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Christophe Mignon

Peter Liem: 

Christophe Mignon is the fifth generation of his family to grow vines in the Vallée de la Marne, and the family has been making wine for a long time as well—in fact, Mignon's great-grandmother once won a medal for her red wine from Le Breuil.

Today, Mignon farms a little more than six hectares of vines, divided almost equally between the villages of Festigny and Le Breuil. He has 30 parcels in all, lying largely on clay and limestone soils, and despite being located on the left bank of the Marne River, 90 percent of his vineyard land faces south, offering a high degree of ripeness. As expected for this terroir, meunier represents the majority of Mignon's plantings, accounting for no less than 90 percent of his vineyard area, while the remainder is equally split between chardonnay and pinot noir.

Mignon is deeply committed to viticulture, believing that the quality of his viticulture directly correlates with the quality of his wines. The vast majority of his work falls under what might be termed "natural", yet like several other dedicated viticulturists in Champagne, such as Anselme Selosse and Pascal Agrapart, Mignon refuses to adhere to any standardized systems. "I am not organic," he says. "I am not certified, nor do I want to be. I admire those who are, and it works for them, but it's not my philosophy." By the same token, he refuses to call himself biodynamic, even though he relies heavily on many of its practices: "Biodynamics has done a lot for the health of my vines," he says. "It's very useful, but I think there is still more." The farthest that he will go in defining his system of viticulture is, simply: "I do what I say and I say what I do."

What he does is, inevitably, intelligently judged, labor-intensive and grounded in a carefully reasoned philosophy. He has worked according to the lunar calendar for nearly twenty years, in both the vineyards and the cellar, and with biodynamic preparations for nearly fifteen. He also makes extensive use of homeopathic and phytotherapeutic tinctures and preparations from plants such as ortie (stinging nettle) and prêle (horsetail): these are aimed at balancing the biological health and environment of the vine, allowing it to better resist disease on its own. This becomes particularly important in the case of mildew, for example, where it allows him to reduce the use of copper sulfate, which, despite being condoned by practitioners of organic viticulture, has the unfortunate side effect of introducing a toxic heavy metal into the soil. He grows cover crops in all of his vineyards, and since about 2004 or so, all of his parcels have been regularly plowed.

In the cellar, Mignon has two pneumatic presses, one 2,000 kilograms in size and the other 4,000 kilograms, which allow him to press all of his parcels separately. These are also vinified separately in enameled-steel tanks, half with indigenous yeasts and half with Quartz, the biodynamically certified yeasts cultivated by Fleury. Mignon has a strong preference for enameled steel over stainless: "Stainless is too neutral," he says, "and it has a tendency to be overly reductive." The malolactic may be encouraged or not, depending on the particular year, and the wines undergo a natural cold-stabilization by opening the windows and doors in the winter. The wines are not filtered, and bottling occurs on an appropriate lunar day in May or June, after the vines have flowered. Sulfur is typically low as a rule, with no more than 30 milligrams per liter in any wine.

In addition to his own label, Mignon vinifies about 15,000 bottles of champagne a year under the Eugène Prudhomme brand. These also come exclusively from his own vineyards, and while they are based largely on meunier, they can also include pinot noir and chardonnay in their blends.

 

With the exception of one cuvée, the Coup de Foudre, all wines bottled under the Christophe Mignon label are 100-percent meunier. Mignon may occasionally make single-terroir and single-vineyard champagnes, but in general, his champagnes are blended from both Festigny and Le Breuil, taking advantage of the characteristics of each. "The wines of Festigny are a little fruitier than those of Le Breuil," says Mignon. "Le Breuil has a little more acidity, giving more structure, and it has a little less ripeness."

Mignon's champagnes certainly reflect an emphasis on viticulture, showing a rich, ripe depth of fruit as well as a pronounced and complex mineral signature. As befits the soils in this area, the wines are more earthy and stony than overtly chalky, yet this doesn't make them any less terroir-expressive, and a hallmark of Christophe Mignon's champagnes is their intense articulation of place.

This can be observed in Mignon's Brut Nature, a pure meunier that is typically made from two different vintages, blended in equal proportions. A model of balance, its ripe fruit allows it to feel expressive in the absence of dosage, bringing minerality to the foreground while keeping acidity in check. Mignon also releases this blend as an Extra Brut, dosed with a liqueur of organic cane sugar, and in some years, this can be even more complex and complete than the Brut Nature. The same blend is used as the base for Mignon's pungent, vinous Brut Rosé, where it's combined with a relatively high percentage of red wine, made from meunier that's vinified in barrel. For his vintage blend, Mignon selects fruit from old meunier vines in both Festigny and Le Breuil, and the exact provenance can change from one year to the next: in 2005, for example, it was a single-vineyard champagne, sourced from a parcel in Le Breuil called Le Brousse, while in 2013 it came from a vineyard called Les Varennes.

In 2003, he experimented with aging wine for an entire year in a new, 1,700-liter oak foudre, employing a blend of all three varieties in equal proportions. For the first release of this cuvée, called Coup de Foudre, he used a little reserve wine; the next edition, however, was pure 2006. He has since decided to make this entirely from a single vintage, although it isn't stated on the label, and it won't be made in every vintage. Although the oak is always new, it doesn't dominate the wine, and Mignon credits this to the depth and complexity attained through conscientious viticulture. "When you work well in the vines, you can do anything afterwards," he says.