Saturday, May 28, 2011

Champagne Ruinart



To call it a dream come true seems to understate what I was feeling as we took a long flight of stairs down into the cellars of Champagne Ruinart. The chalk pits are absolutely amazing - you can feel the moistness of the chalk, and almost get a sense of how porous the material is. And then we stepped into the largest chalk pit, about 38 metres or so underground, excavated by the Romans. It was completely dug by hand, and you can still see the pick marks. Extraordinary.

I don't have much experience with Ruinart, and a few things stood out for me after the visit. Of course, these visits give you a much better understanding of the production process, and how incredibly labor-intensive it is. Ruinart makes three non-vintage cuvées, and the two vintage Dom Ruinart wines. The wines spend many years in the cellar before release - the Dom Ruinart frequently ages for more than a decade before going on the market. I didn't realize that there are still instances of bottles letting go. That is, exploding. Take a look at the proceeding photos, and see if you can spot them. Seeing the walls and walls of Champagne is extraordinary. We were told that the bottom bottle in a 10 row stack endures about 4 metric tons of pressure.

The dosage used is quite low, roughly around 6 g/l of sugar. The wines are made in quite a reductive style, which lends itself well to aging, but not to drinking young. There is an entire cuvée of wine which will never be released, and never publicized - it is meant as a heritage to be passed onto future cellarmasters, almost like a historical artifact. It will be a way for future generations to experience past vintages, and study how the wines were made and how they develop.

A portion of the wines are still riddled by hand, to preserve the tradition, but Ruinart makes heavy use of gyropalettes to do the work. They're currently installing elevators, to make the movement of machinery easier. The disgorgement and bottling lines are upstairs. In all, a very sophisticated setup.

Being such an old Champagne house (historically, the first), you get a distinct sense of respect for tradition. Some of the chalk pits were damaged during the war, but they managed to carry on. What an impressive legacy. Back upstairs, shaking off the chill of the cellars, we settled into the salon to taste Dom Ruinart.


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