Champagne Jacquesson (NM) – Profile

A leading small boutique house, near the top of Champagne quality. Under new ownership in 2023

Champagne Jacquesson is top notch. For me, in the top five of all Champagne. The reputation is due to brothers Jean Hervé and Laurent Chiquet who led Jacquesson from 1990. The family bought the estate in 1974. In late 2022 they retired, and sold the brand (but not the vineyards) to Artemis Domaines, the wine empire of the Pinault family whose luxury behemoth Kering has Gucci, for starters, and a (US)$45bn net worth. Artemis come to Champagne with some serious credentials: Bordeaux’s Chateau Latour and Burgundy’s Clos de Tart among them, as does Jean Garandeau, made General Manager of Jacquesson in 2022. Jean-Hervé Chiquet will stay on the board and the Chiquet vineyards still supply grapes. So far no major changes have been announced by Artemis. We will see.

Some 31.5ha are held by the Chiquets and also smaller holdings in Avize by the de Taissigny family. Production is around 275k bottles per annum, a true boutique. Bought grapes have traditionally been from growers close to the owned vineyards and the buy-in reduced by over 40% under the Chiquets. Nevertheless, this is a négociant house (NM), not a ‘grower’ champagne, as some often say, although the Chiquet’s worked with the values of organic production and reflected the style of their vineyards and harvests in the wines.

The Chiquets put the estate through a long strategic turn to make a new range of wines that represent the priorities of ‘terroir’.  Since new cuvées take 7-10 years things went slowly. The ship turned gradually onto a new course. 

But first, a little more background. Based in Chalôns-sur-Marne (now Chalôns-en-Champagne), Memmie Jacquesson made the firm’s first sparkling wine in 1798, although they were a still wine business before that.  Jacquesson had a vast chateau at Sillery as well as the Chalôns base.  By the 1860s the firm, hugely prestigious, was honoured by Napoleon III.  The house’s leading cellarmaster went on to found the house of Krug.  Adolphe Jacquesson was the inventor of the wire muzzle and plaque de muselet, the metal caps over the cork held by wire, which is still the method for holding down the cork.  But having lost both his sons to early illness and hit by failed business ventures, Adolphe met crisis and the house was sold by his death in 1874.  It was only 50 years later in 1924 that the de Tassigny family acquired the business and began to remake its fortune.  Enter the Chiquets in 1974 as Champagne Chiquet Père et Fils, and they moved to the present Jacquesson Dizy home from its then base in Reims. 

Some 65% is exported with the UK the biggest market and the USA, Germany, Sweden and Japan important.  The UK market has developed well given the policy here of refusing to sell in supermarkets.  The Chiquets owned 51% of the company the rest held by other investors.

