Nathalie Vignier is the tenth generation of her family to grow grapes in Champagne and the sixth in her village of Cramant. In team with her family friend Sebastian Nickel, their substantial estate spans 16.5 hectares, planted exclusively to chardonnay in Cramant, Oiry and Chouilly and the Coteaux du Sézannais. Vines date from as far back as 1950 and are tended today without herbicides or insecticides. These are generous champagnes, built around ripe fruit, vinified in stainless steel vats with full malolactic fermentation and aged long on lees, with little need for dosage, and all are bottled at an extra-brut level of 5g/L.
Cuvée Ora Alba
100% chardonnay from Cramant, Chouilly and Oiry; aged 6 years on lees
Vignier turns the reserve concept on its head in her entry cuvée, using younger rather than older vintages in small proportions. With its oldest vintage dominant, this is an unusual recipe, though it makes good sense for a rich and ripe house style in these days of ever-warmer vintages – though the logistics of holding such large parcels for three years prior to blending must be a nightmare. The vintages are undeclared here, but I suspect it’s based on 2009, which would make it 65% 2009, 25% 2010 and 10% 2011. A bright, medium straw hue heralds a generous and rich expression of the northern Côte des Blancs. This is a ripe and powerful style, true to the mood of the house and the exuberance of 2009, brimming with honey, spice and gingernut biscuits, even exotic tropical fruit nuances, concluding with the phenolic grip of dry extract.
Cuvée Deux Terres
100% chardonnay from two plots, one in Cramant for vivacity, and one in Barbonne-Fayel south of Sézanne for roundness and breadth; aged 8 years on lees
The ripe exuberance of J. Vignier is neatly juxtaposed by the tension of the 2008 harvest. There is a compelling generosity here that contrasts ripe white peach fruit with a panoply of layers of aged complexity: golden fruit cake, fruit mince spice, wild honey and brioche. Eight years on lees has built buttery, creamy structure, well countered on the finish with a touch of bitter grapefruit bite.