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Champagne Suenen

Scintillating ‘Living Soil’ Champagne from the Northern Côte des Blancs

One of the most exciting new growers to have arisen in Champagne in the last 15 years, Aurélien Suenen, is a perfect example of how quickly a terroir-obsessed grower with quality vineyards can make their mark. Aurélien Suenen made his first wines in 2009, the year he unexpectantly found himself in sole charge of the Cramant-based family Domaine. And now, the wines are being discussed in the same breath as the greatest names of the Côtes des Blancs. How he got here is an interesting tale. 

Suenen had grown up in Champagne on his family estate, so he was no stranger to working in the vineyard and cellar. On his return, he almost immediately began to make some radical changes. His father’s practice had been conventional; the son chose a very different path. Aurélien had realized that all the Champagnes that really moved him emerged from organic practice. This helped him make the connection between high quality and ethical practice. He also associated his father’s illness (and the widespread cancers afflicting many of his father’s generation) with the chemicals used so heavily in the vines. These two factors drove him in his pursuit of better. 

Suenen’s wines represent a scintillating range of ‘living soil’ grower Champagne and are some of the most precise, textural and intensely mineral wines emanating from the region.

Good friends in the region—in particular, Pascal Agrapart, but any number of other top growers—were on hand to help with advice and contacts. So, it was from the very beginning that Suenen began to lay the foundations for the quality we see today. He shrank the estate to be able to raise the standard of work in the vines, eliminated chemical usage, began cultivating his vineyards and moved towards organic viticulture. The wines got better and better until today—when they have achieved a standard associated with only the very finest growers. 

As you would expect from any top grower, Suenen works tirelessly in the vines. Here he is assisted by his right-hand man, Christophe Barbier, who has been working for the family for over 20 years. Suenen and Christophe cultivate, use cover crops and organic composts to nourish the life in the soil and increase soil biodiversity as much as possible. Herbal infusions are used to promote the natural defences of the vines. Organic certification came in 2019. To further understand the nuances of his terroirs, Suenen works closely with vineyard soil specialist Emmanuel Bourguignon (son of Claude and Lydia). Yields are low (half the level of his father’s era) and while there is no fixed formula, Suenen picks later than most of his neighbours (which is of course not saying much in Champagne), thus bringing more ripeness and depth to offset his vineyards’ intense minerality. The winemaking here has followed a similar changing-of-the-guard trajectory.

From his tiny 3.2 hectares of vines, Suenen crafts two village blends and four vintage, single-vineyard lieux-dits wines. Suenen’s decision to bottle his Oiry vineyards apart is a game changer. In fact, Suenen’s two bottlings from this Grand Cru village are currently the only pure Oiry wines on the market. While the Oiry cuvée is all about tension, stony density and salinity, Suenen’s C + C cuvée blends the texture and flesh of Cramant with the ripe opulence of his south-facing Chouilly vines to produce something more hedonistic. Both wines are superb terroir statements from the northern Côte des Blancs and are underpinned by the mineral, chalky freshness that is one of this grower’s hallmarks. There are now four single-vineyard, single-vintage releases each year (season permitting) from each of the three Grand Cru villages mentioned above, and a fourth from Suenen’s 0.21-hectare plot of old-vine, ungrafted Meunier in La Grande Vigne in Montigny-Sur-Vesle, north-west of Reims. 

Currently Available

Champagne Suenen Oiry Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Base 19. Disg. Jan 2023)

Champagne Suenen Oiry Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Base 19. Disg. Jan 2023)

2019 base with 45% reserve wines from 2013 to 2018. Together with Suenen’s single-vineyard offering (La Cocluette), these represent the only pure Oiry wines on the market. This is drawn from just 1.5 hectares split between five separate parcels. The vines are planted in Oiry’s compact, white Campanian chalk soils. From Le Champ Braux planted in 1955 to La Cocluette planted in 1987 and 1999, the average age of the vines is now 45 years. These vineyards lie at the base of the slope where only a little topsoil sits above hard, chalky bedrock. In La Cocluette, for example, the soils are only 50cm thick. The combination of this chalk’s austere, mineral impact and Suenen’s low yield/ripe fruit philosophy produces a scintillatingly tense, coiled and stony wine. “Tonic” is the word Suenen uses to refer to this wine’s unique personality. “The wines from Oiry set themselves apart because of their saline expression, full of freshness,” explains Suenen. His wine is a study in minerality—the wine is rocky, vibrant, saline and vibrantly fresh. Creamy depths (from 30 months’ aging on lees) enfold the wine’s structural and mineral qualities and keep you coming back for more. In short, this is everything you would want from Grand Cru Côtes des Blancs, and represents a unique opportunity to taste Oiry’s distinctive, rocky terroir. The base wine fermented naturally and aged for nine months in the same vessels—enamelled tank (50%) and seasoned Burgundy oak barrels and demi-muid (used at least six times prior). No fining, no filtration, no cold stabilisation. The wine was disgorged in 2023 (magnums and jeroboams were disgorged as per the details above), with a dosage of 4 g/L. 

