Updated: Feb 27
visit September 6th, 2022
On a lunar calendar fruit day, Dan Roznov and I finished our harvest picking and thought we would head to Philipponnat for our liquid lunch. If picking harvest from sunrise wasn't enough exercise, François Philipponnat invited us in, only to have us quickly walk over to their Clos des Giosses, and climb what felt like a million stairs "to earn our decadent liquid lunch".
You can find the prestigious house of Champagne Philipponnat in the town of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, located in the Vallée de la Marne. The estate dates back all the way to 1522 where documents show that during that year, Apvril le Philipponnat owned vines between Aÿ and Dizy in an area called Le Léon.
Fast forward to the late 19th century, the vines were planted for Clos de Goisses and not a single moment earlier due to the extrodinary amount of work this plot takes, and to be honest, during that time, champagnes wasn't as lucrative, so the work just didn't match the return. But due to its unique location, Clos des Goisses became the first single plot champagne ever produced under the name Grand Vin de Goisses, and would be a unicorn in the region for a century before others followed.
For those still learning about wine, Clos is a French term used to describe a walled vineyard. The Clos des Goisses is a walled vineyard situated on an exceptionally steep slope overlooking the Marne River. The vineyard is the steepest of the Champagne region, around a forty-five degree incline... so needless to say, when I offered to work harvest at Philipponnat before arriving to the Clos, I quickly took that back after we got to the top.
Oh! And also, in old Champenois dialect, the word gois means something that is “inclined or slanted”, referring to a “very steep slope”.
This south-facing steep slope, gives full exposure to the sun and makes this particular plot, the warmest in all Champagne, an average of 2 degrees Celsius higher than the regional average. The way the plot sits as well, the dominant winds from the west don't impact the Clos as much as others.
In 2022, Clos des Goisses needed special permission to harvest 2 days earlier than the rest of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, as the grapes were already ripe and at 11 degrees potential alcohol.
Now you may still be wondering about my peculiar title, and I have the answer for you.
With the Clos being in the aspect to produce powerful and rich wines, it also has freshness and purity on its side since the plot sits on pure belemnite chalk. With 1 meter of clay top soil, the old vines of Clos des Goisses actually surpass it and reach deep into the pure chalk and create the most beautiful paradox of a singular champagne that reflects power and richness balanced with purity and freshness. It is truly a unicorn and one that must be on every champagne lover's list to drink.
Clos des Goisses sits on a total of 6 hectares, but with its low yields (and strict sorting), during great years, it producers around 25,000 bottles, and not so great years, about 5,000. But.. it has produced a vintage champagne every single vintage since 1987 (yes, there is a 1994 and a 2001!). The house is able to do this due to its unique terroir and ripeness, but also for the fact that inside the Clos, there are 14 lieu-dits that are all vinified separately. The magic of the Champagne Blend lives in a whole new way inside this single plot. During the blending process, the wines that do not make Clos de Goisses, end up being added to Philipponnat's Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blancs, and sometimes their NV, because regardless if the wine makes the exclusive bottling, it is still amazing juice!
As we walked along the top of the Clos, we arrived to the steepest part where you really get to understand how difficult it is working this vineyard. No tractors, no chemicals, all by hand, thank God these vines create such a magical wine, because it would definitely not be worth the work! But.. the steepest part of the Clos, holds the oldest vines, and is the best lieu-dit, named Les Grand Cintres.
Even though the harvest was complete for Clos des Goisses when we arrived, there were a few remaining grapes to taste. "You owe me 30 euros" joked François, as I tasted a tiny single grape. This extremely concentrated and fleshy grape belonged to the rare 100% Pinot Noir cuvée, Les Cintres, made from Les Grands Cintres and Les Petits Cintres. A champagne that is still on my to drink list as I have never had it, only the single grape I savored during my visit.
A bit sweaty and developing a nice tan, Dan and I were impatiently waiting for our bubbly reward. So François so nicely brought us back to the house for an incredible tasting. To be honest, it was beyond worth the hike up the Clos, to be able to taste the line-up he so graciously shared with us.
After our tour around the winery, and a little taste of Clos des Goisses Les Cintres juice (post-fermentation which happened shortly after harvest in small oak barrels), we finally made our way through the historic cellars to the tasting room.
Royale Réserve Brut 2018 base, 8gr dosage- forward and fruity, chalking and salty finish, round attack, gorgeous way to start our tasting!
Royale Réserve Non Dosé also 2018 base, same wine and bottles just when they are ready to disgorge, the brut gets 8grs, and this gets no dosage! Key to make this one a success is to have the grapes ripe enough to not lose the fruit and roundness. Fun fact! Japan is the biggest market for this cuvée!
Grand Blanc Extra-Brut 2012 very little quantities, as the houses decided not to release normal distribution, 5,000 bottles only, gorgeous BdB, full of lemon and bright fruits, gastronomic, decadent and dense yet precise at the same time.
Blanc de Noirs Extra-Brut 2016 a charming, fresh, nice tension, crisp and elegant with touches of licorice and spice, characteristic of the north facing slopes of Pinot Noir in the MdR that are used in this one.
1522 Grand Cru Extra-Brut 2015 commemorates the year that proved that the direct ancestors of the Philipponnat Family were growing vines in a plot called Le Leon in Aÿ (GC south facing). 16 generations later, the family are still involved in the same area. The composition of this wine comes from this plot plus 1/3 GC Pinot Noir from north-facing MdR, 1/3 GC chardonnay from CdB. Just under 8,000 produced, and the idea is to have a prestige cuvée other than Clos des Goisses, to create a blended prestige cuvée grabbing from the best plots they have. So balanced, elegant for the 2015 vintage, spiced fruit, and mineral, chalky, a characteristic of Le Leon's terroir. Super special wine,- exactly why I put this one in our Christmas Boxes in 2022.
Clos des Goisses Extra-Brut 2012 Latest release of this cuvée and according to Charles, the best CdG ever made. Very small crop, only 13,000 bottles made, very intense, concentrated, bright and ripe aromas, sweet nose. François's favorite vintage of CdG ever was the 1979 he tasted not too long ago, and the 2012 resembled the 1979, so he sees immense potential in this one aging beautifully in the long future.
Clos des Goisses Extra-Brut 2013 not released yet, so we were extremely lucky to have this one. Many who have tasted this one have rated it higher than the 2012, and for us, we agreed when tasting it on this day. More smoky, more elegant, and more charming that the 2012. 2013 was an October vintage, and it seemed to get that ripeness perfectly with taking its time. Right now, there is so much balance, and felt so complete just as it was. I think this one will get even better when it is actually released, so get ready to purchase your case in the fall of this year! 85 Pinot Noir, dry with grip, bitter but elegant finish, very savory,
Clos des Goisses Juste Rosé Extra-Brut 2012 Also not released yet, the red wines for this blended rosé are from a plot in the Clos des Gooses which is planted with a loose cluster clone of Pinot Noir. Saignée for 24 hours, they remove 30% of the liquid, and keep the 2/3 liquid with the skins for more concentration, to make the red wine. Blend of white and Saignée- a kind ofnfusion of both. That is why it is called a Juste rosé, the color is pale, but more powerful, rich, tastiness of the saignée without the dark color of the rosé. Very complex, powerful but etherial, it commands attention, dancing on your palate, shining, glowing, sophisticated, but take time with this, it needs your full attention to experience the evolutions and elements it brings over time.
As you can see, I had one very special visit to the house of Philipponnat, and even more special during it's 500 year anniversary. Thank you so much, François for your time during our visit. I absolutely love your wines, and I'm a forever fan! Merci!