Champagne Pierre Péters
Visiting the Champagne
region, part 4: a conversation and tasting with Rodolphe 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.
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
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
The reserve is stored in three different kinds of vats, and we tried
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
Cramant - autumn characters. Browen. Creamy chalk, sweet spices,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
1, JL Vergnon
2, Bruno Paillard
3, Anselme Selosse
4, Pierre Péters
tasted as indicated
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