When I arrived chez Bérèche for my appointment a week and a half ago, the winery was in a state of chaos. I found Raphaël wearing an apron and moving a mile a minute. He was racking the 2013 wines from barrel to stainless steel tank, and the winery floor was covered in plastic tubing and the occasional bucket of lees destined for the distillery. Outside, his brother, Vincent, rolled barrel after barrel out to the courtyard for cleaning and drying (we underestimate the amount of time winemakers spend cleaning). Clutching my notebook and scribbling as I chased Raphaël around the winery trying not to trip over tubes, I learned about the new négociant project he and his brother recently began. They tasted fifty wines, and found six they liked. Still in its infancy, the négociant project – Maison Bérèche – represents an opportunity to experiment with terroirs outside of their native habitat of Le Craon de Ludes (ten minutes from Reims in the north of Champagne). Today we have one Maison Bérèche wine to offer, a gorgeous 2002 from Cramant in the Côte des Blanc; we hope to see more down the road.
There is no end to the energy and quality of Bérèche’s wines, which seem to improve with each successive vintage as the vines benefit from Raphaël’s efforts in the vineyards and cellar. Raphaël took over the Domaine in 2004, when he discontinued the use of herbicides, and began to move in the direction of natural viticulture. He also increased the proportion of oak used in the cellar, and started to work with cork rather than capsule for the second fermentation of his top wines; both techniques allow long and slow exposure to oxygen during élèvage. More and more the wines bear the personal stamp of this talented young winemaker. With malolactic fermentation systematically avoided and dosages kept low (save for the elegant Brut Reserve, with a modest seven grams of dosage), these are intense and full-flavored wines, ripe and expressive with firm structure, and impressive acidity and minerality. From the lineup of wines Bérèche makes from his own fruit, we draw your attention to the stunning 2010 Rive Gauche bottling of old vine Pinot Meunier from the Vallée de la Marne. We venture to say this is the best release of this fine and complex Meunier to date. Santé! –Sophie