It might come as something of a surprise that some of the best known Champage names, like Champagne Jacquart and Nicolas Feuillatte, are in fact brands of massive co-operative cellars. These brand names are meant to shake off the sometimes negative image of the co-op, and indeed often there are dedicated growers and winemakers, as well as separate management teams, and the wines can be very good indeed. Another co-operative, the Union Auboise, is behind Champagne Devaux, a brand they purchased in 1987 and which is their flagship under the direction of Michel Parisot, right, winemaker for the past 25 years.
I recently caught up with Michel to taste through the range of their top wines, the cuvées ‘D’ de Devaux. The southerly Aube region of Champagne is often overlooked in favour of the higher profile region of the north like the Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims. But down here in the Côte des Bar is an important source of quality Champagne grapes, especially Pinot Noir, and the Grand Marque Champagnes source around 15% of their needs from growers in the Aube. Michel is a careful and studied character, whom I suspect leads his members with a very firm hand in terms of winemaking style and direction: he is very much a details man.
For the small amount of barrels that they use he tells me “We now use only oak from Champagne forests, and we are now trying to study the soils of the forests and the terroir of the trees, not just the vines.” Unusually we also start our small tasting with the vintage ‘D’ before moving on to non-vintage, and Michel says “I wanted to start with vintage because 2006 is a really fresh and elegant wine, but it’s also a great vintage in the Côte des Bar: it’s all Pinot Noir, with no Pinot Meunier – this is Noir country.” As we taste through the wines he also touches on recent vintages and weather patterns and says “If we are seeing climate change it has no bad effect for us. We are chaptalising less than ever before, but still retaining excellent acidity.”
One tantalising subject of conversation is the joint venture they began with Michel Chapoutier in 2008. A special wine from the joint venture will be unveiled for the first time in Paris in mid-September 2015 and, whilst I was told its name, I was also sworn to secrecy before the big reveal. Suffice to say it will be a 2008 vintage Champagne from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and the object of obvious excitement for Michel Parisot and his team.
Champagne Devaux is imported into the UK by Liberty Wines, and availability through independent retailers is pretty good. Retail prices and wine-searcher links to stockists below.