Champagne Apollonis may belong to one of the oldest families in the Champagne region, but their approach is anything but conventional. Since 2010, they have aged their bottles to the sound of music. And since 2012, their vineyards have also received their share of great composers in order to stimulate natural resistance in the vines.
The origins of Champagne Apollonis can be traced back through Michel Loriot’s family to the 17th Century when his ancestors started growing vines, in 1675. Twelve generations have followed, including Paymyre and Leopold, who built the very first local press house in 1903. I met Michel for the first time back in 2016, when travelling in Champagne. He is joined by his wife, Martine, their daughter, Marie, and her husband, Alban, who heads-up production. To this day, the domaine remains small and family-run, reinforced by Michel’s association with the Vignerons Independents that he presides over.
Apollonis may be an odd name to call a champagne producer, a reference to Greek mythology’s daughter of Apollo, and goddess of music and the arts. But it all makes sense once you’ve visited. More on that later. The brand’s name is relatively new, introduced in 2015, replacing Michel Loriot’s namesake label, to distinguish it from the ‘Loriot’ name commonly found in the area.
Festigny, located on the left bank of the Marne River, is home to Michel’s domaine as well as some of the best meunier in Champagne. The village is characterised by some chalky soils, more than average for the Vallée de la Marne, and receives excellent sun exposure.
Apollonis’ vineyards are found surrounding a hill on steep, clay-rich marl and limestone soils. They are planted mostly to meunier (80%), as well as some chardonnay (18%), and a little pinot noir (2%) across seven hectares. Soils are aerated, once winter has passed, before allowing grass to propagate between rows. Come growing season, the grass is cut several times and hoed away under the vines. Only natural fertilisers are used to treat vineyards following conversion to environmentally sustainable farming over a decade ago.
Getting things right in the vineyard, says Michel, requires less work in the cellar. And whilst a minimalist approach is preferred, winemaking receives an extra special touch; not from the hand of the winemaker, but – unusually – by the reverberations of music.
Music deeply resonates with Michel whose great grandfather, grandfather and father played in the village band. But he prefers not to just listen, he likes to feel it too. More than a decade ago, when travelling through Switzerland, he visited a winery where barrel rooms were flooded with the sounds of classical music. Curious, he dedicated himself to researching the idea of proteody, or protein music, and its potential to affect the quality of wine. ‘Music for plants’ – as Michel calls it – was investigated decades ago by Joel Sternheimer, a French physicist and composer, who was the first researcher to claim that when plants listen to a different note or tune, they produce more amino acids in their proteins.
Sternheimer’s research demonstrated that plants respond to sounds in profound ways which not only influence their overall health but also increase the speed of growth and their size. Although relatively unheard of in Champagne, Michel now employs some of these techniques to strengthen his vines, increasing their resilience to disease. The result? Vines are thriving.
When visiting Apollonis, the first thing you notice along the pathway to the winery are things that appear like tiny birdhouses scattered throughout the vineyards. They are in fact speakers, mounted atop poles which project music across the vines. Michel changes composers, depending on the stage of the growing season, but generally focuses on those from the classical era (circa 1780-1820s).
During months in the cellar, after wines have been bottled, Beethoven can be heard playing. Then comes Mozart and Brahms to play their part in the final stages of making champagne. Notes of melody have individual vibrations, according to Michel, and penetrate wines via the yeast/proteins inside each bottle. In turn, they act on the structure of the wine and elaborate a spectrum of perfume and aroma.
Of course, whether or not you believe it is entirely up to you. Either way, the goodness of Apollonis’cuvées speak for themselves. Look no further than champagne critic, Richard Juhlin, or writer, Peter Liem, and leading food and wine publications such as Decanter or Gault&Millau for evidence.
To taste, Apollonis offers good examples of classic meunier champagnes; rich, fruity and bright. Authentic Meunier is perhaps the most representative of their style across the range with its fruit mince and dark rye aromas. It’s a non-vintage, boasting ample reserves – up to 50% – and receives 24 months on lees. A step-up is their Vieilles Vignes 2008, made entirely from old vine meunier. Vinified in enamelled vates with malolactic fermentation, it was aged seven years on lees and dosage is kept to a low extra-brut. It’s crisp and fresh, expressing yellow stonefruits, lightly baked bread notes and an almost minty leaf-like quality. On the palate it’s light and creamy with well-integrated salinity.
Like a full-scale classical orchestra, the wines of Apollonis are a product of many components but, distinctly, with careful consideration for feeling and harmony.
Read more in ISSUE NO. 3 of VINE & BUBBLE Magazine.
Words by Cam O’Keefe
Photography supplied by Apollonis