A lot of talk is going around these days about “grower” Champagnes, meaning Champagnes made by vignerons and vigneronnes, as opposed to those produced by large marketing houses with fruit purchased from farmers. We have three such Champagnes, and Kermit started importing J. Lassalle long before it occurred to anyone else to buy directly from a small grower, much as he was a pioneer in buying direct in Bordeaux. Founder Jules Lassalle began to make his own Champagne in 1943 in Chigny-les-Roses on the Montagne de Reims. His wife Olga, his daughter Chantal, and his granddaughter Angéline have followed this master artisan’s example quite ably. The family mantra for this blend: base wine of at least four years old, full malolactic fermentation, no oak, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. The bottling is classic Champagne in every sense: full, rich, and luxurious, well-balanced, elegant, with a fine mousse, delicious to drink. You won’t find yourself missing anything, unless you chill only one bottle! There is no better Champagne on the market at this price.
Jules Lassalle established this family-owned Champagne house in 1942 in the village of Chigny-Les-Roses on the Montagne de Reims. A master of his craft, he established a signature style of elegant, tightly knit wines with a certain ampleur. When he passed away in 1982 his wife, Olga, and their daughter, Chantal, took over the estate, upholding Jules’ high standards and progressively pushing the domaine to the next level. In 2006 Chantal’s daughter, Angéline Templier, joined the estate as winemaker. These tough, hardworking women continue to follow vinification methods established by Jules in the forties. Their 28-year tradition of “une femme, un esprit, un style” (one woman, one spirit, one style) holds true today more than ever.
True Champagne must not only sparkle, but also must come from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and be made using méthode champenoise—a process that involves prolonged aging of the wine as well as a bottle fermentation used to add the sparkle to the finished product. Though wine has been made in this region since at least the 5th century, Champagne as we now know is a relatively new creation. It wasn’t until the 19th century that sparkling wine production took hold on a large scale in much part due to improvements in the strength of glass for bottles and the embrace of French nobility of the sparkling wines of the region.
Only three grape varieties may be used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The chalk-heavy soils not only provide complexity and texture to the finished wine, but also act as a natural humidifier thus keeping the vine’s roots warm during colder months of the year. There are grand cru and premier cru designated vineyard areas but unlike Burgundy, there are few lieu-dit vineyards (though in recent years there has been a greater interest in producing vineyard specific Champagnes).
Kermit’s first foray into the region came in 1981 when he began importing the wines of J. Lassalle and Paul Bara—two producers whose wines we still import. In the mid 2000s, Kermit began importing the wines of Veuve Fourny et Fils.
Of Champagne, Kermit says, “You might be surprised to learn that I don’t like a goût de terroir to dominate the taste of Champagnes. If it dominates, you lose finesse. I want some, obviously—but only enough to keep things interesting.”
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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