Champagne Pierre Péters
Visiting the Champagne region, part 4: a conversation and tasting with Rodolphe Péters

Rodolphe Peters, Champagne Pierre PetersRodolphe Péters 

Pierre Péters is a grower Champagne house whose vineyards are located in Le Mesnil sur Oger, in the heart of the Côte des Blancs. They've been making wine since 1919, and now have just over 19 hectares of Chardonnay vines. These are mostly found in Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant.

We visited with current winemaker Rodolphe Péters, who has been here since 2007. I quizzed him about the keys to making great Champagne.

The press viewed from below 

'Farming builds 80% of the quality,' says Péters. 'Harvest is a big moment. The majority of producers think that climate change makes it an easier period for harvest,' he says. 'Now we pick in mid-September. There is no more challenge in waiting for the perfect maturation. Our parents had to make a choice between the pressure of rot and perfect maturity. Only in certain years did they not have to make this choice, and this was a vintage year.'

He says that in the past, harvest was 100-105 days after flowering, but now it is 90-95 days. 'This means the maturation of the grapes is no longer the same. This makes the window of picking shorter. I don't want overripe grapes; I want perfectly fresh, fruity grapes.'

But he still thinks that Champagne has something special. 'Thanks to consulting, I discovered  that Champagne is a region where we can harvest grapes that taste ripe and are ripe by parameters. Everywhere else, you have to make a choice. If you want freshness (fine citrus, not yellow fruit), then you have to pick early. If you want low pH, you have to pick a bit too early in terms of fruitiness.'

He's not organic or biodynamic, largely because he has 20 hectares spread across 72 parcels, and it makes no sense, says Rodolphe, to try to be biodynamic with such small parcels. He does work organically in his two largest parcels, and with consulting clients where the vineyards are usually much bigger blocks.

Nineteen hectares of these 20 are Chardonnay, with 16 in Grand Crus. There's also a hectare of Pinot Noir in the Aube which he sells. He also sells grapes from half a hectare of young Chardonnay vineyards, so this means that his wines come from 18.5 hectares.

Pressing is a key quality step in making good Champagne. Péters thinks it is vital to press soon after picking. 'I want to press my grapes not later than 6 h after they are picked.' He says his press - a PERA - isn't necessarily the best on the market, but if he uses it well he can do good work. He presses and takes cuts at regular intervals, and the whole cycle takes four hours. The stems play an interesting part in filtering the juice. 'If we have clean juice we can clarify with no product addition,' he says. He doesn't press too slowly, because he wants to avoid skin contact. 'For me, it is very important to manage the speed.' 

On average, he will get 18/hl per hectare as cuvée (the top quality pressing), and 4-5 hl/ha as taille. Everything else is sold for distillation. In terms of yields, he picks 15% more than he needs (11.5-12.5 tons/ha), and then this allows him to be more selective at pressing. 'The quality of my juice is the quality of my wine.'

The naturally clean juice doesn't need additions to help it settle and he doesn't need to add too much SO2, either. Malolactic fermentation is common, but not universal. The wine is kept on gross lees. 'My process to build my wine is not on the basis of high acid, but on fine bitterness,' he explains. 'Wine is more interesting if it is built on three lines of bitterness: chalk/salt/iodine from Le Mesnil, citrus pith, and fresh dried nuts from the gross lees. With regard to the nutty notes, fine lees don't give almond and hazelnut: you need gross lees for this. 'But then you need to have done a good job beforehand.' 

One of the distinctive features about Pierre Péters is that their reserve wines are based on a solera called a perpetual reserve. Although Rodolphe Peters wasn't in charge here until 2007, he'd been working vintage since 1993 and did the blend in 2000 (he had another job until 2007). 'As a young man I was full of ideas and my father let me change certain things,' he says. 'The first thing was the way we did non-vintage.' 1997 was a challenging year and Peters suggested blending all the reserves together. He blended 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995 and 1996, plus the 1997. 'In our perpetual reserve we have all these vintages plus every other vintages except for 1999 and 2003, which were too fat and heavy,' he explained. So the non-vintage consists of 50% of the current year, plus 50% of the perpetual reserve.

The reserve is stored in three different kinds of vats, and we tried them all.

  • Stainless steel: lively, fruity and intense, with pure, linear citrus fruit. Very focused.

