Vilmart

Almost twenty years have past since the renowned Champagne critic Tom Stevenson describe the family run champagne house of Vilmart as 'the greatest grower champagne I know'. In that time a profusion of small, independently run Champagne estates have come to the fore, quenching the thirst of a market that has woken up to the fact that there is great quality and value to be found away from the traditional 'Grande Marques'. Under the direction of Laurent Champs, Vilmart has gone from strength to strength and rightly still deserves that enduring title. Laurent is a perfectionist, his immaculate cellars, in the sleepy village of Rilly in the Montagne de Reims bare witness to his dedication and single-minded determination to be the best.

When we first met, over twenty years ago, Laurent did not export his champagne. Today over 70% is exported all over the world, strict allocations now having to be made for each country.

What sets Vilmart Champagne apart? Although more common place now, Laurent pioneered the use of oak barrels and oak foudres in which to age his wines, prior to the making champagne. At that time only a handful of Grande Marques practice this, namely the illustrious Krug and Bollinger. Laurent's knowledge and belief in wood gave his champagnes extra layers of complexity and depth, the oak being perfectly integrated. Laurent also blocks the malolactic fermentation (the second fermentation that converts the stronger malic acid into the softer lactic acid). By doing this his champagnes retain their freshness and balance. Laurent's vineyards are all classified as Premier cru, his finest and oldest vineyard come from La Blanche Voie, a famed lieu-dits, which provides the grapes for Vilmart's most prestigious champagne - Coeur de Cuvee (frequently referred to as 'poor man's Krug).

Finally, attention to detail: from caring for his vineyards in the most natural way possible, through to the timing of the harvest and the extra long ageing applied to his champagnes prior to degorgement. His cellars are immaculate. If the expression 'cleanliness is next to godliness' can be applied to anyone, it can be applied to Laurent.

No matter how many times I have visited my friend Laurent, tasting with him in his cellars is a real thrill. I never tire of it.
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