The Chiquet brothers’ partnership is the most remarkable family double act in Champagne.  Laurent, leading on vineyard management and grape production as well as winemaking, seems the more reticent of the two but in practice there is deep consultation between them over every key decision.  Jean-Hervé deals with sales and outside relations and is one of the shrewdest yet personable characters in all Champagne.  He exudes a quiet self-belief and apparent readiness to listen to champagne outsiders’ views and take people into his confidence if they are trusted.  There’s a geniality and intense dedication to the fortunes of the house and of Champagne in general.  You would think the high-wire strategy of continuous pioneering for better quality while already starting from a tip-top reputation, might cause self-doubt, some tension perhaps.  But there’s no sign of that; there’s always modesty and a wish to hear what people think of Jacquesson. The house is a compact boutique compared to the operations of the other top houses, only Salon being smaller amongst the elite.  Some 280k bottles per annum are made, nearly 78% supplied from their own 28ha estate and the other 22% from growers they know very well in the same communes in which the house owns land.  In fact, Jean-Hervé Chiquet recently told me they had completed a restructuring of their supply contracts, with a much less diverse range of parcels bought in and overall much less.  Only 8ha of grapes are now bought in, reduced from nearly 20ha. not so long ago,  This gives even greater control over the vineyard work and a sharper focus of the terroirs reflected in the main Brut NV.  It is a deliberate reduction in overall production from some 300k+ bottles per annum just a few years ago.  The owned 28ha domaine comprises 11ha in Avize and Oiry, some 13ha spread over Aÿ, Hautvillers, Dizy and Mareuil-su-Aÿ and a further 4ha in the Vallée de l’Ardre (a tributary of the Vesle, north west of the Marne).  The overall échelle rating of their own land is 96%.  A mark of the remarkably close control of quality is that no juice is bought and all grapes are processed only through their own two pressoirs.  The grape mix overall is 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir. Jacquesson’s first priority is vineyard work and producing the best grapes.  This mirrors their previous innovation when Dr Guyot collaborated with the early house in the 19th century to begin planting in rows instead of the traditional ‘en foule’ and with specific controls on yield.   The first time I visited Jacquesson I was immediately taken outside to discuss the vines, a deliberate point it seemed, well made.  In most plots the alleys are grassed to reduce vigour and make roots go deeper from competition, with cultivation after harvest and in the Spring to aerate the soil and reduce superficial roots near the surface.  Their soil is less-compacted than neighbours, which supports more bacterial and worm activity.  Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP) is used to spread out foliage and exposure to sun, clipped into a double foliage wire; there is top-hedging too.  This all helps to increase aeration of the vine micro-climate and so reduce fungal infections. It’s clear their vines were less vigorous and ‘smaller’, had less foliage, than their neighbours. This is deliberate to accommodate the reduced yield they prune to and to aerate the vines, reducing the swathe of foliage masking the fruit zone and re-radiating warmth back up to fruit from the vineyard floor.  Jean-Hervé remarked some of neighbours think the Jacquesson vines ‘are dying’ – this is not at all the case, but they are smaller vines, with less shade and lower yields and this is quite deliberate.  Finally, unheard of in most of Champagne where grapes are both the most expensive in the world and where yield is generally ramped up on the basis of ‘the more the merrier’, Jacquesson performs a ‘green harvest’ in July, stripping out excess bunches to concentrate the remaining bunches. Pruning is to 8-10 buds rather than the 15 maximum allowed and even then debudding is performed to space out the fruit. They have reduced total leaf area with small canopies but increased total exposed leaf area, reducing shading, getting riper fruit and more evenly ripe from a lower yield and overall getting increased photosynthetic activity. But their yields at under 10k kilos, are significantly lower than most.  The house strives for the highest possible quality fruit with its close relationship and clear wish for their own tip top methods to be used by those they buy from too.  It’s a regime more often found with estates making still fine wine rather than champagne.   But for all this intense focus, they are not organic or biodynamic, having doubts about the high levels of copper often used on vineyards in spite of these methods.  Nevertheless, all soil treatments are organic; no chemical herbicides are used. Pressing only uses the ‘cuvée’ for all the wines.  Vinification and the storing of reserve wines here is almost all in some 40 large old oak ‘foudres’ varying from 39hls to 47hls to 76hls.  There is no fining, filtration or conventional cold stabilisation; lees are stirred to add body and complexity and have anti-oxidative and stabilising effect which minimises sulpur additions.  The malolactic is completed, time in bottle on the second lees is extended and dosages, always matched to the balance of a specific cuvée, have been low here for a long time rather than a recent fashion. Most of the wines are Extra-Brut – less than 6g/L of residual sugar.  The large oak adds an gentle oxidative complexity not oaky flavour and allows a rich lees contact to achieve the extreme vinosity of Jacquesson’s wines.  The proportion of reserve wines varies with the harvest but is often over 35%.  In a poor year such as 2001, 45% of Cuvée 729 was reserve wines.  The NV wine spends 36 -42 months on the second lees in bottle, the vintage wines six to seven years.  In a welcome move to give clear information to the consumer, all the wines now show the blend, dosage and disgorgement date on the back label. Given the insistent focus on the end result of what they do – the elite quality of their wines – it is easy to forget that Jacquesson, with no rhetorical fanfare, is the leading champion of ‘natural wine’ in Champagne.  But rightly I think, their right to this title is not earnt from all the boxes they tick for green and low-intervention practices, not because of how the wine is made, but because of how good it is. The house’s current big strategic turn can be summed up as moving  from a conventional range of non-vintage (NV) and vintage wines to a single NV wine and a series of vintaged single vineyard (lieux-dits) wines.The new Brut NV, launched in 2000, only blended from grands and premiers crus material, now rejects the Champagne norm of a same or similar consistent brand style made every year.  Jacquesson now aims to make the best blend of vintages possible given the conditions of each harvest.  Vintages are blended but the precise mix of grapes, locations and years is no longer based on making a ‘model’ of what conventionally would be a Jacquesson house style.  The Cuvée’s editions numbers rise by ‘1’ each year, beginning with Cuvée 728 in 2000.  The latest release is ‘Cuvée 736’, based on 2008.  The initial name ‘728’ of the series continues old cellar books of the house.  Jean-Hervé Chiquet has said: ‘Making the best possible wine means no more consistency.  The compromise involved in making a consistent product is no longer for us.  Gone is the concept: ‘Buy the brand’.’ Both the old bottlings of the house and the new now coexist on the market as old stocks diminish and will eventually disappear.  This is a potentially confusing situation so here is a ‘before and now’ list.  

