The difference between 'average' and exceptional champagne is almost entirely down to the choice of grape varieties, their quality and the soils where they were grown. Champagne's 319 villages are graded between 80% and 100% for their grape growing potential. Only 17 villages have 100% status and qualify as Grand cru. Those achieving 95% are classified as Premier cru.
The region is dominated by approximately 19,000 – mainly small – growers who generally sell their fruit directly to the big champagne houses or co-operatives. A smaller but increasing number produce their own champagne. One such operation that has been widely lauded is Lilbert-Fils. Located in the village of Cramant, in the Cote de Blancs, the Lilbert family have, according to records, been cultivating vines since 1746, and before that quite possibly longer. The records also show that the Lilbert's were bottling their own wine as early as 1907.
Five generations on, the estate is in the capable hands of oenologist graduate Bertrand Lilbert, with his father Georges providing advice from the background. The Lilberts make all the wines from their own vineyards in the Grand cru Cramant. Made exclusively from Chardonnay fruit, the wines are vinified in stainless steel tanks and undergo malolactic fermentation.
While nowadays largely mechanised, the remuage at Lilbert-Fils is conducted manually, following which the wines are aged on lees for three years in underground chalk cellars dating back to 1712. Production is small (26,000 bottles) and the quality exceptional, with the wines snapped up upon release. We are delighted to be the New Zealand importers of this very fine Grower champagne house.