Based in its historic building in Aÿ, Ayala is a rising gem. After a glorious past in the 19th century, the house went through severe difficulties in the 20th century and became discrete by the end of the millennium. Since Bollinger acquired it in the early 2000s, its new team made of young and dynamic professionals has relaunched the brand, and modernized its production tool and identity for well-made and well-presented elegant champagnes.
Its unusual Spanish name derives from Edmond de Aÿala, the son of a Colombian diplomat born in Paris in 1831. He moved to Aÿ when invited by the Viscount of Mareuil to learn about winemaking. There he fell in love with the Viscount’s niece, Miss Gabrielle d’Albrecht whom he married. As the dowry for their wedding, he received the Château of Aÿ and some prime vineyards in Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. The love story marks the beginning of the house that Edmond founded in 1860.
The business developed rapidly in Great Britain thanks to Edmond’s younger brother who settled in London. There he mixed with the British aristocracy and introduced Ayala’s distinctive dry style with the 1865 vintage that had a very low dosage for the time (22g/l).
In 1882, Ayala was one of the 18 founder members of the Syndicate of the Grandes Marques. Sadly, the house was completely destroyed during the Champagne riots of 1911, yet remarkably, it was rebuilt and resumed production by 1913.
The 1920s were a golden age during which Ayala produced over 1 million bottles each year, ranking amongst the top brands in Champagne and being one of the official suppliers to the royal courts of England and Spain.
After WW2, the house went through a rather quiet period, characterized by multiple changes of ownership that impacted its relevance, finding itself in decline by the turn of the century.
Finally, in 2005, Bollinger acquired the house and put in place an ambitious re-launch plan to restore Ayala’s former glory. This included the investment, in 2007, in new small stainless-steel tanks to improve the quality and precision of their cuvées, further boosted in 2018 with a new winery of 22 stainless-steel tanks with a capacity of 3,300 hl. Hadrien Mouflard was appointed managing director in 2012 at just 32.
Vineyard and Production
Ayala owns 20 ha mostly in the Marne Valley and complements them with grapes from the Côte des Blancs and the Montagne de Reims to produce about 1 million bottles per year. They use only the cuvée, which they vinify and age in small stainless steel vats to protect them from the oxygen and better keep the primary aromas and a genuine freshness of the grapes. They perform malolactic fermentation at low temperatures, being slower and gentler on the wines. These are kept separate by grape variety, cru, and year to maintain their identity and specificity, to provide a rich palette of choices for Chef de Cave Caroline Latrive to craft her blends. Bottle aging is of about three years minimum. Dosage is usually borderline extra brut of about 6-7 g/l, and sometimes none.
Ayala produces wines known for their freshness and elegance, greatly based on the important role of chardonnay in the blends, and low dosage to preserve their purity, for champagnes much appreciated for their delicacy and precision.
The range of champagnes is just right, with non-vintage brut, brut nature, and rosé, and vintage blanc de blancs and prestige, both from grands crus only. Every three to four years they release a limited-edition vintage champagne. In 2016 it was Rosé N°8, with a similarly high proportion of chardonnay than the non-vintage rosé, but from grands and premiers crus only from 2008. This year (2020) they will release Brut N°7 made with grapes from 2007 from seven grand crus. I enjoy the whole range and very much appreciate their Brut Majeur non-vintage, and buy more and more of it: elegant yet tasty, for great drinkability.