sébastien Moncuit, Director Jean-Francois Préau, President Xavier Muller – who is also a member of one of the 25 families who own Mailly Grand Cru, and two more growers. The combined talents of the quintet is impressive, both in terms of experience in the world of Champagne and their outstanding palates, not to mention the unique ability to analyse these still, highly acidic vins clairs and work out how they will develop. This year the panel have met for three times a week for four weeks to decide the blends for the full Mailly range. It was fascinating to witness. There are three important factors for the desired development of the wine: acidity, richness and complexity. We celebrated the final tasting of the year with foie gras, Comté and bottle of their prestige cuvee, 2008 L’Intemporelle.

In the afternoon the Export Director Xavier Millard took me on a tour of the impressive seven-storey winery, including one kilometre of exquisite chalk caves which took the founding members over 30 years to dig, between 1929 and 1965. We finished the day with a tasting of the full range of Mailly Grand Cru: my favourites include the rich and creamy Blanc de Noirs, a perfect companion for a vast range of cuisine, and the extremely elegant, delicate, yet luscious 2008 L’Intemporelle.

The week continued with two days working with the cellar team, disgorging the prestige Champagnes, where the process is slower than for the rest of the range with extra care taken to ensure the high quality levels of these wines. Many of the hardworking and knowledgeable cellar team at Mailly work here in addition to running vineyards of their own, demonstrating the vast array of experience within the Mailly team.

Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse on the day I spent pruning in the vineyard; however, with a hat, gloves, boots and three coats on, I wasn’t going to let the icy wind and rain dampen my mood. It was an interesting day learning about the intricacies of the different pruning methods; Chablis for the Chardonnay and Cordon de Royat for the Pinot Noir.

The visit was rounded off with a trip to neighbouring villages Verzy and Verzenay to visit the Faux de Verzy and the Vine Museum with Xavier Muller to learn more about all the seasons in Champagne. With spectacular views from the top of the Verzenay lighthouse across Mailly and on to Reims, it was the ideal way to end a fantastic trip.