Duval-Leroy is a large family-owned house that caught my attention for two reasons: both its president and its chef de cave are women, something very unusual in Champagne; and they were the first in producing certified organic champagne–still available–when this was not yet the trend it is today. They were also the first Champagne house introducing certified sustainable viticulture and using renewable energy at its production site. Based in a modern building in Vertus, in the heart of the Côte des Blancs, their champagnes clearly have a chardonnay soul. President Carol Duval-Leroy is passionate about cuisine, and she built strong ties with sommeliers and chefs, promoting her champagnes in the world of gastronomy with beautiful pairings that are included in a receipt book she published.
In 1859, Edouard Leroy, a wine trader from the Villers-Franqueux in the Montaigne de Reims, formed a partnership with Jules Duval, a vine grower and winemaker from Vertus, founding the Duval-Leroy Champagne house. The two families further consolidated their ties when Henri Duval, son of Jules, married Louise Leroy, daughter of Edouard.
The house took advantage of the waves of the Universal Exhibitions to make itself known throughout Europe and the United States. In 1888, at the international wine competition in Barcelona, Duval-Leroy came first. In the following years, it was noticed for the quality of its champagne in Monaco, Paris, and Moscow.
In 1911, the Champagne’s crus rating scale became official. Immediately, Raymond Duval-Leroy, son of Henri and Louise, who succeeded at the head of the house, put on the market the cuvée Fleur De Champagne Premier Cru produced exclusively from grands and premiers crus.
WW1 and WW2 hit the Champagne region and the house, and during the German occupation, production volumes fell dramatically. In 1950, Roger succeeded his father Raymond, reorganizing the production line and increasing production and sales volumes. Over the years, he also increased the size of the house’s vineyard.
In 1985, it was the time for Charles’ son Jean-Charles to take his turn running the company. It is in this period that the New World wines made their entry into the international market, challenging France’s supremacy. Jean-Charles decided it was time for a major upgrade of the house’s facilities and production line.
In 1991, Jean-Charles suddenly died, and his wife Carol became president of the house. She shifted the focus of Duval-Leroy away from producing Buyers Own Brands (BOBs) champagne for various supermarket chains and retailers and turned her attention to building up the house’s brand. She continued her husband’s project by investing in modernizing equipment, increasing the champagne range, developing the distribution channels and expanding the exports. Within a decade, Duval-Leroy doubled its sales to 6 million bottles per year, of which 60% is now exported, and has won several awards and medals at national and international competitions. Carol Duval-Leroy still manages the house, together with her sons Julien, Charles, and Louis.
Vineyard and Production
The house directly exploits 200 ha, which represents a third of its requirements, to produce about 5 million bottles per year. It was the first house to develop a conscious approach to environmental issues. Its vineyard is certified for sustainable viticulture–HVE (High Environmental Value), and its production site combines photovoltaic solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems and green walls for heat and sound insulation. Located in the heart of Côte des Blancs, its grape supplies include all the grands crus of this subregion. Vinifications take place mostly in stainless steel vats, but a small part in oak barrels to enrich the finish of the wines, all of which undergo malolactic fermentation. They are kept on their lees that are stirred to add complexity and creaminess but without ever making them too heavy or powerful. Finally, they are not clarified (with collage) to keep them naturally rich in proteins, creating a higher viscosity that contributes to creating very fine bubbles.
Duval-Leroy champagnes are characterized by the substantial use of chardonnay, which brings freshness and elegance to the blends, and charming notes of flowers and fruits and a caressing effervescence. All in all, their champagnes are very approachable, with a seductive feminine identity.
The range of champagnes is extensive and includes two brut, extra brut, demi-sec, and rosé among the non-vintage cuvées. The vintages include brut and blanc de blancs, and the prestige cuvées Femme de Champagne, also available in rosé. These prestige champagnes are also available in half-bottles, something very unusual. The house also produces Brut AB, from organically grown grapes. More recently, it introduced four mono-cru champagnes: two blanc de noirs made of pinot noir from selected parcels in the Montagne de Reims and in the Marne Valley, and two blanc de blancs from parcels in the Côte des Blancs–one made of chardonnay and a peculiar one made with petit meslier. I had the chance to taste the whole range with Chef De Cave Sandrine Logette-Jardin. It was a “challenging” task as I do not spit when I taste yet it was a moment of great pleasure and exchange. My favorite cuvées are Rosé non-vintage and Blanc de Blancs vintage, two wines of pure hedonism.