Caroline Latrive was born in Reims, where she studied enology and then a Master’s in champagne making. She was appointed chef de cave of Ayala in 2011. Prior to that, she was making champagne at Bollinger. Latrive is a modern, dynamic woman with a witty soul who talks of her wines with great serenity and a big smile, proof of both her enthusiasm in what she does and the results she achieved. She shares her winemaking philosophies and describes with great clarity the Ayala style, built first and foremost on elegance and freshness, the keywords of this house and that are always reflected in its people and wines.
How do you define the Ayala style and how do you create it?
Ayala is freshness, elegance, purity, precision, it’s pleasure at its pure state. Every cuvée is characterized by a silky texture, which also participates in this purity. The large proportion of chardonnay in our blends and the long aging on the lees are key components in the expression of our style. I have a particular affection for this grape variety, which I find amazing. Chardonnay can sometimes be a little austere, closed, or very acidic during the tasting of the still wines, but if allowed to age, it expresses its richness and generosity and a wide array of pastry notes.
Ayala is freshness, elegance, purity, precision, it’s pleasure at its pure state.
Brut Majeur (non-vintage) is the best representation of our style, with its fresh notes in the nose and on the palate: citruses, flowers, plum and spices such as white pepper, and pastry notes of brioche and breadcrumb. This champagne opens up on a remarkable freshness that is never aggressive thanks to its silky texture. The wine is balanced and precise with a certain minerality.
How do the crus used contribute to the creation of your style?
I believe that diversity is a great source of richness, complexity and balance. If a cru fulfills my requirements and is a key component in the making of a cuvée, it doesn’t matter whether it is a grand, premier, or ordinary cru. In this regard, our wide supply basin allows us to find the best that the Champagne’s terroir has to offer. Also, I vinify separately each grape variety by cru and by year to maintain their identity, their expression, their specificity, and to have a very rich palette of choices for my blends.
I vinify separately each grape variety by cru and by year to have a very rich palette of choices for my blends.
What is your approach to winemaking?
All our wines are vinified and aged in small stainless steel vats to protect them from oxygen, thus letting the wine express its primary aromas (from the grapes) and a genuine freshness, which is the pillar of our style. In addition, in 2018 we added a new winery of 22 stainless-steel tanks with a capacity of 3,300 hl. This semi-underground winery includes the aesthetic codes of the brand (black color) and is energy efficient, consuming 50% to 70% less energy compared to a traditional winery (by using thermal inertia). Thanks to this new tool, the individuality of the crus, grape varieties and vintages are better preserved and allow me to have an even more diverse and varied choice for the creation of my assemblages.
You perform malolactic fermentation on all your wines. Why this stylistic choice?
The malolactic fermentation adds complexity to the wines and makes them less austere. It allows the wines to express a wider range of aromas, especially in chardonnay. We perform slow malolactic fermentation at 18 °C (65 °F) that lasts up to a month not to “tire” our wines and give them slightly more body.
There is a trend in Champagne to produce mono-cru or even single-parcel cuvées. What is your take on that?
By definition, champagne is a blended wine. Single-parcel champagnes are interesting because they are the pure expression of a particular cru. But I rather use this as an element in my blends because my goal through the assemblage is to create and maintain a constant house style, year after year. Hence, my priority is to maintain this consistency in quality and taste. To create such assemblage, one must have a real capability to project the wine into the future, to imagine and anticipate its evolution because the champagne will be ready in three or four years, five or six, or even 10 years for some of our champagnes.
To create an assemblage, one must have a real capability to project the wine into the future, to imagine and anticipate its evolution.
All of your champagnes are characterized by a low dosage. Is dosage still necessary, with increasingly riper grapes in champagne?
For our style, I look for maturity but not over-maturity in the grapes. The keyword for our suppliers is to pick the grapes as soon as they reach the right level of maturity and the right sugar concentration to preserve the expression of the grapes’ primary aromas. For me, dosage represents the final touch in the champagne and must be as subtle as possible to bring the right balance. The dosage of our champagnes is 7 g/l for our non-vintage cuvées and 6 g/l for our vintage cuvées. For our Brut Nature (with absolutely no dosage), we prolong its aging in the cellar. There the wine will further take advantage of the autolysis and thus become smoother, rounder, richer, to the extent that we can release it with no dosage. This champagne also proves our capability to produce high-quality wines without any makeup. The right maturity of the grapes, their irreproachable quality and great sanitary conditions at the harvest, combined with long aging on lees are key components in this wine of great purity and precision.
What are the most interesting and most challenging aspects of your job?
The most exciting and fascinating part of my job is the assemblage; this stage of winemaking calls for all our senses and much creativity. Also, Ayala is a house of human scale (employing less than 20 people), very open and welcoming. I am very proud of the team that I bring together for a common project. Mine is a great job of passion and exchange. But just as I do with my children, I feel the responsibility to guide and closely accompany my wines, to let them fully express their potential and their finest qualities.
What does champagne mean to you? What would life be like without champagne?
To create such assemblage, one must have a real capability to project the wine into the future, to imagine and anticipate its evolution because
Champagne is celebration, joy and sharing. Champagne is an integral part of my life. Life without champagne would be so sad.