Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, an assistant at Louis Roederer Champagne took on the task of forecasting the next 30 years for the venerable house head on. The project required an abundancy of knowledge regarding science, politics and wine and it meant looking into both the future and the past. Champagne was on the brink of a revolution capable of transforming how the rest of the world viewed the region and its wines, although few foresaw it at the time.
Today, Louis Roederer is arguably said to be the greatest large-scale producer in champagne according to IOL. From the non-vintage Brut Premier to the prestigious Cristal, each of its wines are among the best wines of its style in champagne.
Champagne made great progression over the years since the mid 1990s when the large houses undoubtfully ruled. Consumers tend to think champagne is completely different now, imagining it as a wine rather than the typical festive bubbles that come from vines and the earth.
“We always knew terroir, but we didn’t use to speak of it…Thirty years ago, the subject was house style. Today, that’s not the question. Everybody wants to talk about terroir,” Lécaillon says. The focus of Champagne was mainly on the cellar back in the mid 1990s. The mediocrity of mass-market Champagnes could be easily ignored by talking up the simple master blender. Mix a little bit of this with a dash of this and now you created a ‘house style’ that continued to be repeated year after year, regardless of vintage conditions or vineyards.
When Lécaillon took over as chef de cave in 1999, he held major concern only for Terroir and farming. He also took charge of the vineyards, responding to global warming and increasing the value in where they placed the wines since it required some radical changes.
He desired a significantly deeper root system that could plunge into the bedrock of chalky limestone and clay for the vines. By doing so, he believed it would help to protect against heat and drought caused from climate changes while improving the character of the vineyard.
To put Lécaillon’s desires into action, he eliminated the use of herbicides and fertilizers, developed techniques for training the roots downwards and ran several trials for both organic and biodynamic viticulture. With his new techniques displayed, he was successful in accomplishing all changes he once imagined.
Biodynamic viticulture gained popularity in the 1990s, particularly in Burgundy in which renowned producers such as Domaine Laflaive and others swore by it. Lécaillon adapted several techniques for Roederer and for several years after would run experiments farming blocks biodynamically while some were farmed organically. Lécaillon and his team would taste the results blindly and then compare each year.
“After four or five years we were 100 percent able to identify the wines from biodynamic soils,” he says.
Roederer now contains more than 250 acres that are either biodynamic or organic, depending on the location of the vintage. The 410 vineyard blocks are vinified separately and afterwards, can be blended as desired.