Champagne José Michel

Moussy (Cotes D’Epernay)
Antonin Michel

José Michel made his first vintage in 1955 and thanks in part to his cellar of very old bottles of Pinot Meunier, he developed a cult following for his Champagnes. José passed away in 2019 and this “Maison de Tradition” which began in 1847 is now, seven generations later, run by José and Nicole’s grandson, Antonin. Antonin is brilliantly refining the work that José accomplished over six decades and developing his own ideas. As he says, “José and I agreed on practically everything”.

The Champagne house is located in Moussy, a small village just south of Epernay. The 7 hectares of vineyards are spread throughout a number of villages, both in the Cotes D’Epernay and in the Vallée de la Marne. The vineyard sights with a richer clay soil are planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The slopes which have a calcareous soil are planted to Chardonnay. José Michel was the first in his family to plant Chardonnay which he did beginning in 1958. Fermentations are carried out in old oak casks or enameled steel vats and the wines go through a malolactic fermentation. José Michel is certified “Level 3” the top level of certification in Haute Valeur Environmentale. The Michels are a founding member of the group, “Tresors de Champagne” known as the “Special Club”.

"Tradition" Brut NV

The non-vintage Brut is a blend in which the 70% Pinot Meunier forms the base, and 30% Chardonnay adds complexity and finesse. In addition to the base vintage (typically 2 years old), the NV Brut benefits from being blended with 30% reserve wines that are often 4 or 5 years old including a 20+ year old “perpetual reserve”. The champagne is typically 2+ years “sur lattes” and carries a dosage of 7 grams.

"Pinot Meunier" Brut NV

Although historically Jose Michel made many “mono-cépage” bottlings of Pinot Meunier, he never advertised the fact on the label and when some west coast customers visited him around 2007 and suggested that he do just that, his response was to ask if anyone would buy it. The small cadre of west coast enthusiasts all said that they would and the rest is history. The Pinot Meunier is produced from a single vintage but does not state the vintage on the label because the Champagne does not necessarily spend the requisite minimum of three years “sur lattes”. The style highlights the unique aromatics and fruit flavors of Champagne’s indigenous grape. The level of dosage is 7 grams.

Blanc de Blancs "Clos Saint Jean" Brut Vintage

The Blanc de Blancs is produced in the best vintages. It is made from a small plot of Chardonnay grown in the village of Saint Agnan on the left bank of the Marne. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then matured both in tank “sur lie” and in “demi-muids”. After the secondary fermentation it rests “sur lattes” for at least 5 years allowing the Chardonnay qualities to broaden and mature. Dosage is 5 grams. It is a wine of impeccable character, showing both nobility and restraint. It is worthy of cellaring for at least two years after disgorgement.

"Special Club" Brut Vintage

The Club de Viticulteurs is a group of independent Champagne producers who have come together in order to promote the high quality of their work. The José Michel Special Club was chosen by this group as an ambassador of quality and given the right to use the Special Club label and antique bottle. The Special Club is a blend of 40% Pinot Meunier and 60% Chardonnay. The vines are all at least 35+ years old. The champagne is disgorged according to demand and currently has six years on the lees “sur lattes” with dosage carrying just 5 grams.

"Cuvée de Père Houdart" Brut NV

The cuvée de Père Houdart is an hommage to José’s grandfather and has been produced only a few times. The current cuvée is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay.Some of the wines were vinified in stainless steel and some in old foudres. 50% of the blend comes from the vintages 1971, 1975, 1976, 1982 and 1984 and 50% of the blend is from the vintage 2012.Bottles of the old vintages are opened and an assemblage is made with the new wine (2012) to produce a new Champagne. The Père Houdart matured "sur lies" 4 years before being disgorged and finished with a dosage of 4g/L.

" Cuvée Hommage "Vieux Millésimes" "

The cuvée “Hommage” follows the cuvée “Père Houdart” but is now an hommage to José Michel, the grandfather of Antonin. The current cuvée is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. Some of the wines were vinified in stainless steel and some in old foudres. 60% of the blend comes from the vintages 1971, 1975, 1976, 1982, 1984, 1995, 2005, and 2010. 40% of the blend is from the vintage 2019. The old vintages were stored in the cellar using a technique known as “quart de mousse” which uses one-fourth of the normal “pris de mousse” and keeps the old wines in a reductive state. The old bottles are opened and an assemblage is made with the new wine (2019) to produce a new Champagne. The cuvée “Hommage” matured "sur lies" 3 years before being disgorged and finished with a dosage of 4g/L.

Region: Champagne

Champagne, at first glance, seems easy to understand. It is after all the most popularized and recognized wine in the world. It has been endorsed by Napoleon, Churchill and Warhol (it’s the “war” theme). However, once the fizz of gaiety evaporates and the veil of simplicity is pulled back, Champagne reveals a region with a fascinating history that has for centuries fastidiously cultivated a complex wine appellation. It is an appellation governed by complicated regulations that touch all aspects of production, a classification system of villages that sets grape prices and a myriad of styles including: wines of a single vintage, of blended vintages, of a single grape variety, of blended varieties; all of which can have different levels of dosage ranging from Extra Brut to Doux. Dare I mention content measurement? How did a 15 Liter bottle of Champagne come to be associated with Nebuchadnezzar?

The Romans gave this region its name. I suspect that these explorers had already dipped into the “local water” before naming it Campagna in memory of the area around Mount Vesuvius. Perhaps in contrast to the vast plains that flank the region to the west the geological undulations of Champagne appeared to be a similar wonder of nature. The region’s boundaries are basically unchanged since the 15th century and the “champagne viticole” (vineyard area) today spans five “départments” , the vast majority of them located in the Marne and the Aube. The vineyards cover approximately 30,400 hectares, although this area has recently been expanded. Most of the vineyards fall into the following broad areas: Vallée de la Marne, Côte de Sézanne, Côte de Blancs, Montagne de Reims and the Côte de Bar. A complete and more precise categorization divides the vineyards into twenty regions and is explained in the wonderful book Grand Atlas des Vignobles de France.

Champagne became an important center in France after Hugh Capet was crowned in Reims Cathedral in 987. Kings were crowned in the Cathedral for the following eight centuries and during this period considerable grants were given to the local monasteries which in turn became centers of winemaking until the revolution in 1798.

Until the 17th century the wines of Champagne were labeled according to small geographic regions such as vins de la Montagne or vins de la Riviere or more specifically by village or place names such as Bouzy, Verzenay, Ay and the Abbey of Hautvilliers. These wines were predominantly made from red grapes, their color compared to an onion skin or the eye of a partridge and they were gently effervescent or not. As fashion changed, so did the style of the wines to the extent that the producers could control it. The style of Champagne that we know today began in the 19th century and continues to evolve. The biggest change in the last twenty years is the increase of small scale recoltant-manipulant, “RM” producers. These estate bottled champagnes offer a remarkable diversity of expression resulting from the different philosophies of the independent producers and the more specific terroirs with which they work. These more personal expressions of champagne stand in stark contrast to the large negociant manipulant, “NM” producers who blend wines from hundreds of villages and often produce Champagne with a calculated uniformity.