Salmon Champagne: The Pinot Meunier Experts

Of the roughly 19,000 growers in Champagne about 5,000 of them make their own wine, aka “Grower Champagne”. Only 28 are part of the exclusive “Club Trésors de Champagne” otherwise known as the Special Club.

Champagne Salmon is one of those elite chosen few.

That simple fact is reason enough to pay attention to their wines. But it’s far from the only reason we love these guys.

The family

The Salmon winemaking legacy spans three generations, and their history of growing grapes stretches back even further. Michel, the grandfather, was born and raised in Chaumuzy, a sleepy little town in the Ardre Valley. He worked in the vineyards most of his life before acquiring a plot of land for himself. In 1958 he produced the first vintage, a grand total of 500 bottles. Today he still hangs around, but his son Oliver and grandson Alexandre maintain the day to day operations and total annual production tops out at around 100,000 bottles.

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In addition to making wine, Oliver and his son share a passion for piloting hot air balloons, something that’s expressed in the sculpture in front of the winery and on the logo of their Montgolfiere line of wines.

Flying over Champagne in a hot-air balloon, as we like to do, anchors us down to this terroir. We take it to heart to express tradition and exception through the quality and finesse of our productions. Our family passion for traveling in hot-air balloons is akin to that which makes us gather in the vineyards, around the great grape press and in the cellars where we elaborate the cuvées of the house Salmon.

What is this Special Club you speak of?
Special Club. Sounds cool, right? It totally is. It all started in 1971 with one purpose: to promote the terroir of Champagne. Unlike the big producers, who combine fruit from all over the place to create a uniform style, Special Club members must be designated RM (Recoltant Maker, or a grower-producer) and use only fruit from their estate vineyards to create the most epic vintage bottling possible. Members submit wine to two blind tasting panels, and if judged good enough, the wine goes into a uniquely shaped bottle. Three years later, they release it to the delight of hardcore bubbly lovers around the world.

The vineyards

Tradition and authenticity run deep with these guys, and everything starts in the soil. They’ve been practicing sustainable farming since way before it was hip, using minimal treatments on the vines and harvesting the grapes by hand. Heck, they still use horses to plow the rows.

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Of the 10 hectares of vines they own, 85% are dedicated to Pinot Meunier. There’s just one lonely hectare each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While other growers were ripping up Meunier vines and replacing them with the more fashionable Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, these guys stayed true to their roots, choosing instead to showcase this grape’s true varietal character.

Why Pinot Meunier?

The great Rémi Krug described it as “the unacknowledged grape”. It’s basically the left tackle of grapes, a key player that gets less credit than fellow teammates Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Still, there are practical reasons to grow the unacknowledged grape. It buds later, making it safer to grow in a region where late frost often wreaks havoc. And it ripens earlier, so it can be reliably harvested once it has a perfect balance of ripeness and acidity. Also, the clay-limestone soil where Salmon grows it is especially ideal for heightening its minerality and fruitiness.

Winemaking

This profound respect for tradition extends from the vineyards into the winery. While big name producers flaunt their million dollar bladder press, these guys take pride in using a massive antique wood press to crush the grapes. How’s that for OG?

In the cellar it’s all hands on deck. You think making regular Cabs, Merlots, and Pinots is hard? Try mastering the Methode Champenoise. Disgorgement. Dosage. Blending. Riddling. All those things, all done by hand and they have it figured out.

The Grower Champagne Revolution
Let’s face it. All that big name, 500k cases per year bubbly is like the Neopolitan ice cream of the world. You know exactly what you’re getting, and that’s fine. But today people want that Humphry Slocumb Dirty Chai, that Sweet Action Chocolate Mole. Something unique, you know?

Maybe you’ve noticed a huge uptick in demand for so-called “Grower Champagne”. What sets this stuff apart from the other big name bubbly made by the likes of Veuve, Krug and Moet? The big guys source grapes from hundreds, if not thousands of growers around the region and blend them to make a “house style” that basically taste the same year after year. Grower Champagne, on the other hand, comes from small estate vineyards and shows much more variation between vintages. It has a sense of place, a little more of that individual grape variety soul if you will.

The wines

Montgolfiere

Montgolfiere means “hot air balloon”, and these wines form the foundation Salmon’s production while paying homage to their love of flying. The lineup includes six offerings, each with a distinct personality thanks to the unique blending of grapes, slight variations in oak, and differences in dosage.

Meunier

They’ve been making it consistently since 1958, so it only makes sense to have a collection focused exclusively on Petit Meunier. With three Champagnes, a brut, extra-brut, and brut rose, and one Ratafia dessert wine, this is their most focused selection of wine.

Special Club

Champagne Salmon became a member of the Special Club in 2008 and delivered their first bottling in 2009. Their most recent 2011 vintage showcased an exceptionally crisp and bright, 100% Pinot Meunier, “zero dosage” bottling. They are one of three producers in the club making a 100% Pinot Meunier wine.

Would your rather own a hand forged knife made by a seventh generation master bladesmith, or one made by a machine in a factory? You can get a basic fly fishing pole, or a dope Sweetgrass. The same idea applies to bubbly. You can certainly survive on Krug, but for a totally different, and often delightfully unexpected experience, you need to try more grower Champagne made by proud families like the Salmons.

Considering only about 15% of their production ships outside France, we are completely stoked when their stuff lands in our warehouse. These wines truly show a sense of place, and a unique style that’s all their own, and they never disappoint.

Learn more about Champagne Salmon

https://www.facebook.com/champagnesalmon/

http://instagram.com/champagnesalmon

http://champagnesalmon.com/en/domain-salmon/

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Mike Meisner

Mike Meisner

Mike is the resident content creator for the Last Bottle blog. When he's not spilling wine on his keyboard he can be found wandering the aisles in the warehouse with a Coravin in hand, whispering to bottles "This will only hurt for a second".
Mike Meisner

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