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Peter Liem: The Giraud family traces its ancestry through that of the Hémarts, who have roots in Aÿ dating back to the 17th century, and the house considers François Hémart, who lived from 1625 to 1705, to be the founder of the estate. In the beginning of the 20th century, Madeleine Hémart married Léon Giraud, who restored winegrowing at the estate after the phylloxera crisis. Their son, Henri Giraud, expanded the family’s vineyard holdings in Aÿ after the Second World War, and today the house is in the hands of Henri’s son Claude (pictured), who is assisted by his daughter Emmanuelle.
The house’s nine hectares of vines are all in the grand cru village of Aÿ, planted with 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay. Additional fruit is purchased, yet all of the grapes are pressed at Giraud’s facilities—the house does not buy any juice. After pressing in one of the house’s two pneumatic presses, the musts are given a cold-settling at 10°C prior to fermentation, which Giraud says results in better clarification and better development of aroma. The wines are fermented either in stainless steel tanks or in oak barrels, depending on which cuvée they are destined for, and all of the wines go through a full malolactic.
While Giraud uses oak from different areas in France, he has worked hard to revive the tradition of using wood from local Argonne forests. He began this project in 1989, working with the cooper Camille Gauthier, and soon became convinced of the suitability of Argonne oak. “We tried [wood from] several different forests,” he says, “and there was no question that the Argonne wood was the best for champagne, the one that most complemented its character.” This is partially because it seemed to emphasize the liveliness and vigor essential to making good champagne. “When we first started working with Argonne wood,” says Giraud, “we found that the wine was actually fresher and livelier when vinified in this wood compared to the wines vinified in tank. This is not at all what we expected.”
In the 1990 vintage, Giraud created the Cuvée Fût de Chêne to showcase the results of his work with Argonne oak, and today he vinifies another cuvée in Argonne wood as well, the Code Noir. Recently, he and Gauthier have taken their efforts one step further, seeking to provide documentable traceability for their sources of wood—beginning with the 2010 vintage, Giraud is using the first certified, entirely traceable barrels from specific areas in the Argonne, beginning with the forests of Châtrice and Beaulieu.