By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 14 November 2020
Lorraine is a region many wine lovers drive through, but rarely stop. Midway between Champagne and Alsace, this tiny region tucked in France’s north-east corner has a long wine history, but today its surviving 200 hectares are over-looked with barely a mention in wine books.
All that is about to change, thanks to the efforts of one man. Wilfried Crochet of Maison Crochet is making exceptional still and sparkling wine in Bulligny village near Toul, 30km southwest from Nancy, an area also known for its delicious mirabelle plums.
“My parents were cereal farmers in Vertus in Champagne, who moved to Lorraine in 1991 to work for two Champagne owners, then took over 3.5 hectares of vineyards themselves”, says Crochet. “In 2015 I returned home to help raise the profile of our estate”.
Crochet is well-travelled. He trained in oenology in Bordeaux, worked at Tamar Ridge in Tasmania, Ktima Gerovassiliou in Greece, Chateau Tamagne in Taman in Russia and Domaine Guillemard-Clerc in Puligny Montrachet in Burgundy. “I was most influenced by late-legendary winemaker Denis Dubourdieu who I worked with at Paul Jaboulet Aine in Rhone, particularly for white wines. From 2011-2015 I gained my sparkling wine experience at Champagne Bonnaire and Cooperative d’Ecueil”, he says.
Today Crochet’s domaine spans two villages, Bulligny and Housselmont, with 0.7 hectares of Auxerrois, 0.4 of Chardonnay, 2.7 of Gamay and 1 of Pinot Noir; with all vineyards converted to organic and moving to biodynamic.
His vines range from 45 year old Gamay to younger Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines planted in 2012 and 2014 on limestone clay soils at high planting density of 9,000 vines per hectare, very untypical of this region.
“In terms of soil and climate, southern Lorraine is more similar to Champagne than Alsace”, explains Crochet. “Summers are warm; winters cold, wet and snowy with frost my biggest challenge, particularly for Chardonnay, a grape I planted as an experiment”.
Like the Champagne region, Lorraine has gentle slopes facing south sheltered from northerly winds. In its northerly location it has everything to gain from today’s warming temperatures. “My father was harvesting in rain and cold in October in 1990s, now it is hot and dry”.
Crochet has rejected the local Cotes du Toul appellation which he believes does not have a great reputation. His wines are different from growers here in this small 120 hectare appellation – where light Gris de Toul rose and sweet heavy sparkling wines are the norm (apart from Domaine Regina’s wines, worth seeking out).
Instead Crochet labels his wines ‘Vin de France’ so that he can work with more autonomy and with Chardonnay, which is not included in Touloise AC.
“For great wine, you need low yields which means the wines are more expensive. This year I did Pinot Noir at 25 hl/ha, all naturally made in barrel, but customers understand they have to pay for quality and the risks we take”, he says
75% of Crochet’s production is sparkling wine. Interestingly Lorraine used to supply the Champagne area to the west with grapes, but lost out when the Champagne region was delimited in 1936. It also lost out when railways brought cheaper wines from the warmer south, and it was devastated by phylloxera in 1910 and its proximity to the battlefields in WW1 and WW2.
Crochet makes several traditional-method dry fizz (Cuvee Les Blaissieres Blanc de Blancs Auxerrois/Chardonnay, Gamay rose and Belena Blanc de Noirs Gamay/Chardonnay), two Native Petillant Naturels and still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. “Although our Gamay is from old vines, they were planted for high yields, so I use Gamay only for fizz”, he says.
He sees himself as a ‘natural’ winemaker using natural low-intervention methods and plans to reduce sulphur used in his vineyards.
What I like about Crochet, apart from the quality of his wines and natural focus, is his desire to remain small. “I prefer to stay this size as I want to do everything myself”, he says. He makes 30,000 bottles annually, sold on allocation as word spreads about this domaine. Maison Crochet’s wines are available in limited quantities in the UK for the first time at Sevslo Wine.
When we can travel freely again, pay a visit to Maison Crochet if you are passing through Lorraine enroute to Alsace or Germany’s Mosel. They have a shop, tasting room, cellar and a warm welcome at Wilfried’s mother’s bed-and-breakfast (Maison Crochet, 7 rue St-Vincent, 54113 Bulligny: +33 383 625129 www.maisoncrochet.fr)
BELENA EXTRA BRUT 2017 Maison Crochet (12.5%)
Crochet likes ‘extra brut’ and this Blanc de Noirs reflects that. In previous vintages he used Pinot Noir and Auxerrois, but in 2017 he moved to 65% Gamay / 35% Chardonnay with 18 months maturity on lees. Light bready notes, steely minerally, very dry with good length; like a Vouvray sec with more candied fruit on the palate. 2017 was a cool year, so I look forward to his 2018 fizz in due course.
CHARDONNAY ‘PARCELLE 307’ 2019 Maison Crochet (13%)
Single vineyard Les Blaissieres with honeyed lemony aromas, stony minerality, lime apricot and light oak notes from 12 months French oak maturation. 2019 is more youthful and tighter, but Sevslo Wine currently stocks riper luscious 2018.
PINOT NOIR LIMITED RELEASE 2018 Maison Crochet (13%)
Remarkable Pinot Noir from two vineyards: clay-limestone Blaissieres for finesse and minerality and clay-based Petite Fin for body and tannins. Luscious strawberry aromas, succulent ripe red fruit palate, hints of vanilla, soft tannins with fresh acidity and minerality; 10 months neutral Burgundy oak. Very popular at our virtual tasting.
Join Rose’s VIRTUAL CHRISTMAS CLASSICS WINE TASTINGS on Fridays 11 & 18 Dec 6.30pm start: held in association with Raeburn Fine Wines www.rosemurraybrown.com