The Champagne house of Agrapart et Fils is located in the celebrated 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 only begun to estate bottle under their own labels in recent decades, the Agrapart family has done so since the inception of the domaine. The winery was founded by Arthur Agrapart, and is now run by the fourth generation of the family.
Pascal Agrapart, who shares ownership with his brother Fabrice, is the quiet force behind this esteemed property. Pascal looks a bit like the actor Russel Crowe, yet his demeanor couldn't be more different than that of a celebrity. He is humble and soft-spoken, with the talents and wisdom of an experienced, impassioned 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, allowing him to explore and master his craft. He maintains the same commitment to excellence that has earned this fine domaine its loyal customer base in France and beyond. While Agrapart wines have long had somewhat of an underground following, in recent years, Pascal has gained an international reputation. He 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 and helped to set the stage for Champagne's cutting edge revolution.
Amboise Agrapart, Pascal's oldest son, recently joined his father at the domaine. Together they manage nine and a half hectares of predominantly Chardonnay vineyards, the vast majority of which are 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, 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 seventy years of age, and the average overall age of the vines is a healthy forty years old. The estate has also farmed organically for years, but has never really publicized it. For Pascal, this is merely the right way to farm, not a marketing fad to promote his wines. From these fine, old Chardonnay vineyards, Pascal produces some of the most refined and complex wines to be found in the region.
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 Parcellaires cuvées from what he considers the three main terroirs of Avize: up-slope, downslope, and the middle or “crux” of the two. Pascal explains that the entire village of Avize is dominated by a subsoil of chalky limestone, and this ‘mother rock’ is covered with varying amounts of clay. Due to the specific geological formation of these vineyards, there is uniquely more clay at the top of the hillside near the forest, and less toward the bottom of the slope. 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, Pascal produces “Minéral”, the brightest and most taught cuvée. 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 soil types and is worked solely with a horse, he makes a wine that is perhaps his ultimate expression of Avize, called “Vénus”. To emphasize these terroir differences, all three cuvées are vinified exactly the same way (fermented in used 600-liter barrels) and finished with very little dosage.
The Agrapart lineup is rounded out by two micro-cuvées: "Complantee" and "Expérience". Complantée is a blend of six varieties coplanted in Avize. Pascal theorizes that as the vines become more established, the Avize terroir will overshadow the grape varieties. 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, Experience, is made through a risky and complicated process that includes only grapes -- no yeast, sulfur or sugar are added at any point in vinification, ageing or at disgorgement (see below description). This cuvée 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 cuvée 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 cuvée 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.