Crashes and more crashes. They may add a bit of danger and drama to the Tour de France, but no one wants to see cyclists with injuries so serious they have to abandon the race, as at least two more riders did yesterday.
So much for Stage 7 being an easier day and everyone taking it easy after the cobbles. We think we saw one crashed cyclist with road rash on his neck! Neither the mechanics of that nor the pain are pleasant to think about.
Stage 7 takes the Tour from Épernay in the Champagne region to Nancy in Lorraine, leaving the portion of this year’s Tour designed to go through many of the battlefields of World War I for it’s centenery. Yesterday on Twitter Champagne Pol Roger posted about the house’s own link to both Épernay and the Great War:
We have to admit that we did not know that.
If Reims is the capital of the Champagne the region, Épernay is the capital of Champagne the wine. The famous Avenue de Champagne in Épernay is the headquarters of many of the most famous Champagne houses above ground and their cellars carved into the chalk below ground. Winston Churchill is reported to have called it the most drinkable address in the world.
We’ve decided not to spend Stage 7 in the grand 18th and 19th-century buildings of the Avenue de Champagne, but rather to head outside Épernay to a village called Avize in the Côtes des Blancs and the beating heart of grower Champagne, Domaine Jacques Selosse. Anselme Selosse, who took over the family business from his father Jacques in 1980, transformed the character and image of grower Champagne dramatically by rethinking the basic premises. He trained in Burgundy and came back home to apply the same principles that make great wine elsewhere in France to the somewhat renegade world of Champagne. For while in other areas, the quality of grape and character of individual terroir made a wine special, in Champagne houses grapes (in many cases low quality) were bought in from numerous growers and then blended to create a consistent house style.
Selosse slashed the yields and introduced many of the principles of organic viticulture, creating grapes that are much riper, much more intense, and more expressive of the ground in which they were grown. He used oak barrels for all stages of fermentation and ageing, instead of the stainless steel tanks usually used in Champagne production. He reduced the use of SO2 and used only indigenous yeasts, and the wines spend extended time on the lees. Dosage is minimal, because, as Selosse told the Rare Wine Co., “great Champagne needs no make-up.” Some of his most famous wines are created using a solera system, similar to the one used to make sherry in Spain. Substance, one of his most famous creations, is made from a single Chardonnay vineyard in Avize, blending successive vintages going back to 1987. “It takes all the different years — the good, the bad, the wet, the dry, the sunny — and neutralizes the elements to bring out the terroir,” he told the New York Times in 2008. He even decants Champagne, proving he flies in the face of convention from the soil all the way to the glass.
The cult-like status his wines have achieved has driven demand for Selosse’s Champagne up, and also inspired a new generation of Champenois to rethink their faith in the grand traditions of the Champagne houses. You might even wonder if some of the recent interest the Champagne houses have shown in experiments with ageing processes and even sinking bottles to the bottom of the Baltic could be the result of consumer excitement over the uniqueness of grower Champagnes. Selosse and the grower Champagne movement have even inspired growers outside France, namely in Italy, where Selosse has also begun working with winemaker Riccardo Cotarella on the sparkling wine production in Campagna using native Greco, Falanghina and Fiano varieties.
In 1994, Gault-Millau gave him the unprecendented honour of naming him France’s best winemaker in every category, but success has its price. It is a sad mark of the desirability of Selosse’s wines that €300,000 worth of Champagne was stolen from the estate in a raid in 2013, along with additional Selosse labels. Disputes with distributors took Selosse’s wines off the market in the U.S. for a time, although a collaboration with the Rare Wine Co. now makes them available to American buyers — if their budgets allow it.
Domaine Jacques Selosse also runs Les Avisés, a hotel and restaurant on the site of their home and cellar in Avize, surely another contender for the most drinkable address in Champagne.