  • Concrete egg: has a linear, mineral feel. More lemony and focused. Very chalky and mineral. 

  • Stockinger cask: has direct citrus fruit with some hints of apple. A different sort of texture here. Intensely lemony.

When it comes to blending, Péters chooses different amounts of each. He believes in dosage. 'Champagne needs sugar,' he says. 'It is also a nice base for fruity development. It also protects against oxidation. It is not an enemy unless you use it to mask a defect. It is the best friend of your wine, especially if you are able to keep your wine for enough time for it to digest its sugar. It is a great support for the wine being in harmony.'

So why are people using lower dosages these days? 'There is no mystery. We are doing a better job than our parents. We can wait for perfect maturity, so we add less sugar to our wines.'

Rodophe gave some descriptions of characteristics from each of the villages he works with.

  • Le Mesnil - winter characters. Stony and sharp with sea breeze.

  • Oger - spring characters. White fruit, white flowers.

  • Avize - summer characters. Generosity. Yellow/orange, ripe citrus.

  • Cramant - autumn characters. Browen. Creamy chalk, sweet spices, candied lemon.

We looked at some wines, beginning with two NV blends. '2012 is considered the great vintage,' he says, 'but I reckon that 2013 is far better. In 2013 we picked our grapes in early October in perfect conditions after more than 100 d maturation and it makes a big difference.' He thinks Champagne is best in cool vintages with a long time of maturation.

Champagne Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve NV
This is 2012 base. 6 g/l dosage. Very pure, rounded and toasty with nice ripe apple and keen citrus fruit. Lovely minerality and purity here and real harmony between the linear acidity and subtle pithy bitter notes accompanying the citrus. Very fine. 92/100 (04/16)

Champagne Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve NV
2013 base, 6.7 g/l dosage. Clean, pure, linear citrus fruits here with good energy. Has minerality and purity with some structure. Precise grapefruit and citrus pith notes. So mineral and pure with lovely citrus fruit and real finesse. 94/100 (04/16)

Champagne Pierre Peters L'Esprit 2010
Very fine with taut citrus fruit. Fine and expressive with lovely grapefruit characters and some mineral notes. This has a fine spiciness. Good complexity and concentration here. 95/100 (04/16)

Champagne Pierre Peters Les Chetillons 2008 France
Chetillons isn't a single vineyard, but rather three blocks of old vines on an outstanding terroir. The three are fermented separately and then the best blend possible is made. Fine toast and pure citrus fruits on the nose. Explosive palate with minerality and acidity. So pure with amazing precision. Notes of almonds, citrus and ripe apple, with a hint of creaminess, and subtle toast. Profound. 96/100 (04/16)

They introduced this rose into their range in 2007, and it's made by blending in some saignee Pinot Meunier to Chardonnay.

Champagne Pierre Peters Rose for Albane NV France
Lively and intensely pretty, with nice sweet, textured citrus and pear fruit with hints of cherries. Therees a bit of spiciness here and also subtle toast, but the driving force is elegant fruitiness, with a bit of rose petal and cranberry character. Such lovely focus to this aromatic, fine fizz. 93/100 (12/15)

Champagne Pierre Peters Cuvee du Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru NV France
12% alcohol. Dosage, 7 g/litre, 70% from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, 30% from a mix of Oger, Chouilly and Cramant. At least 40% reserve wines. Delicate and precise with nice lemony fruit: so pure and fine with a hint of apple. Lemony and bright with nice complexity and pure, fine citrus flavours. 93/100 (08/15)

Champagne Pierre Peters Reserve Oublié NV France
This is made by blending the perpetual reserve. 2010 base bottled in 2012. Very fine and expressive with rounded citrus and pear fruit. Textural with a lively fine appley note. Fine texture and a lemony edge. Expressive. 93/100

Champagne Pierre Peters L'Etonnant Monsieur Victor Edition MK 09 France
Ripe pear and apple fruit nose with some candied fruit. Rounded, lively and complex with toasty notes as well as lemons, pears and fennel. This has concentration and depth with nice mineral notes on the finish. Delicate and elegant yet powerful. 94/100

Part 1, JL Vergnon
Part 2, Bruno Paillard
Part 3, Anselme Selosse
Part 4, Pierre Péters

Wines tasted as indicated 
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