Champagne Nicolas Maillart

France, Champagne

Nicolas Maillart is the tenth generation of his family to own vines on these northern slopes of the Montagne de Reims, the land of Pinot Noir. The vineyard is all either 1er Cru or Grand Cru. The family can trace vine owning back to the neighbouring village of Chamery in 1753. The current domaine has about a quarter each in Bouzy and Ecueil, (where the winery is), and the rest in Villers Allerand. Most of the vineyard is well-positioned in mid-slope and it is planted with 70% Pinot Noir and 15% each of Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and the majority is selection massale rather than clones. In Villers Allerand they also have small parcels of the much rarer Petit Meslier, which is grown in the colder corners. Meunier is on the plateau, while the chalky slopes are reserved for the Pinot Noir. In Bouzy it's Chardonnay on the plain or the sandstone, and again Pinot Noir on the slopes.

There is some complication in the inheritance and ownership, since the vines belong to three different companies representing three branches of the family. Eight hectares are in the principal company, and this was what he started with in 2003. In 2008 they added the produce of another and the final part came in in 2013, with the four hectares in Bouzy. Nicolas' father had organised all this in advance, so when it came to the building of the winery, it was all done to take the whole 15 hectares. As a result of his 'buying' the produce of the land owned by the other branches of the family, Nicolas is classified as a négociant-manipulant (NM) when in reality he is managing the entire domaine as if it was his own. Well, nearly. The domaine was set on course to organic certification, but it would seem that not all the extended family were prepared to take the risk, so he has pulled back from that, but the vines are managed as organically as possible with only organic fertiliser, no weed killers, ploughing between the vines and so on. They are certified HVE3 and 'sustainable viticulture'. Nicolas now thinks this is probably the right direction – he’s a pragmatist and a balanced approach in which most of the work is done in an organic manner, with recourse to other treatments if necessary, may mean he can use less copper, for example. Organic, he says, is one way to go, but it’s not the only one, and respect for the grapes is the crucial thing.

Nicolas picks late, (five days to two weeks after the official date), seeking the best maturity he can get. This means normally achieving a natural 11% potential alcohol – he even got to 10.85 in 2021. Less than 10% of the wines do malo – he does nothing to provoke it and the cellar is cold, despite using low levels of SO2. All the wines are in barrel, he now has 400. He buys a few new every year and some are up to fifteen years old. They are all monitored carefully and kept full apart from one month of the year. He says that stainless steel tends to accentuate some aromas and dull other aspects of the wine, whereas barrels tend to round them out, giving more complexity, and more amplitude in the mouth. In particular the tailles (the last juices from the press) are much more interesting in barrel. He’s now very wedded to the barrels, even if he might try some larger ones, but he’s not interested in trying ceramic or glass. He’s very particular that wine should age in the container it’s made in – he does not like wines made in tank and then aged in barrel ‘the birth of a wine is when it’s really constructed’ – so his wines are straight into barrel after a one or one and a half day débourbage and nothing is ever filtered – ‘unfiltered wines last longer’.

The range can really be taken as two parts, one in which Nicolas is seeking 'balance', as he does in all aspects of the vineyard management and the winemaking, so that these are blends that express the whole diversity of his vineyard, and the much smaller cuvées parcellaires which are specific vineyards and the wines are trying to express that particular plot, much like Burgundy Premier Cru or Grand Cru. For all the wines Nicolas is keen to stress that they are wines first, and even the bottle shape is mean to reinforce this way of looking at them.

Winegrower of the year 2021 Richard Juhlin  (Apr 2021)

Maillart may be considered as one one of Champagnes leading growers now and if he continues like this, the 5-stars soon will be a reality. Richard Juhlin  (Apr 2019)