Champagne Suenen Oiry Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Base 19. Disg. Jan 2023)
Champagne Suenen Cramant Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Les Robarts 2016 (Disg. Jun 2022)

Champagne Suenen Cramant Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Les Robarts 2016 (Disg. Jun 2022)

Champagne nerds might recognise this lieu-dit as one of the sources of Pascal Agrapart’s renowned Avizoise cuvée. Suenen’s vines lie just across the border in the Cramant section of this vineyard, at the top of a small hill. Originally planted in 1952—with further plantings in 1978, 1984 and 2005—the average age of Suenen’s vines is now almost 40 years. The planting contains a large portion of mass-selection vines.The 2016 was aged in a single Rousseau foudre for nine months before bottling. As with all the single-site wines, this spent a minimum of five years on lees before disgorgement (with 3 g/L in this case) in June 2022.Suenen describes this terroir—30 cm of silty clay over degraded, upper Campanian chalk—as combining the tension and salinity of Oiry with the concentration of Chouilly. It is often the most textural of Suenen’s four lieu-dit releases (although Mont-Aigu takes that mantle this year) and also, arguably, the most complex.

Champagne Suenen Cramant Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Les Robarts 2016 (Disg. Jun 2022)
Champagne Suenen Chouilly Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Le Mont-Aigu 2016 (Disg. Jul 2022)

Champagne Suenen Chouilly Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Le Mont-Aigu 2016 (Disg. Jul 2022)

Suenen crafts just a single 600-litre demi-muid of this cuvée. It originates from a parcel of particularly low-yielding vines planted in Chouilly’s renowned Le Mont-Aigu terroir, near the Cramant border on the Butte de Saran. Now more than 45 years of age, these old vines suffer from fanleaf virus, resulting in tiny leaves, roots and bunches. Coupled with skeletal soils (just 35 cm of topsoil over pure chalk), this results in a deep yet compact expression of Chouilly that is unlike any other. Expect flesh and concentrated ripeness yet also chiselled structure and intense, saline minerality. Suenen’s 2015 fermented naturally and aged for nine months in a single 600-litre Stockinger barrel. It then spent more than five years in bottle before disgorgement in July 2022. Following a dosage trial (the standard practice here), it was topped with 4 g/L.

Champagne Suenen Chouilly Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Le Mont-Aigu 2016 (Disg. Jul 2022)
Champagne Suenen Oiry Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru La Cocluette 2016 (Disg. Jul 2022)

Champagne Suenen Oiry Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru La Cocluette 2016 (Disg. Jul 2022)

The most northern of Suenen’s Oiry parcels, La Cocluette is also home to the domaine’s oldest vines (planted in 1925), a site where the ancient roots bury deep into the dense Campanian chalk (the younger plantings from this site go into the Oiry Blanc de Blancs). Vines of this age are as rare as hens’ teeth in Champagne, and they gift tiny yields of concentrated berries. The land here is largely flat with a somewhat northern exposure. Here the base wine fermented naturally and aged for nine months in one 700-litre concrete egg and one 600-litre Stockinger barrel (the same that is used each year). It then aged sur lies for 60 months in bottle until disgorgement in July 2022, when it was dosed with 3 g/L.Suenen explains that the wines from this vineyard express themselves with great finesse. “The energy brought by this calcium-rich terroir makes the mouthfeel richer through a silky bubble. With time, the finish lengthens on a salivating mineral vibrancy.” Put another way, this is a more intense and complex expression of this region’s naked-chalk terroir than the NV Oiry. The 2016 harvest produced less than 2,000 bottles.

Champagne Suenen Oiry Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru La Cocluette 2016 (Disg. Jul 2022)
Champagne Suenen C + C Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Base 19. Disg. Jan 2023)

Champagne Suenen C + C Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Base 19. Disg. Jan 2023)

2019 base with 50% reserve wines from 2013 to 2018. The C + C Blanc de Blancs is blended from nine parcels across both north and south-facing hillsides in Cramant and Chouilly, including Les Robarts and Le Mont-Aigu. The oldest vines date back to 1951. The average depth of the soils of these parcels is marginally deeper than Oiry, with silty clay overlaying the chalk. In Suenen’s plots on Cramant’s eastern slope—Les Robarts, Les Basses Croix, Les Fourches du Nord, Les Vignes de Mardu—the soils measure one metre before the roots meet the chalk. In Chouilly, it’s closer to 60 cm. This extra depth, along with a good dose of southern exposure, makes for a more hedonistic wine. The blend is split between Cramant (70%) and Chouilly (30%). Although tempted to bottle each village separately, Suenen has found the two villages work even better as a blend; the textural finesse of Cramant marries perfectly to the more layered personality of Chouilly. Again, the wine aged on lees for nine months in enamelled tank (50%) and in used Burgundy oak barrels and demi-muid. It then aged for 30 months in bottle with no fining, no filtration and no cold stabilisation. It was disgorged in January 2023 with a dosage of 4 g/L.

Champagne Suenen C + C Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Base 19. Disg. Jan 2023)

“One of the most notable rising stars in the Côte des Blancs.” Peter Liem, Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers and Terroirs of the Iconic Region

“Suenen’s progress has been thrilling to watch—I've been following him since my student days—and the wines reviewed here are the finest I've seen to date from this immensely promising talent. Readers will find much to admire.” William Kelley, The Wine Advocate

Country

France

Primary Region

Champagne

People

Winemaker: Aurélien Suenen

Availability

National

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