Drappier’s prestige cuvée – their top wine – is their Grande Sendrée. In 1838, a fire ravaged Urville. As a result, a parcel of vineyard on a hill outside the village belonging to Drappier was covered in cinders or cendrée. When it was time to register the name, a spelling oversight had it written instead as Sendrée. Produced from pinot noir and chardonnay Grande Sendrée 2009 is flushed with rich fruit – quince, citrus peel, spice, and honey – and will be one of four champagnes to be enjoyed on 19 December 2019 in Singapore. to book, click here
Three generations of Drappiers. Andre (seated), Michel, Charline (vintage 1989), Hugo (vintage 1991) and Antoine (vintage 1996).
A blanket of south-facing vineyards outside Urville, home of Champagne Drappier since 1808.
I first visited Champagne Drappier some 20 years ago. It was a very special experience.
In the first place, the Aube, where it is situated, is a long way from Reims and Epernay, like driving from Chablis to Beaune. Secondly, while they may buy fruit from this part of Champagne, the big houses are not really present in the Cote des Bar. There is a more artisanal quality about growers and producers there. That said, Champagne Drappier has grown to become one of the powerhouses of the Aube. Notwithstanding that, the quality of Drappier has never been better. Although it buys fruit to supplement their considerable family-owned 55 ha vineyard, Champagne Drappier behaves and interacts more like a grower producer.
When you visit Champagne Drappier at rue de Vignes, you are also visiting the family home. The fact the Drappiers are friendly and completely relaxed adds to their charm. Particularly if, after the tasting and tour, you are also dining in their home. There is no official “party line” that the family members adopt and, listening to their commonly shared – but also differing – views, you feel revived to be among such genuine people. Not to mention that Champagne Drappier will be flowing throughout the meal and conversation. Revived and quenched.
The Drappier family tree can be traced back to more than 400 years.
In 1604, Remy Drappier was born. Like Nicolas Ruinart, he was to become a cloth merchant in Reims. Textile was once more important to the prosperity of Champagne than wine. Remy Drappier’s grandson Nicolas (1669 – 1724) was a public prosecutor during the reign of Louis XIV. The reign of the Sun King was one of the cresting moments of French culture. It was not until 1803 that the family moved to Urville, where Francois Drappier started working in a vineyard.
Maison Drappier was founded in 1808. In the space of 210 years, the family has prospered to become considerable vineyard owners. Apart from their 55 ha, Drappier also relies upon another 50 ha under contract in the Cote des Bar, Cote des Blancs and Montagne de Reims to produce around 1.7 million bottles a year. This figure is remarkable when you consider that back in 1979 when Michel Drappier assumed the role of winemaker, annual production then was only only 180,000 bottles. Champagne Drappier keeps 3.5 years of stocks in their cellars in Urville and in Reims.
Michel Drappier is a tireless ambassador of the region of Champagne and the House of Drappier. The affable Frenchman has appeared on CNN television singing the praises of the world’s favourite sparkling wine.
The Urville cellar was built in 1152 by St Bernard, founder of Clairvaux, a Cistercian Abbey. Urville has around 150 inhabitants and many, many many more bottles of champagne.
The Urville cellar is particularly special. It was built in 1152 by Saint Bernard, founder of Clairvaux Abbey, a Cistercian order. If wine could speak, it may yet tell us that the slumber there is that much more peaceful. After all, the population of Urville is only around 150 inhabitants. And many, many, many more bottles of champagne! In spite of its growing size, Champagne Drappier is very artisanal in approach. And not afraid to take us back to the future.
Michel Drappier is unapologetic about paying homage to the past.
‘Today, rather than sophisticated, sometimes overdone excellence, we prefer authenticity and a natural approach. ’
Producing champagne, any champagne, is a meticulous, even painstaking process. It all about detail. In spite of his cheerful nature, Michel drives himself very hard.
‘We are fiercely opposed to excessive use of sulphur and we use the weakest doses in our profession. The champagnes thus derived have more natural colour with rich, coppery golds and more expansive aromas. Apart from respect for the consumer, this characteristic allows a low-temperature prise de mousse which is particularly slow, generating a fine, subtle effervescence.’
The fact that Michel’s father Andre is allergic to sulphur is an added incentive. Then there is the liqueur dosage Drappier lavishes on its wine, another throwback to a distant past.
‘The liqueurs d’expedition are aged in oak casks, then in demijohns for more than 10 years, in this way gaining in concentration and refinement. They are added to each bottle in a reduced dose in order to accentuate length in the mouth without ever overburdening the palate. The champagnes thus obtained are more complex and also purer.’
Drappier uses cane sugar to produce its liqueurs d’expedition for the dosage. The liqueurs are aged in oak casks, then in demijohns for more than 10 years. This minor detail runs against the tide of what is practised in nearly the rest of Champagne.
This seemingly minor detail runs against the tide of what is practised in nearly the rest of Champagne, which is liqueurs d’expedition made from sugar beet. Drappier uses cane sugar and which it ages as lovingly as their wine. The last time I attended a tasting at Maison Drappier, it included not only their wines but also these exquisite liqueurs. We were a privileged group that included Michael Edwards, Essi Avellan MW and Giles Fallowfield that sunny 23 June 2015 afternoon.
Why, one wonders, does Michel Drappier even bother continuing with such outmoded practices?
‘Liqueur d’expedition accounts for less than 1% of a champagne. Like anything in food, origin and process counts and the dosage is part of the aromatic signature of a cuvée. As long as a winemaker wants to have the cru, the variety, the type of yeast and much more under control, why would he leave the making of the liqueur de dosage to an industry outside the region? It takes investment, time and work, but, I think, it is worth it.’
This practice is a mirror image of Champagne Drappier. A family house rooted in values and virtues cultivated more than 400 years ago. It doesn’t get any better nor younger than that.