The end date of the prior range -‘last made’- and launch dates of the new range are given:

OLD RANGE
Brut NV Perfection  (last 2000)
Brut NV Rosé Perfection (last 1997)
Grand Cru Avize Blanc de Blancs Millésime (2000)
Millésime (2002)
Signature Rosé Millésime (1999)
Dégorgement Tardif Blanc de Blancs Millésime  (1996)
Dégorgement Tardif Millésime  (1996)

NEW RANGE
Cuvées 728-736 NV   Launch base 2000
Corne Bautray (Dizy) Millésime  100 CH   Launch 1995
Terres Rouges (Dizy) 
Rosé Millésime   Launch 2002
Champ Cain  (Avize) Millésime   100  CH  Launch 2002
Vauzelle Terme (Aÿ) Millésime  100 PN  Launch 1996
Dégorgement Tardif versions of the five new cuvées

This profile will need much more in depth assessments of the new single vineyard wines in the near future, so can only be a work in progress for now.  The early indications are wines of terrific distinction capable of long ageing and development.  I am also intrigued by the idea that the NV ‘Cuvées 7..’ represent, as Jacquesson describes them, the ‘best’ wines possible after each harvest, not a house style.  They do differ, no question.  But I also believe they show the Jacquesson style quite remarkably across the 728-736 range so far.  There is a crystalline purity and diamond faceted structure, huge concentration and length.  And there is delicacy and detail.  There is always a crisp, ringing dry impression from the pretty consistent ‘Extra Brut’ dosages of usually from 3-5g/L.  The emphasis of the grape blend seems to be evolving too – Chardonnay, always a keynote of the house, is more and more to the fore and Pinot Meunier seems slowly to be retreating in the blend.  When this house reaches for the best it’s not surprising there tends to be a signature stamp to the style. It’s best to think of Jacquesson as an elite domaine (‘grower’ champagne to most) who just happens to buy in 28% extra fruit from neighbours they work with very closely.  The logic of what they now do is based on that of fine wine in general rather than blending far and wide, the character of location and of vintage rather than a brand.  This character and their relative scarcity and pricing will confirm further Jacquesson’s connoisseur and innovative reputation.  They are the only top house to have transformed their strategy and wines so radically.  There are of course many vineyard and wine-making values and practices that have carried over.  One day in some 10-15 years time, few of their original range will be left.  But I suspect Jacquesson’s seat at the high table of quality will be even more assured.

