Philippe Glavier may be one of the smallest producers in the Côte des Blancs, but size does not diminish value or quality. His are poignant, driven and super-classy blancs de blancs – mini-masterpieces – in a style not dissimilar to the precision and purity seen in Pierre Gimonnet.
I should have travelled to Champagne in April, but the world had other ideas. It would have been a week-long immersion in a stream of tastings and festivities organised by various winegrowing groups, known as Le Printemps des Champagnes. Philippe and Véronique Glavier would have been there.
Instead, I organised a virtual ‘walk’ through their cuvérie and one-on-one chat with Véronique over Zoom one evening. She is the wife, co-owner and public arm of Champagne Philippe Glavier, named after her husband, a third-generation vigneron from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in Champagne’s ‘white hillside’, the Côte des Blancs. Véronique comes from neighbouring Cramant, representing thirteen generations of winegrowing.
“I never wanted to marry a grower – ever!” smiles Véronique who first met Philippe in 1993 on a ski trip. It’s a story that is not uncommon between winegrowing families in Champagne where love often befalls a chance to build or extend small domaines with preciously inherited vineyards.
With little money to speak of, Philippe begged and borrowed to get by until finding his feet. Véronique’s father was one of the most generous, granting Philippe access to his press at night without charge, once he had completed his daily harvest work. The arrangement became his rhythm for years and an opportunity to cut his teeth on something real beyond the tomes of theory absorbed at the Lycée d’Avize.
It gave rise to the formation of his own label – Champagne Philippe Glavier – in 1995, and money soon followed. Enough was scraped together to buy a press, “the smallest in Champagne”, muses Véronique, with a capacity of just 2000kg, but at least it could fit into her parent’s garage. Convenient, yes, but it also suited their tiny production of just 4.6 hectares spread across 52 parcels.
Small press, big results. Glavier’s champagnes speak loudly of their grand cru origins, imbued with the glory of chardonnay’s chalky freshness and fine finesse. All cuvées are blanc de blancs, with the exception of their rosé for which they source Ambonnay pinot noir. Tailles (the last press) is favourably used to add roundness and texture to otherwise young and nervy wines. Stainless steel is their vessel of choice for fermentation to retain freshness, although oak is applied, sparingly, for subtlety. Malolactic fermentation is also used for adding a little softness without sacrificing precision and tension and dosage is kept ultra-low.
“Having a small press means a lot more work, but the work is more precise because each parcel gets pressed separately,” says Véronique about retaining typicity of each terroir.
Cramant, Oger, Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger are home to Glavier’s minerally infused vines, though most are located in the latter. Cuvées are, by and large, a blend of all four sites to produce a classical non-vintage style, which Véronique says makes it easy for people to drink.
“For me, Cramant is a more balanced wine. You have minerality, saltiness, chalkiness and creaminess – four interesting terroir characters,” she says. “Avize is mineral. Oger is a more natural wine – more round. We often start pressing with Oger grapes because they are rounder and with more sugar. Le Mesnil is always fresh, straight and mineral.”
A little more of this parcel, versus that, and some tweaks to the percentage of reserve wines are enough to make a profound impact on each style. Reserves do not refer to an extensive library of vintages either. Rather, they are young – going back a year or two – and “aren’t really like reserves” according to Véronique, because they’re kept fresh at 13 degrees.
There are 10 champagnes in their portfolio, plus a rather good ratafia, so I am told. Among them are some good single vineyard cuvées worth looking at. Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is one of the more interesting ones.
Glavier Genesis Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
Based on 2015 vintage. 100% chardonnay (16% Cramant, 40% Le Mesnil, 19% Oger and 25% Avize) + 37% reserves. 4g/L dosage.
Glavier’s flagship, Genesis, is most emblematic of their style. The nose is all about seaspray and the palate, creamy and feather-light, stuns with radiance and refinement. It’s paradoxically rich and complex as well as tensile with chalky/saline minerality. Proportions are weighted toward Le Mesnil and Avize with a little under 40 percent reserve wine. It is this combination that propels the palate’s enthralling freshness and purity.
“Genesis has longer lees aging and lower dosage. We think it’s more interesting to have slightly less sugar because it produces better aromas. Also, at disgorgement, we blind taste three different dosages and decide which one is most interesting, so it could change from one disgorgement to another.” – Véronique Glavier
Glavier La Grace d’Alphael Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
Based on 2017 vintage. 100% chardonnay (25% Cramant, 34% Le Mesnil, 23% Oger and 18% Avize) + 40% reserves. 5g/L dosage.
Side-by-side with the Genesis, d’Alphael’s sharper edge and bracing acidity seems all the more pronounced. It sees less time on lees to ‘accentuate the chalky mineral overtones’ and allow terroir to shine. Shine it does, very brightly, with energy and crisp minerality. There is less comfort here from the softening effects of autolysis but its rapier-like precision takes your breath away.
Read more in ISSUE NO. 4 of VINE & BUBBLE Magazine.
Words by Sara Underdown
Photography by Victor Pugatschew