This tiny, impeccably-run estate in Cumières is known only to a select few connoisseurs of champagne. You could drive through the village a hundred times without knowing it was there, and in fact, aside from a well-worn, barely legible placard with the words “Champagne Georges Laval” written in about three millimeter-high script just above the doorbell, there is no marking whatsoever to indicate its presence. Behind these simple, unassuming wooden doors, however, lies one of Champagne’s great treasures.
While the Laval family has been growing vines for four generations, Georges Laval began producing estate-bottled champagne in 1971. His son Vincent (pictured) joined the estate after finishing his studies in 1991, and has been in charge of the cellars since 1996. Laval’s vineyard holdings comprise just 2.5 hectares, including a half-hectare of meunier in Chambrecy, in the Vallée de l’Ardre in the western Montagne de Reims, that is sold to the négoce. The other two hectares are all in the premier cru village of Cumières, spread over seven parcels. Average vine age is over 30 years, and the oldest vines of the estate are over 70 years of age.
The Lavals have been practicing organic viticulture since 1971, certified by Ecocert. “It’s a little more difficult to work organically than conventionally,” says Vincent Laval, “but it can be done, of course, and afterwards you have a better conscience.” He notes that having larger parcels of vines makes it easier to work organically, with less pollution from neighbors, and over the years the Lavals have traded parcels of land whenever possible in order to assemble larger blocks of vines. Organic compost is used, and cover crops are planted in all of the plots, with regular tilling to oxygenate the soil and encourage the roots to descend deeper.
In the cellar, the grapes are pressed in a traditional Coquard vertical press that holds a mere 2,000 kilograms—the minimum size allowed in Champagne—in order to ensure maximum quality and control over individual parcels. Laval’s wines are harvested ripe and almost never chaptalized, and fermentation takes place in barrel, with indigenous yeasts. The wines are bottled late, usually about ten months after the harvest, and they are neither fined, filtered nor cold-stabilized. While Laval is not against the use of sulfur, he does try to limit its use as much as possible: sulfur is added at the harvest and then throughout the course of vinification only if strictly necessary. The result is an unusually low level of total sulfur in the finished champagnes, usually below 20 milligrams per liter.
— Peter Liem
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