We are among those who appreciate the beauty of a mature champagne. Our opportunities to enjoy this beverage have however been all too few. So when a reliable source testified about a source of nicely matured vintage champagne, we carefully added the tip about Champagne Coulon Père & Fils in Ville-Dommange to our wishlist. On the last day of our French wine trip we could not only conclude that the tip was correct, but also that there were more to discover.
We drive quickly on the small roads through the southwest corner of the National Park of the Montagne de Reims, this Tuesday in mid-October. A little late as we are to our visit, it is hardly that we have time to enjoy the surroundings. The road winds through some small forests, past fields, a war cemetery, and occasionally some vineyards.
Then the landscape opens up, the vineyards start spreading out and the number of houses increases. The car rolls down the steep road into the village of Ville-Dommange. Soon we arrive to the house with Champagne Coulon Père & Fils Premier Cru in distinct black letters against the beige-white facade of the building.
Florence Coulon meets us and the car is carefully parked in the narrow driveway. The reception room just inside is tastefully rustic, simple and bright. We sit down and start talking champagne. We want to know more about Coulon Père & Fils. Our wish will be fulfilled. It is nice, time flies.
Olivier Coulon, Florence’s husband, is the one in charge of Champagne Coulon & Fils today, even if his father, 78 years old, still gives a helping hand in the vineyards. The firm, which dates back to 1867, produce around 15000 bottles a year.
Coulon works four hectars of vines, some in the home village of Ville-Dommange, but also in Coulommes-la-Montagne just five fem kilometer to the west. All three varieties are grown; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. From our point of view, a specific parcel of Chardonnay in Coulommes-la-Montagne will turn out to be of particular interest. Here is the paradise located, origin to something not that common in this area, a Blanc de Blancs.
How was it then about the cooperative? If you look closely you will find that the labels of Champagne Coulon & Fils’ champagne state RC, Récoltant-Coopérateur, in front of the registration number. The term implies that the champagne is produced at the cooperative where the grower is a member, but that the grower sells the champagne with his own name on the label. And that description fits in very well.
“We are members of the cooperative and use it for the mechanical parts of the production,” Florence explains. “The cuvées for our champanges is personalised to give the desired character. When the cuvée has been made, we take the wine back to mature.”
The coop in Ville-Dommange has 200 members, but only three employees. One of them is Olivier Coulon, who works as caviste. So when the labels of Coulon states “Elaboré par Olivier Coulon”, i.e. developed by Olivier Coulon, that is the real fact.
We wonder how the cooperative thinks when it comes to cultivation philosofy. Florence concludes that the trend generally is to use less and less chemical products. All members of the cooperative are in fact practising “lutte raisonnée”, only sulphur is used against oïdium.
This year has been a difficult one with grapes attacks of gray rot, giving the harvesters additional work to carefully cut of affected grapes. Apart from that is also Coulon satisfied with the harvest: “Both quality and quantity are fine; the balance between acidity and sugar is very good. Perhaps it can be a vintage wine, but we cannot know for sure until spring.”
We wonder about the characteristics of a Coulon Père & Fils champagne. Well, the philosophy is to give the wines a longer time on the lees, four to five years, and create a more mature style. The Chardonnay variety is also highly esteemed and for example is the Réserve-cuvée based on 50% of this variety. A Coulon Père & Fils should be “a nice blend of quality with a love of Chardonnay,” as Florence puts it. Expressful champagnes with a palette of rich complexity in nose and flavour, that is the objective.
The specialty is also to offer a bit older, lately degorged vintages. At the time of our visit was the 1996 vintage just sold out, but 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002 were available . Also as Jéroboam, i.e. a 3 litres bottle.
We are however not only charmed by the mature beauty, but also of a couple of the younger wines. If it is appropriate to say younger, when they have been stored on the lees far longer than is stipulated by the rules. Even the entry-level champagne, Tradition (which is the one containing most Pinot Meunier, 50%) is based on the 2008 vintage. But we jump directly to the Chardonnay-dominated Réserve:
Champagne Coulon Père & Fils, Réserve Brut Premier Cru, a non-vintage of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. 75% is from the vintage of 2008, the reserve wine from 2004, 2005 and 2006. 8 grams dosage.
Clear with darker golden hue. Pronounced nose of dark fruit, yellow apples and plums. Spiced with impressions from the forest and its berries together with some nice notes of bread. On the palate, a rich body with fresh, soft acidity. Fruity with apples, dark berries and a touch of grape. Good length with notes of pomerans. Yummy!
Then time for the clear bottle of the portfolio: Champagne Coulon Père & Fils, Les Paradis, Blanc de Blancs Brut Premier Cru. Thus, a pure Chardonnay, from a small parcel in the vineyard Les Paradis in Coulommes-la-Montagne. Based to 80% on vintage 2008. Dosage 7 grams.
Lemon yellow. Fresh, very fruity rich nose with mature green apples and floral notes. The flavour is fresh with a wide body and nice, a bit softened acidity. Complexity in the flavour palette with mature fruits, yellow apples, citrus and a nice buttery touch. Good length with some toffee and caramel. Just as it literally was coming from paradise!
Really nice now, a good choice for those who appreciate Blanc de Blancs with more body. Why not to a lobster naturel or langoustine? Although you have to make up your mind quickly if you get the opportunity to lay your hands on this wine. Florence calls Les Paradis for a “microvinification”. Only 500 bottles are made each year.
We finish by tasting one of the older vintage champagnes; Champagne Coulon Père & Fils, Brut Millésime 1999, which is made from one-third each of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Dosage 6 gr per liter.
Deep golden hue. Pronounced mature, complex nose with toffee, coffe powder, dried fruit, apples, grape and a light tone of dried herbes, reminiscent of throat pastilles. On the palate a full bodied impression, perfectly dry with balanced, rounded acidity. Mature with dried fruit, citrus, grape and dried herbes. Long complex aftertaste. Really great!
This is awesome, a mature champagne with notes of coffe and all the those lovely mellow, complex flavours. Something we prefer just sipping on. And happily enjoy when the waves of complex impressions float through the palate.
Coulon makes the degorgement of the older vintages late, when it is needed to fill up the stock of bottles for sale. “Drink within six months if you like the taste as it is right now,” Florence advices us. And as some bottles accompany us home, we will just have to take that recommendation seriously.
The car is packed and we say goodbye to Florence with a little sadness. Not only because it was a very nice visit. It was also the last one on this year’s French wine trip. Tomorrow we will be heading back home again.
Some of Champagne Coulon Père & Fils champagnes are imported to Sweden by ChampagneHuset, link here.