Luxury, glamour, excellence, prestige…terms that are not necessarily incompatible with humility, determination, hard work, effort… Our visit to this great Champagne house showed us that attaining the highest echelons and maintaining your position among the elite takes discipline and hard work, every day. This is the impression we got at Louis Roederer.
The centre of Reims is home to the Louis Roederer Champagne house which has been producing and ageing excellent champagnes for centuries. Roederer is one of the few houses that remain independent and still in the hands of the original founding family.
Unlike other Champagne houses which, a couple of centuries ago (19th c.), used to buy grapes from different grape growers in the region, Louis Roederer decided - with what would later prove to be great foresight – that, instead of buying-in grapes from third parties, the smartest thing to do would be to acquire specific vineyards, the very best ones, in order to exercise complete control over them.
Roederer’s champagnes, because of their quality, and also because it was the logical thing for a business to do, started to be shipped abroad and some of their first destinations were the U.S.A and Russia. At that time, i.e. the late 19th century (1870), there was an occurrence, that – according to the story – led to Roederer champagnes gaining their reputation for excellence. Russian was ruled at the time by Tsar Alexander II, known as the “Russian Lincoln.” To cater to the exacting Tsar, Louis Roederer II created what is today referred to as a “cuvée de prestige ”. It is thought that the Tsar feared that there would be an attempt on his life, and therefore ordered that the bottles used for this champagne should be transparent, so that he could see if any strange substances had been introduced. A Flemish glassmaker was commissioned to make the new bottle, the first champagne bottle with a flat bottom. The name of the cuvée created for the extravagant Tsar is now well known... CRISTAL.
Today, Cristal is a favourite champagne of celebrities and has even featured in films such as “Lost in translation”, directed by Sofia Coppola, and Tarantino’s “Four Rooms”. In 2013, a limited edition 2002 vintage of the cuvée was produced, with a price tag beyond the reach of many: € 21,000 for a double magnum (3L) “dressed” in 24-carat gold lattice-work . A gem of a champagne.
Various members of the family have been at the helm of the company over the years, and today, the seventh generation of Roederers, represented by Frédéric Rouzaud Roederer, remains faithful to the house style… and long may it last.
But historical anecdotes aside, we should explain the Champagne house’s way of working and how it manages to produce these sublime champagnes of worldwide acclaim. As we mentioned earlier, almost all the grapes used to produce Roederer champagnes come from its own vineyards. The small percentage of grapes that are bought-in are only used in the production of the exceptional Non Vintage, which they called Brut Premier (named best Non Vintage in the world a few years ago by Decanter). It is interesting to note that this champagne is mostly from the Pinot Meunier, because the house owns very few vineyards of this variety. The rest of the champagnes are produced from vines owned by the company. 240 hectares, 410 parcels, which are located exclusively in the Grands Cru and Premier Cru villages in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs. They are tended with great care and attention by Roederer’s employees. Each parcel has its own particular characteristics and each is treated with tender loving care, as if it were a child, allowing the grapes to reach an exceptional level of maturity. We were pleasantly surprised to learn, from cellar master, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, that “25% of the vines are grown biodynamically”. Roederer strongly believes that the land needs to be treated well and be healthy in order to produce quality champagne. Only natural yeasts found in its own vineyards are used and Roederer is the only Champagne house, as far as we know, that practices massal selection (consisting of selecting the best vine plants from the best parcels, to gradually create a “House vine” of exceptional quality.)
Roederer is clearly committed to increasing the percentage of vines managed according to biodynamic principles, which will no doubt produce very satisfactory results, reflected in the champagne. It will continue to make the same great champagnes - the vintage champagnes with their slight differences of character, and the cuvées with their consistent taste profile, year after year. But Roederer also experiments and innovates, and because of this, for the first time in the history of the company, a unique champagne saw the light of day, this year… a Vintage Brut Nature, specifically from the 2006 vintage. According to Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, “the Brut Nature is simply a result of the exceptional body of the champagne with a slight creamy, enveloping and velvety character that needs no dosage, and reveals the champagne in all its purity.” This exceptional champagne has been produced in collaboration with Philippe Starck. It is an elegant champagne, with soft, sensual bubbles.
We are sure that we will see more new products in future, like this latest “surprise” – an exceptional and extraordinary champagne. But, one thing is clear … Roederer will always be Roederer.