Thursday, November 15, 2012

Madame Champagne Duval-Leroy


by Paige Donner

Upon closer examination, you will find many extra-ordinary elements to the Champagne House Duval-Leroy. For starters, there are the champagnes. In Wine Spectator's Top 100 list of 2008, their Brut NV was the only champagne to make the cut.

Then there is the amazing team that Mrs. Carol Duval-Leroy has assembled around her to create their award-winning champagnes in an atmosphere of joy - truly;  And also an atmosphere of groundbreaking innovation while still maintaining firm roots in tradition. And then, last but by all means not least, there is the local legend of Asti, Carol Duval-Leroy's little dog who is never far from her feet. Little Asti is this family-owned Champagne House's Ambassador, albeit he wears the title unofficially. At any rate, I can't help thinking of my favorite Colette quote, "Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet." My own dog evokes similar feelings in me... And reigning over Côte des Blancs vineyards in Vertus, Champagne - well, it's difficult to imagine a happier life for a dog. 

The Team

All three of Carol Duval-Leroy's sons are part of the Champagne Team. The eldest, Julien, works on-site at Headquarters in Vertus. These are no ordinary champagne headquarters, mind you. The newest building is the only one in Champagne that has a Living Wall, photovoltaic panels incorporated all along the sides and even a rainwater retrieval system. Her two younger sons, Charles and Louis, are partners in a communications agency specialized in, you guessed it, champagne. 

Two more key players in the house are Michel Oliveira, Deputy Managing Director, who has been with the house for 35 years, and Sandrine Logette-Jardin, the only female winemaker/ Chef de Cave at one of the big champagne houses (I have come across one other in the Côte des Bars, but their production is nowhere near the 5 million bottle annual production of Duval-Leroy's). 

The Champagne Trinity

This Champagne Trinity, Carol, Michel, Sandrine, each have made their significant marks on the house. A few top-notes are Carol's championing of champagne and gastronomy pairings with her Official Sponsorship of the Sommellerie section of France's Meilleurs Ouvriers de France contest, an annual contest that distinguishes France's best chefs, sommeliers and other professionals. This was one of the aspects of her work that won her, in 2008, the medal of Knight of the French Legion of Honor (Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur).  You can find Duval-Leroy Champagnes served at 150 Michelin-rated restaurants in over 50 different countries worldwide. She is also the President of the Champagne Viticultural Association. 

Environmentally-friendly Policies

In 1994 Duval-Leroy Champagne was the first champagne house to receive ISO 9002 certification standard. One of the ways to focus in on one of the more innovative and groundbreaking contributions that Michel Oliveira has made to the house, and indeed, champagne as a region, is to examine their Clos des Bouveries, the House's oldest vineyard plot. The environmental policies Oliveira has implemented over the decades have started here, where they use the Clos as a "test-bed" for environmentally-friendly policies and techniques that they then can apply to their other vineyards and also recommend to their grower-partners.

For example, since first implementing these policies, they have reduced by 70% the use of herbicides and vine treatments by 30%. And don't even get him started on the topic of greywater run-off and winery effluent... Not to mention that Duval-Leroy champagne bottles are made of a minimum of 70% recycled glass and come from a locally-sourced factory...And the list of the House's green initiatives goes on...

Vinification And Blending

Sandrine is fond of likening her winemaking methods to that of a fine watchmaker. Each year, of the approximately 250 cuvees she tastes, she blends the House's 15 champagnes from only the best ones. Refinement and elegance are the hallmarks of Duval-Leroy Champagnes and malolactic fermentation helps to develop their brioche aromas and characteristic smoothness. She also helped plan their new vinification facilities in Vertus to optimize single vineyard batches for smaller volumes of must. This gives her the freedom to play and experiment with rarely seen AOC Champagne varietals such as Petit Meslier. The House of Duval-Leroy is invested in preserving snapshots of the Champagne Terroir by vinifying these singular harvests which is something they've done now for decades with the Clos des Bouveries. 

As a last note, for such a big house with production of 5 million bottles annually and a global export reach, the family part of the family-run champagne house is very present in the house's ambiance. And you truly get the sense that these people have found their joy in what they're doing. 

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