Vineyard ownership, by the champagne houses, is usually much less that is required for meeting their needs on an annual basis. Ownership, for the most part, is bequeathed to the 16,000 wine growers who traditionally supply houses with the quantity of grapes desired each harvest. The champagne house of Duval-Leroy is unusual this way; impressively, they are one of the few able to source around one-third of their annual production needs (totaling 5.5 million bottles). From the 200 or so hectares they own and manage, 40 percent are located in grand and premier cru villages, mostly in the Côte des Blancs, from where they draw their signature chardonnay style. Even more impressive is the fact that all of these estate vineyards are sustainably farmed, many organically cultivated.
A proactive environmental agenda is a mantle Duval-Leroy proudly carries, having introduced a number of progressive approaches in the vineyard – and cellar – to produce more natural wines.
House matriarch, Carol Duval-Leroy, who has spearheaded the company since 1991, can be credited with making the house what it is today; quality-focused and aspirational. Together with her three sons, Julien, Charles and Louis, Carol has forged an independent path of family ownership uncommon for the region. It has granted them a great deal of control over their purpose and future.
We spoke with Duval-Leroy’s head of sales, Helge Paasche, about the plight of the house, and their Australian agenda, during his recent trip to Australia.
Above: Duval-Leroy’s head office in Vertus
Duval-Leroy has introduced some innovative approaches to champagne winemaking over the years. Overarching all of these innovations is the quest for more natural wines. Can you explain what Duval-Leroy does to make their wines more natural and what does this impart to the ultimate expression of wine?
First and foremost, more natural and sustainable practices allow the grapes and terroir to really shine and express its individual characteristics.
In the past decade, our practices have shifted toward sustainability in order to preserve the natural expressions of the terroir for future generations to come. This includes reducing use of pesticides in our vineyards and shifting our approach toward plant-derived solutions rather than synthetic chemicals which can be more harmful to the environment (and in turn the wines themselves).
We have also started the process of turning more of our vineyards into organically certified vineyards, which means the grapes produced are more reflective of growing conditions, temporal changes and seasonal shifts. We were the first champagne house to create an organic cuvée, and one of the first ten houses to be certified for sustainable viticulture in Champagne.
Our sustainable practices extend beyond our vineyards as well, and we were the first winery to obtain the ISO9002 certification for overall champagne production, which includes the production facilities, bottling and labeling. We installed a green wall in our production facilities well before this was fashionable.
Additionally, we’ve not used any animal products in our wines for the past 30 years for fining purposes, and all our cuvées are 100 percent vegan.
What stylistic / philosophical approach defines Duval-Leroy?
At Duval-Leroy, our main emphasis is on quality and respecting the wines’ natural variations, born from terroir and grapes. We will allow all our wines to mature until they are ready, not just until we can sell them to the markets. This lets us provide consistent quality across all cuvées. Since we are largely based in the Côte des Blancs, it means we make a lot of chardonnay-dominated wines, with smaller percentages of pinot noir to provide some structure and balance. This allows us to really showcase the beauty of our chardonnay grapes.
Another difference is the way we manage our house. Being family owned and independent allows us to look after the soil and crus in ways that preserves them for the future. We know how important it is to preserve our house and vineyards for future generations, so our approach to winemaking is very much focused on sustainability.
Our long-term vision also stems from the fact that Duval-Leroy is still owned and managed by the direct descendants of the founding family. We intend to remain family owned for the foreseeable future.
The family believes that it doesn’t own the land; instead they are borrowing it from their children. And with the family name on the label, they want to keep the quality of champagne high.
Above: Duval-Leroy vineyards
How does Duval-Leroy view Australia?
Australia is a really exciting market for us, as it has strong winemaking traditions of its own, despite being a significantly younger wine producing country.
For us, Australia has the makings of a market where quality is one of the most important criteria, which is great for Duval-Leroy. Appreciation for champagne is connected with educating people about the differences between houses and other categories of sparkling wine, and we feel that Australia welcomes such education. Another reason why we feel that Australia is a great market for us is that Australians are looking for something outside the very well-known, huge champagne brands, and are willing to try something new based on recommendations from a sommelier, bar tender, friend, or magazine.
Can we expect to see anything new from Duval-Leroy in the next year or so?
Yes. We are working with our growers to assist them with implementing more sustainable procedures in viticulture. There are some new cuvées in development as well, but we cannot divulge any more details surrounding this at this point in time.
Femme de Champagne Brut Grand Cru
80% chardonnay from Avize, Chouilly and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and 20% pinot noir Ambonnay. Partial oak fermentation, 14%. Based on 2004 vintage. Disgorged in 2016. Dosage 5g/L.
“The Femme de Champagne is our most iconic wine and the wine that truly reflects our house and history. Madame Carol Duval-Leroy named the cuvée Femme de Champagne to pay tribute to the strong lineage of female history in Champagne, but also to demonstrate that Duval-Leroy is led by a woman. The cuvée reflects this with its delicate and refined nose and palate, and is mainly comprised of chardonnay from our grand cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs. A longer ageing process on lees (minimum 10 years) creates refinement and complexity, whilst the chardonnay dominated cépage provides freshness and delicacy.” – Helge Paasche
Fresh, clean nose redolent of apple blossom, sea spray and the lightest touch of brioche. On the palate, Femme de Champagne drinks with the purity of rainwater on account of its long on-lees preservation – an incredible 12 years – quality fruit and meticulous handling. It’s fine and elegant, characterised by a light, silky texture and long, saline aftertaste.