The Wines Cuvée 728 NV Tasted 01/04. Base 2000.  36CH 27 PN 37 PM  Pleasant appley wine with round and early autolytic Meunier notes.  32% reserves, mainly 1999.  5g/L. 3yrs on lees. Cuvée 729 NV Tasted 03/05.  Base 2001.   Very brut but complex with reserve wines showing though.  34CH 34PN 32PM. 42% reserves – most 2000, just 4% from 1999.  6g/L. Cuvée 730 NV Tasted 03/05. Base 2002.  48CH 32PN 20PM  Based on ’02 (60%) and the 40% reserve wines are 27% ’01, 12% ’00, and 1% ’99. Dosage a very low 3.5g/L. Acidity 7gr/L (tartaric) Pale, Chardonnay evident. A honied concentration balancing a tight, minerally texture and rapier acidity. Crisp, very dry impression. Fine.  Tasted again in 09/08:  Had not tried this for some time.  Lovely beeswax and floral nose.  Very dry and mineral. Intense and long.  Showing some maturity but stil so fresh.  Very impressive. Cuvée 731 NV Tasted 02/09.  Base 2003.Very minerally and austere but mature reserve element is there. Sappy and steely. Good. A very similar note for a previous bottle in 11/07. 2g/L.   52CH 17PN  31PM  Assemblage was 59% from 2003, 25% 2002, 15% 2001, 1% 2000. Cuvée 732 NV 06 /11 Base 2004.  This still so lively and bright.  Had a burnished, peel and sherbet quality and no premature toffee/biscuit development.   Base here is 04 with 21% reserve wine.  Very good indeed.  39CH 25PN 36PM Cuvée 733, NV 02.09 Base 2005.   52CH 24 PN 24 PM.  Base 2005 78% with reserve wine making up 22% of the blend.  2.7g/L dosage.  Surprisingly light ochre for a current recent release. Fine bead. Very coiled nose of white linen, faintly floral but an arresting vinosity and driving mineral and mango mid-palate. Extremely focused, poised and very bound up, full of tantalizing potential. A sense of power on a hair trigger, full in the mouth but a sense of glimpsing potential through a spylight in the door. Only in the starting blocks with very fresh and lean Chardonnay to the fore. Impressive.  Tasted in 10/10: Palish, touch green, very mineral. Expands on palate, real crunch with candy and bitter herb note. Very compelling. Only a touch more round that in 02.09. Cuvée 734, NV Base 2006.54CH 20PN 26PMTasted02/10 Bistro 7, Epernay. Shimmering, stony young wine with sense of mineral origin and lively poise. Very persistent. Good. Tasted in 12/10: Very subtle winemaking as usual from this great producer. Driving energetic and minerally. A stately weighted wine but cream and crystal crunch too. Classy. Cuvée 735 NV Base 2007.  Tasted 04/12 in Avize Trait – D – Union tasting:  A shimmery emerald impression, saline and mineral but with substance and good length undereath.  Impressive.  3.5g/L.  Tasted again: 09/12 and 10/12  47CH 33PN 20PM 07 harvest base + 06/05 reserves.  More gentle and creamy, round, than anticipated.  Whiff of woodsmoke.  Not as wound up as anticipated.  Very good. Noticeable that all the 700 series are very tight on release but after 10 months to a year following disgorgement, the round out and open quite quickly, then hold this impression, plateau if you like, for 2-3 years if well kept.Cuvée 736 NV 53CH 29PN 18PM  Tasted on a lucky preview in Avize in 04/12 before its November 2012 launch. Disgorged that morning.Greeny tinge, and magnifies on the palate hugely.  Very mineral and wound up.  Feel the coiled spring. And again at a 10/12Sneak preview in London, before imminent release.  2008 base.  Huge airy finesse on nose – recent disgorgement.  Great crunch and lively energy.  Crystal pure; long reverberation of flavour.  Way to go. Cuvée 737 NV 43CH 27PN 30PM  3.5g/L Disgorged 07/13  Tasted London  01/14   Very fresh, young and tight.  Pretty closed but burnished dried peel and citrus edge all there.  