Champagne J Lassalle: Long-Lived Pioneers On The American Market

Champagne J. Lassalle started to export to the United States already in the 1970s. It was one of the first independent Champagne growers to be sold in the US. Today, a big part of the family’s production goes to the US market. The estate is run by Angéline Templier and her mother Chantal Lassalle. Grandmother Olga is 99 years old and still going strong.

You don’t have to go far from the city of Reims to discover the wines of Champagne. Actually, you don’t have to leave Reims at all as the city has several Champagne houses within its boundaries. But going out into the vineyards and to the small, well-kept wine villages heightens the Champagne experience considerably.

Go twenty minutes south from Reims and you could end up in Chigny-les-Roses, a charming village with 550 people, a beautiful town hall and a fair number of Champagne producers. Continue south for another 20-30 minutes and you are in Epernay.

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“Chigny-les-Roses is more or less halfway between Reims and Epernay”, says Angéline, who runs the family business Champagne J. Lassalle in the village. “We are in the Montagne de Reims, famous for its Pinot Noir. But here in Chigny, we are actually more famous for our Pinot Meunier.” 50% of the Lassalle family vineyard is planted with Pinot Meunier.

Angéline is the third generation at Champagne J. Lassalle. She joined her mother Chantal and grandmother Olga in 2006. Olga still keeps a watchful eye on all activities, despite being 99 years old. She attributes her high age to a daily dose of Champagne and to hard work.

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It was Angéline’s grandfather Jules, Olga’s husband, who started it all in 1942. He didn’t fear challenges. He started his Champagne business in 1942 and he was a pioneer as an independent grower. “We all continue to work in the spirit of Jules”, says Angéline. First Olga, who took over when Jules passed away in 1982, then Chantal, their daughter, and now Angéline.

The family exports 90 % of their production which is a lot even in an export-oriented wine region such as Champagne. A lot of it goes to America. Jules was a forerunner also on the US market. Already in the 1970s, he was present in the US with the help of Kermit Lynch, as one of the very first independent Champagne producers. His granddaughter still works with the same importer.

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Jules was a pioneer in many ways. He felt early on that it is important to exchange views with like-minded, quality-conscious growers. So, in 1979 he joined the “Club Trésors de Champagne”, a grower association created eight years earlier, in 1971. This is now the oldest and most famous grower association in Champagne with 28 members. Club Trésor even has its own champagne shop in Reims, well worth a visit.

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The family has 40 acres of vineyards and the production is around 125,000 bottles. 50% of the land is in Chigny, the rest is in the neighbouring villages, spread out over 60 different plots.

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They still use the traditional vertical press that Jules bought many years ago. The cellar, however, was modernized with stainless steel tanks in 2011. “When we work in the cellar, we aim at expressing the vineyards, so we try to do as little intervention as possible”, says Angéline. “We don’t need to chaptalize and we use indigenous yeast only.”

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The dosage is in general 7-8 grams per litre which can seem a little on the high side in today’s craze for the extra-brut and brut zero. But even though the malolactic fermentation, which lowers the acidity, is always completed, the J. Lassalle champagnes are very balanced. They obviously have enough acidity to start with because the final result is tightly knit, crispy champagnes paired with smoothness and a lovely, creamy mouthfeel. It also helps that the vineyards, in general, are old. The vines are around 50 years, which is pretty old for Champagne. Also, the time the bottles are kept on the lees is always longer than the legal minimum.

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The flagship of the estate is Cuvée Angéline 2009. “I am always proud to talk about this cuvée as it is named after me”, says Angéline. Jules made the first vintage in 1973. At the time it was already a single vineyard, with new plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Only 5000 bottles are made of this very complex and powerful champagne. It spends 8 years on the lees giving it both complexity and body. It has some delicious honey notes.

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Cuvée Preference is made in bigger volumes. This is the cuvée that “expresses the spirit of the house”. It is smooth but with a distinct, lively acidity which freshens up the palate.

Cuvée Blanc de Blanc 2009 is elegant and toasty with a complex palate with length and freshness. Only 25 % of the family vineyards are Chardonnay but, says Angéline, “we wanted to make a cuvée which focus on Chardonnay in this area more famous for its red grapes. Our Chardonnay vines have an easterly exposure, so we get a nice maturity.”

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Finally, the Special Club. All members of Club Trésors make a cuvée Special Club although only in vintage years. All members use the same type of bottle for this champagne, designed for the Club. Special Club 2008 from Champagne J. Lassalle is made of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot noir and it has spent 10 years on the lees. It is rich, concentrated, silky, complex, incredibly long on the palate. Delicious in other words. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that to describe a wine.

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—Britt Karlsson

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