Based in its stylish family house in Aÿ, the most emblematic grand cru of Champagne, Henri Giraud is the beautiful story of a grower that, in one generation, has become one of the most praised boutique houses of the region. Under the strong entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of its President Claude Giraud, this producer has evolved into a modern and hype maison with a very distinctive identity based on pinot noir and the unapologetic intense use of oak from Champagne’s Argonne forest, something unique in Champagne. The results are wines of strong personality and a lot of taste, which have their more passionate fans in Japan.
The Giraud family settled in Aÿ at the beginning of the 17th century. In the early 20th century, Léon Giraud, a cuirassier, married Madeleine Hémart and reestablished the family vineyard ravaged by phylloxera.
This is when the Giraud-Hémart family started producing champagne. The business became a fully-fledged house with NM status in 1975 under the name Henri Giraud.
However, the real starting point of the house as we know it today, was in 1983 when visionary and strong-willed Claude Giraud took the reins of the business from his father Henri and brought it to a new level.
By looking at the historical roots of the champagne wine and business and leveraging on them to redefine their future, he has created a beautifully contemporary maison that keeps on innovating in champagne making and marketing.
Vineyard and Production
The house works with 10 ha it owns in Aÿ planted with pinot noir, and with 15 ha belonging to family members and friends. They apply sustainable viticultural methods and are certified for High Environmental Value (HVE) and Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne (VDC), and in 2018, they introduced an OK logo combined with a QR code on the label of their BSA, giving access to a full molecular analysis of the wines. Their winemaking philosophy highlights the terroir–that of Aÿ primarily–and this is why they discontinued the use of stainless steel tanks in 2016 and replaced them with small oak barrels from the Argonne forest, about 100 km (60mi) from Aÿ, as they believe it best accompany its terroir and bring out its typical minerality. But they also use sandstones ogive, a material that they find preserves the organoleptic characteristics of Aÿ. The overall production is about 250,000 bottles per year.
The champagnes are characterized by the dominance of pinot noir, the grape that best expresses the terroir of Aÿ where they are based, but chardonnay is also included in most of the blends. Given the above, and the intense use of oak, their champagnes are full-bodied, with a distinctive salinity and aromas of menthol and anise typical of Aÿ. They are particularly appreciated in Asia where they are said to perfectly match the umami taste that is often present in local dishes. It is clear to me that although Aÿ plays a major role in the style of this House, it is also greatly the expression of Claude’s personality–a larger-than-life and very friendly character–and more recently, of its family, as the chef de cave is his son-in-law Sébastien Le Golvet.
The range of champagnes has evolved in recent years, with some cuvées having disappeared and others being introduced. Currently, most of the champagnes are non-vintage, expect for a brut and a rosé vintage. Something peculiar, they produce a non-vintage rosé vinified in sandstone amphorae, and a blanc de blancs, although they are a pinot noir house. The main brut non-vintage, Esprit Nature, is made with a vast majority of pinot noir and some chardonnay. Its wines are both vinified and aged in oak barrels–for a clearly oxidative style–it includes a very generous 50% reserve wines from a perpetual reserve, and is aged for at least two years, resulting in a champagne packed with taste. I am glad to notice that this cuvée, which embeds the house style, has become more refined lately, with less marked oaky notes. The last time I had it I found it perfect to accompany my red meat. And I noticed that the wrapping foil includes a quote about their winemaking philosophy. Also, for certain bottles, the muselet is replaced by an elegant gold plated agrafe with the house’s name engraved in it. That’s what I call attention to details. My favorite cuvée is Code Noir, a 100% pinot noir from Aÿ that impressed me for its marked, pleasant salinity. They don’t produce it anymore and they replaced it with another similar cuvée dubbed Hommage. Very interesting, they also produce Coteaux Champenois still red and white wines, 100% pinot noir and 100% chardonnay, and Ratafia, aged in oak barrels using the solera method.