It’s a sunny but cool morning in Ambonnay as I stand on the side of the road, along Rue de Isse, waiting for Eric Rodez to arrive. It’s Saturday, a day he normally doesn’t see visitors, but has graciously agreed to host me along with his Australian importer, Victor Pugatschew, and two others.
A shiny white Porche SUV drives by and pulls into the garage. Rodez emerges wearing a hot orange vest and trademark thick-frame glasses, looking more art director than vigneron. Perhaps it’s not a bad comparison for a man who, in my opinion, produces some of the best artisan grower champagnes from this part of the Montagne.
Artisan is not a term Rodez personally uses to describe what he does, preferring the analogy of conductor and symphony. He speaks of the music of his vines, the beauty of nature and seriousness of soil management with the kind of theatre one would expect from a grand opera. There are animated body gestures and facial expressions that make listening to Eric Rodez both compelling and captivating, much like his wines.
Music resonates with Eric’s philosophy toward vine and wine, but perhaps it is also a nod to his past working as a young oenologist at Krug. Unsurprisingly, it was at Krug that Rodez developed a skilful hand at blending, a House that has famously likened their complex blends to a symphony with respect to harmony and balance. At Krug, Rodez learned the importance of vinifying each parcel of terroir in its own barrel to elaborate identity, a practice he employs today.
In his room of perfectly ordered reserve wine, we tasted from several barrels. There is ample stock – much more than the norm for a small grower – but Rodez’ style is dependent on a diverse cache of older wines. They are all exquisite; sensual, as Rodez says, flavoursome, vinous and precise. We move on to the cuverie. It is small, yet immaculate, home to a mixture of oak and stainless steel fermentation vessels. Malolactic fermentation is generally blocked and lower dosage is used to support mineral definition and elegance.
Pinot noir sits at the centre of Rodez’ blends, followed by chardonnay. The eighth generation winegrower lays claim to around seven hectares divided into 35 plots, comprising silex-clay topsoil over deep bedrock of chalk. Vineyards are worked organically or biodynamically and essential oils are used as treatments. Land is ploughed and vines meticulously pruned to limit yields. Over the years, Rodez’ dedication to sustainable farming has seen him rise to the top as one of Ambonnay’s best vignerons, and it’s easy to see why. Rodez’ wines are very good. His single-parcel focus produces wines true to Ambonnay’s terroir which has the ability to make powerful and rich champagnes but with more elegance and minerality than neighbouring Bouzy.
Read the full story in ISSUE NO. 1 of VINE & BUBBLE Magazine.
WORDS | Sara Underdown
PHOTOGRAPHY | Victor Pugatschew and Sara Underdown