On the eve of New Year’s, we turn our attention to wine that calls to mind jubilance, renewal, excitement, freshness.
We think Champagne.
Let’s get one thing straight immediately: It’s not “Champagne” if it’s not from Champagne, France. If you really want to irk your wine snob friends, though, please do continue to call all sparkling wine “Champagne.”
But as with other types of wine, the name and production of Champagne is tightly regulated and controlled. In Spain, sparkling wine is called Cava, in Italy Prosecco, in the U.S. sparkling wine.
To me, it’s all delicious, particularly in the Brut, or dry style, which has popularized in the last century-and-a-half.
With that out of the way, let’s talk Champagne. Champagne stands alone in the world of wine as a special drink. Champagne evokes images of celebration and joy, often set aside for remarkable occasions. And in the world of Champagne notably stands the Drappier House, founded by the family in 1808. (http://www.champagne-drappier.com/).
We’ll leave the remarkable story of how Champagne is created to another future piece, but for today we’ll focus on Drappier Champagne and its contributions to the world of kosher wine, and more specifically to kosher Champagne.
I had the special opportunity to speak with Michel Drappier, the seventh-generation owner and winemaker at Drappier House. Seven generations of anything is pretty impressive, but the exuberance, passion and heart that M. Drappier displays when discussing his art fully exhibits that the love has transcended the generations. In fact, the future (eighth and ninth!) generations are already hard at work carrying on the tradition.
Drappier began producing kosher runs of their noted champagne 12 years ago thanks to Michel’s friend, Benedicte Hardy, of the famous House of Cognac Hardy. Michel had the privilege to meet Nathan Herzog, of Herzog Winery and Royal Wine Distributors, who wanted to produce a world-class kosher Champagne.
I asked Drappier about this, and he lent some very interesting tidbits: “I am not Jewish, but the story of my Champagne land has great connections with the Jewish world. Saint Bernard, who built my cellars in 1152, organized crusades to Jerusalem, while Rashi, the famous rabbi and poet who was born and died in Troyes (then capital city of Champagne), made wine 900 years ago not so far from my winery! So it was a great opportunity, not only to make Champagne but to ship it to Israel, the origin of our civilization.”
I ask M. Drappier why a world-class Champagne house would trouble to produce kosher wine. Isn’t it an unnecessary hassle?
“Champagne vineyards and cellars have been classified UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2015,” offers Drappier. “As a producer, it is our duty to be open to the world and be in connection with all communities. Making kosher Champagne was a technical challenge for us, but also historically an obligation.”
Drappier is quite pleased with their continued kosher production. “Of course, we plan to continue! We love the clientele of kosher products. It is demanding and it takes our product to places where it has never been before. We are proud to a kosher supplier. Thank you, Royal Wines, for that.”
Notably, Drappier is known for Champagne with far less sulfites than that of many others. Drappier explains, “Of course we will continue. My family is sulfite intolerant, so we will produce low or non-sulfite wines as long as a Drappier will be in charge of the vinification.”
Further, Drappier intends to create natural Champagne and produces the style called Brut Nature, which indicates it is created without the typical final step of “dosage,” or adding sugar.
But these wines are made to drink upon purchase, for the most part, and will not typically age in the manner of other styles. I am curious about aging these bottles and ask M. Drappier.
“Yes, Brut Nature is our specialty,” says Drappier. “Going natural and organic has led us to produce Champagne true to its terroire. Zero Dosage means ‘not makeup.’ It is our philosophy. It does affect the aging ability but Brut Nature drinkers don’t go for old Champagne, they like it fresh, crispy and mouth-watering. Prestige cuvées like our Grande Sendrée 2009 aged 10 years is perfect for those who enjoy mature Champagne.”
To make kosher wine usable in public settings, i.e., restaurants, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc., it must undergo the process of becoming mevushal or pasteurized. For many years (and still when not done in the best way), this would affect the taste and age-ability of wine.
I ask how Drappier produces world-class mevushal wine. “Pasteurization was a big concern when we started to produce mevushal Champagne. We thought it would affect the aromas and the aging process. But we found out the way to comply with kosher rules and keep our wine aromatic and fresh.”
As someone who loves Champagne and would like to be able to order in restaurants, I am thankful for this!
Wine production around the world has changed with the increasingly-warm climate. Champagne is a finely-tuned process, and perhaps this will effect Drappier and other Champagne?
“Global warming has changed our calendar. We harvest earlier, we get riper grapes with less acidity. But at the same time, growing organic gives a higher acidity compared to standard viticulture. We adapt our calendar and our process so that our cuvées keep their style. I think that the quality of our wines has never been so good. This is thanks to more constraint and Kosher process is part of it.”
I was interested in Michel’s thoughts on Israeli bubbly, most notably the superb Golan Heights Winery’s Yarden Blanc de Blancs Brut. “I have no experience with Israeli sparkling wines and I would love to learn and, most importantly, taste!”
M. Drappier wraps up by telling me, “You are welcome at any time in Urville. I put Champagne on ice and hope to see you one day soon in Champagne!”
Well, that would truly be something special and perhaps I would tote along a bottle of Israeli sparkling wine for M. Drappier to have his first taste of bubbly produced in the cradle of civilization.
Look out for the brand new kosher Drappier Brut Rosé de saignée ($60, available locally and online), made in the same saignée, or bleeding, method as many still Rosé. This is rare for most pink Champagne, which is usually made by blending white and red wine.
The Drappier Brut Rosé is 100 percent Pinot Noir, of which Drappier utilizes a very high percentage (an interesting story for a future column as well), which offers a fuller-bodied, richer profile than typical Champagne.
So pick up a glorious glass of kosher, world-class Drappier Champagne, and toast to a year of celebration, health and, well, many more occasions with which to pop a bottle of Drappier Champagne.
Dr. Kenneth Friedman is a Baltimore-born kosher wine aficionado/connoisseur. He is known for his unsolicited wine advice and runs many local kosher wine tastings.