Leading Aube growers Thierry de Marne and Valerie Frison, inspired by their friend Bertrand Gautherot’s success with Vouette et Sorbée, stopped selling their grapes to others and released their own set of wines starting with the 2007 vintage. The first release was Goustan, a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, followed by a blanc de blancs called Lalore. Both were fermented in barrique and bottled without dosage.
Thierry de Marne took over his family’s vines in 1997, selling grapes to the local cooperative. He began converting his vineyards to organic viticulture in 2003 and, in 2007, the first vintage eligible for organic certification, he began to make small quantities of his own champagne. He released his first wines in 2010 but, in typically bureaucratic French fashion, the CIVC didn’t allow him to market the wines under his own name: they felt it implied that they came from the Marne, when in fact they were from the Aube. To satisfy the authorities, de Marne combined his name with that of his wife, Valérie Frison, and a new champagne estate was born.
While de Marne and Frison own 6ha of vines in Ville-sur-Arce, fruit from 2.5ha are sold to the coop each year. “My sister-in-law is the president,” says de Marne, “so it’s difficult to leave.” Another 2.5ha have been under contract to Duval-Leroy, although this will end in 2012. That leaves just 1ha to produce wine from, meaning that quantities are necessarily small: in the inaugural vintage of 2007, de Marne made just 4000 bottles (of which Australia got only 120).
Most of de Marne’s vines are pinot noir, with just 5 per cent of his total surface planted with chardonnay. As is typical for this area, Kimmeridgian soils dominate, although de Marne draws a distinction between parcels that contain white clay and yellow clay (argile blanche and argile jaune). He also has two chardonnay parcels that lie on Portlandian soil, and one of these – Les Cotannes – is bottled separately. All parcels are allowed to grow a natural cover crop, which is ploughed in March to prevent the vines from having too much competition for nutrients; de Marne notes that a different set of plants grows in each parcel, reflecting subtle differences in terroir. All vinification takes place in second-hand barriques and the wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts. They are never chaptalised and they are allowed to go through a natural malolactic fermentation.
As de Marne and Frison began making wine only in 2007, we don't yet have a lot to judge them by. Their inaugural
releases, however, are highly impressive, as are the follow-up cuvées. The wines are rich and generous, showing both the character of the Aube and the influence of natural viticulture, and they are keenly soil-expressive, adding to their overall feeling of liveliness and energy. For now, DeMarne-Frison produces two different champagnes. Goustan is effectively the non-vintage brut, although for the moment it comes entirely from a single year. The first release, from 2007, was equal parts pinot noir and chardonnay. Subsequent releases will be entirely pinot noir. Lalore is a blanc de blancs from Les Cotannes, and while it demonstrates the voluptuous depth expected of the Aube, de Marne is careful not to harvest the grapes at excessive levels of ripeness: the inaugural vintage was picked at 10.8 degrees of potential alcohol, and the 2009 at 11.2 degrees. In 2010, the grapes ripened so quickly that de Marne ended up picking at 11.5 degrees.