We’re back from a brief hiatus with a story on our incredible grower Champagne producer, Champagne Marc Hébrart, as well as an event invitation to discover some of his wines in Toronto!
Based in premier cru village Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, about a 15-minute drive east of famed Champagne town Épernay, Hébrart’s winery is nestled along the quiet, tranquil bank of the Marne river, though what happens behind its walls is anything but. When I arrived at the winery for our scheduled appointment, owner and operator Jean-Paul Hébrart (son of founder Marc) wasn’t even there.
As he breathlessly explained to me upon rushing back to the winery, it turned out he was in neighbouring town Dizy taking care of his newest prized acquisition, the last few vine parcels that now made him sole proprietor of the historic and rare walled vineyard, Clos de Léon. I soon learned that Jean-Paul’s restless, driven yet kind and gracious nature translates directly into the quality and style of his wines.
We spent the next couple of hours deep diving into a discussion of soils and geography, and winemaking techniques and grapes, alongside a dizzying tasting of wines that were at once mesmerizing and challenging my understanding of Champagne.
When Jean-Paul invited me to taste his vins clairs (the base wines that go into bottle for the precious second fermentation that produces Champagne’s signature bubbles), I was blown away by the sheer complexity in each sample. Jean-Paul revealed that he vinifies each of his 80+ parcels individually, before blending and bottling into each of his different cuvées – whether it be Mes Favorites, his old vines Mareuil-sur-Aÿ nonvintage brut; his annual Spécial Club contribution, an elegant, lacy vintage wine made of Premier Cru Pinot Noir and Grand Cru Chardonnay; or his Noces de Craie, a Grand Cru vintage cuvée made entirely of Pinot Noir grown in Aÿ that displays a finessed yet brooding power.
Later that day, we climbed up to see Faubourg d’Enfer (Hell’s District), one of his favourite parcels atop the highest hill in Mareuil, immediately uphill from Philipponat’s famous Clos des Goisses. As the 19-degree sunshine (in February no less!) blinded our eyes through an overcast sky while a constant breeze coming in from along the Marne river whipped across our faces, I understood why this south-facing vineyard would carry such a treacherous name.
Also blinding was the paper-white earth. Jean-Paul pointed across the valley to a hill with a pale coloured, flat surface, and asked me what I thought. Is that the foundation of a huge new building, I asked? Not at all, replied Jean-Paul, rather the side of the hill had been excavated for chalk, as he pointed to the soil beneath our feet, explaining that we were also standing on that same type of soil.
It didn’t occur to me until I’d had some time to reflect on our meeting, that what struck me the most was Jean-Paul’s tireless pursuit of quality at every step of the process, from seeking out the best vineyards to tending to his land sustainably and from honouring the character of each vintage to producing amazing base wines and then beautiful sparkling wines that accurately express the nature of the soils.
We’re very proud to represent the house of Champagne Hébrart in Ontario, and we’re looking forward to seeing them eventually continue their legacy through Jean-Paul’s son who is currently in school for winemaking. Jean-Paul explained that not many modern family wineries have a next generation that’s willing to take part in continuing the heritage, so he feels lucky that his son shows interest. So do we.
Next time: Sunday dinner with the whole family in Muscadet.