Champagne Egly-Ouriet

France, Champagne

Francis Egly is the current fourth-generation head of Ambonnay Champagne grower-producer Egly-Ouriet. He took over from his father Michel in 1981, who had prepared the ground well (literally) since he was one of the few growers who refused to use degraded urban waste as fertiliser in the 1970s, a policy which still results in plastic and metals debris being common in many of the vineyards now. The Egly-Ouriet vineyards had never seen inorganic fertiliser or herbicides.

Francis declares himeself as against 'vins stereotypés', believing that his mission is 'to please but also to surprise', and insisting that 'the biggest mistake in Champagne is to go against nature'.

With the exception of the Pinot Meunier vines in Vrigny, and the new vineyrad in Bisseuil, the 12 hectare estate is exclusively Grand Cru, stretching across Ambonnay, Bouzy and Verzenay. Pinot Noir is planted on 7 ha, Chardonnay on 2 ha, and the average age of the vines is more than 35 years. The exposure of many of the vines is south or south east, which gives exceptional ripeness, while the poverty of the shallow and chalky subsoil give a strong mineral streak.

The already high natural ripeness levels are raised higher still by the green-harvesting. Egly is adamant that acidity is not fundamental, and almost always sufficient, while bitterness is always fatal. An advocate of 'lutte raisonée' he avoids all insecticides, uses only organic fertilisers and continues to plough as his predecessors have always done.

In the cellar, Francis is a great believer in the best technology as well as the best of tradition. His two advanced Coquard presses installed in 2008 allowed him to increase precision in the pressing and obtain greater elegance. The juice from the presses falls onto cooling plates which quickly reduce the temperature to around 10C, so that the fermentations (in barrel) start slowly, giving greater aromatic nuance. For the red wine he worked with Dominique Laurent to refine his use of oak and the quality of the barrels. His son and daughter work with him in this family enterprise.

Francis Egly. A quiet man who hides his anger or his anxieties as a great perfectionist. A worker who likes things straight and well done. Magnificent vines in Ambonnay or elsewhere which were fortunate enough never to know herbicide, insecticide or chemical fertilizer thanks to the individualism and convictions of his father, Michel. A concern for honesty towards the consumer which made him the precursor of the second label, the one which gives all the details on the blend, the length of aging, the date of disgorgement. Finally, a flair which made him create the first blanc de noirs of terroir and prestige and the first red Coteaux-Champenois worthy of competing with a great Burgundy. The courage to limit sales in order to lengthen aging before disgorging has borne fruit: the consistency of the quality and character of the wines for twenty years already has made them a benchmark admired by the technical directors of the greatest houses at least as much as by me. The children are up to the task, his daughter in the business supporting a brother with a more earthly temperament, and who never counts his working hours. - Michel Bettane, from an article entitled 'La Trace des Grands. For 30 and 40 years, we have followed their impeccable journeys. Here are the ones that impressed us the most. more and less known, we will not forget them' Bettane & Desseauve  (Sep 2021)