The brothers Fourny-Charles and Emmanuel were in town this week. And what an impression they make as grower Champagne makers. There is passion in every word they speak about their champagnes-the personalised stuff. They come from Vertus, a chardonnay growing town at the very south of the region -les Cotes des Blancs which dominates chardonnay plantings in the Champagne region.
Charles tells me his forebears started the brand in 1856. But now, as his dad Roger is no longer around, and his mum is responsible for the business, Veuve (widow) is a good name as many houses before have done.
What is the champagne of the house? Veuve Fourny Blanc de Blancs Brut Vertus Premier Cru (AUD 54) which is non vintage chardonnay really. In a very big way, this is how I judge the quality of the house-by it’s standard non vintage-which incidentally takes a lot to put together by Emmanuel, as I heard from his description.
The company owns 30 plots which act as small vineyards, and annually harvests these as 60 parcels of grapes to meticulously separate and evaluate the base wine results.
This is the small grower mentality whereas a big maker like Veuve Clicquot in Reims would put all the Vertus origin premier cru chardonnay grapes in one big tank-call it Vertus. The separate qualities, or the ability to recognise great portions of any vineyard, are lost.
Where this process of retention of small batches comes into its own is because Veuve Fourny have accumulated lots of old oak barrels, so portions as small as 300 litres can be kept aside for blending into higher quality cuvees (blends).
It goes further than that. Often people from one French region never visit another adjacent one, however close, ever in their lives. In the case of the Fournys, one nearby region is Burgundy.
Emmanuel regularly visits colleagues in the chardonnay-producing part of the region during vintage for information sharing, and that now reflects in his winemaking, particularly in his more natural rather than clinical ways of not filtering some lines yet avoiding some of the nasties which can develop from ignorant natural winemaking.
The second wine which pairs with the Blanc de Blancs is Grand Reserve Brut Vertus Premier Cru NV (AUD 54) which is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; having a high addition of reserve wine (30% from 2008) whereas the current wine is based on the 2009 harvest.
Emmanuel’s trips to the white burgundy areas which work specifically with chardonnay clearly reflects in his winemaking. This is significant, to see champagne chardonnay and white burgundy mindsets working in the same cellar at making more interesting Blanc de Blancs champagne.
This activity also contributed to Emmanuel being named best “Young Winemaker in Champagne” from a popular local vote for 2012.
But that is the edge which grower Champagne makers need-to separate them moreso from the big brands which take away vineyard origin by massive blending. Note also that Veuve Fourny do not use pinot meunier-the most widely planted champagne base wine variety in the region.
What we also drank:
Veuve Fourny Cuvee R Extra Brut (AUD 70)- a tribute to the brothers’ dad Roger; based on 2008 vintage wine, and made very intensely, having an amazing nose of yeast and funky yeast adjuncts (additional nose interest); then a great line of acidity, lively and taut. Low sugar at 4 grams per litre.
Veuve Fourny Grand Millesime Brut Blanc de Blancs 1996 -just to remind guests just how good aged vintage bubbles can be, not often for sale; a pristine, touch of brulee, lemony old chardonnay with decades to go; recently disgorged to show its great style.
Veuve Fourny is a leading grower Champagne maker of chardonnay bubbles. Look out for them; or other brands which lead this charge-Agrapart (Avize-chardonnay), Larmandier-Bernier (Vertus and other chardonnay villages) and Egly-Ouriet (Ambonnay-pinot territory).