The Champagne house of Agrapart et Fils is located in the lovely village of Avize in the heart of the Côte de Blancs. The estate was established in 1894, yet unlike many of the smaller grower Champagne houses that have really only recently begun to estate bottle their wines and sell them under their own labels, the Agrapart family has done so since the inception of the domaine. The winery was founded by Arthur Agrapart, and today is run by the fourth generation of the family. The two Agrapart brothers, Pascal and Fabrice, continue to maintain the same commitment to excellence and hand-crafted wines that has earned this fine domaine its loyal customer base in France. The Agraparts own nine and a half hectares of predominantly chardonnay vineyards, the vast majority Grand Cru, in the heart of the Côte de Blancs (primarily in the villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Oiry).
To ensure the highest possible quality, production has always been kept at an artisanal level at Champagne Agrapart, with quantities of no more than 5,400 cases produced in any given year. Vine age is among the oldest in the Côte de Blancs, with many of the Agrapart’s vineyards in excess of sixty years of age, and the average overall age of the vines a healthy thirty-five years of age. The estate has also farmed organically for years, but has never really publicized it. For Pascal, this is merely the right way to farm for quality, not some marketing fad to promote your wines. From these fine old chardonnay vineyards the Agrapart’s produce some of the most refined and complex wines to be found from the Côte de Blancs.
To really understand Champagne Agrapart, it is important to understand the quiet force behind this esteemed property, Pascal Agrapart. Pascal looks a bit like the actor, Russel Crowe (perhaps a slightly older version), yet his demeanor is the furthest thing from a famous person. He is tall, humble and soft-spoken, but also fiercely talented and wise in the ways of a vigneron. While certainly a "man of the earth" who enjoys spending time in the vineyards, Pascal is equally versed in the technical details of the cellar which in crafting Champagne is itself an art. And while Agrapart's wines always had a somewhat underground following, in recent years, he has gained an international reputation, and has had to learn to maneuver in the limelight, quietly and humbly, of course. Today, he is looked up to and revered by some of the region's rising stars as sort of a professor emeritus of the region who blazed the trail of quality, setting the stage for Champagne's cutting edge scene on the international wine market.
The Agrapart range starts with two NV cuvées: "Les 7 Crus" which is a mix of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir from 1er and Grand Cru vineyards (from seven villages surrounding Avize); and "Terroirs" which hails from 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay holdings from Avize and its neighbors.
Pascal then makes three vintage-dated Cuvée Parcellaires from what he considers the three main terroirs of Avize: up-slope, downslope, and the third made from the middle or “crux” of the two. In Avize, he explains, while the entire village is dominated by a subsoil of chalky limestone, this ‘mother rock’ is covered with varying amounts of clay. Due to the specific geological formation of these Cote des Blancs vineyards, there is actually more clay at the top of the hillside under the forest above and less toward the bottom. The more clay there is on the surface, the more powerful and broad the wines are, though of course always with a fine base of chalky minerality. From the lower part of the hill where it is relatively flat and the soils are basically pure chalk, he produces the “Minéral” cuvée, which is the brightest and most taught. At the top of the hill where there is more clay, he produces his most powerful wine, “L’Avizoise”. And in the middle of the slope, in a special, old vine single vineyard that has a mix of both these soil types and is worked solely with a horse, he makes a wine that is perhaps his ultimate expression of Avize, called “Venus”. To emphasize these terroir differences, he vinifies all three cuvées exactly the same way (fermented in used 600-liter barrels) and finishes the wines with little or no dosage.
The Agrapart is rounded out by two very small micru-cuvees. "Complantee" is a blend six varieties coplanted in Avize. The idea of this cuvee is that, in time, particularly as the vines get older the terroir will overshadow the varietals and show more "Avize" than six varietals. For now, it is an intriguing and racy wine that pleases intellectually as much as gustatorily. The second, and rarest of all of Pascal's wines is called "Experience". It is a wine made through a complicated process only from grapes, and without yeast or sugar (see description below). And it is only produced a couple times per decade.
The Champagne Agrapart lineup includes:
Les 7 Crus - A superb non-vintage bottling that beautifully synthesizes the pure and opulent fruit of top quality chardonnay vineyards in the Côte de Blancs with a racy, structured minerality that gives the wine superb length and cut. It is delicious out of the blocks, but really will easily keep ten to fifteen years.
Terroirs - Non-vintage blend of têtes de cuvée from terroirs in Avize, Oger, Cramant and Oiry. A fine, elegant, yet powerful Champagne…dare we say a “poor mans’s Clos de Mesnil”?
Complantée - Non-vintage blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Arbane, Petit Meslier and Chardonnay all from the village of Avize in the vineyard of "La Fosse".
Minéral - This is a single vintage blend of téte de cuvée selections from two parcels located at the bottom of the hillside, planted in pure chalk; Les Champboutons in Avize and Les Bionnes in Cramant. These vineyards have 40+ year old vines and produce the most mineral-driven, laser-like wine of the Agrapart lineup.
Vénus - Vintage cuvee made from a single, 0.3 hectare vineyard named La Fosse that was planted in 1959. It is located in the middle of the hillside and has both the chalk of the hillsides at the top of the parcel and the heavier clay over limestone at the bottom. The soils are tilled by a horse named Vénus. The wine shows stunning depth and richness combined with exceptional freshness and minerality.
L’Avizoise – Vintage cuvee made from two of the estate’s oldest Grand Cru parcels, Les Robards and La Voie D’Epernay, each with 50+ year old vines at the top of the hillside near the forest where there is the presence of clay soils over the limestone subsoil. L’Avizoise is the most powerful wine in the lineup.
Experience - This was an experiment of Pascal's where he sought to make a champagne produced only from grapes, with no yeast, sugar or dosage. To accomplish this, he took a base wine and then added the unfermented pressed grape juice from the following vintage which then became the prise de mousse for creating the secondary fermention. This tiny cuvee is not made every year, but only made when two successive vintage create the ideal conditions for maklng this cuvee.