Very dry and austere – I guess we know why this is released so early, but I’d prefer it if they waited longer. Avise Grand Cru ’95 Blanc de Blancs Tasted 1/04  Lightly poised but powerful across palate, showing some autolysis biscuit but firmly structured.  Very good.  Blended from three lieux-dits on the lower slopes of Avize: La Fosse, Némery and Champ Cain.  4g/L. Millésime Signature ’95 Tasted 1/04  55PN 45CH Complex and many-layered with terrific concentration and minerally length.  Very fresh still.   Chardonnay from Avize (30%), Chardonnay from Chouilly (15%), Sillery Pinot Noir (25%), Aÿ Pinot Noir (30%). Avise Grand Cru ’96 Tasted 03/05Very toasty now and very good.   Tasted again in 03/06 – finely tempered minerals with no excess of acidity and layers of complexity. Corne Bautray ’00 Tasted 06/06  100CH  Blanc de Blancs.  From a 1ha lieu-dit high above Dizy planted in 1962. 44yr old vines.    Disgorged 3 mnths.   Very pale, green tinge, 0g/L but not over-acidic in impression.  Lovely acacia and spice with delicate autolysis flavours too, but not over-crude biscuit.   Honey and quince. Very long.  Lovely weight. Corne Bautray ’02 Tasted 04/12 Avize: Chocolate, toffee and fudge impression, a note of mild oxidation but adding complexity.  Spicy and peppery, honeysuckle.  Very good indeed. Corne Bautray ’04 Tasted 04/12 Avize:  Not as powerful as the ’02 but very early days.  Green note, taut and savoury.  An impression of cold stones.  Austere but only disgorged that morning and for release in 2013. Millésime Signature ’96. Tasted 06/06.  Blend of Cote de Blancs (Avise & Chouilly 46CH)  Montagne (Verzenay & Mailly 31PN) and Marne (Ay 23PN)   Mid-gold, intense nose with grass honey and sage.  Lovely ampleur but balanced and tightly held together.  Shows the style of the house so well:  A balance of Chardonnay with Pinot, finesse and power, an austerity in the young wines but astounding rounder balance and ‘weight’ behind the crisp minerality. Avise Grand Cru ‘96 Blanc de Blancs Tasted 06/06.  Pale straw; intense, honey and mineral  nose.  Lovely vinosity and body – a sort of airborne viscosity.  Spice, red grapefruit, honey in background  and complex but retains shivering minerality and high acidity.  Seems so balanced it drinks well now – especially if you are an acid freak –  but I’m sure this will go on and on. Fine wine. Grand Vin Signature ’95 Tasted 06/06. 45CH, 55PN.  Only 2021 cases and 948 magnums made.  Served too cold – Jean-Hervé thinks more like 10C for this would be better.  Mid-gold, closed at first on nose. Palate mineral, citrus with mild emerging biscuit autolysis.  Very good but not as intense as ’96.   Some notes of brown-apple oxidation. Avise Grand Cru ’97, Blanc de Blancs Tasted 02/08  Gold; aromas of ripeness and pastilles.  Peachy, but edgy, defined fruit.  Mineral and long. Millésime ’02 03/12 London CIVC. The vinous concentration seems to make the bubbles recede as an element; very mineral and complex, a seaside wind and hint of earth and wet wood, iodine.  Langoustine shell and stones.  Quite chalky.  A very complex wine. Jacquesson 1996 dégorgement tardif disgorged 06/07. Tasted 10/12 London.  Intriguing. Showed complex tea leaf and whisky notes & not as taut as 96s have been. Good.  Will not be made again.  Hervé told me in London 10/12 that had restructured their contracts – now 28ha own land plus buy in less – now only 8ha – will make 20% less wine.  Total of 280k bottles/ annum. Dizy Terres Rouges ’07 Rosé 10/12 London.  Skin contact maceration.  Dusky deep rose pink.  Bold red fruits, spice and sous bois.  Very burgundian!  But delicious. Champagne Jacquesson 68, rue du Colonel Fabien, 51530 Dizy +33 (0)3 26 55 68 11 info@champagnejacquesson.comwww.champagnejacquesson.com