Hervé Dantan replaced former Chef de Cave Jean-Paul Gandon in 2015 after two years spent side by side in the cellars and in the vineyards. Dantan came at a crucial time at Lanson, with its new, enhanced winery and vinification tools, to further increase the quality and precision of the champagnes and to add complexity to its distinctive no-malolactic style. Dantan is an energetic and warm man, with clear ideas and a clear way to express them, which makes this interview all you need to grasp the spirit of his champagnes.
Lanson had several owners until it became part of the Lanson-BCC group in 2006. How did it influence the evolution and the quality of its wines?
The Lanson family ran the house from its foundation until the 1970s. Then, the Gardinier family, Danone, LVMH, and the Mora family followed one another as owners. In 2006, the house was taken over by three families from the Champagne region, Baijot, Paillard, and Boizel, and became part of the Boizel Chanoine Champagne (BCC) group to become Lanson-BCC, the second largest group in Champagne.
During the whole course of its history, Lanson always kept a supply of high-quality grapes with 50% of them coming from grands and premiers crus.
Since 2006, there has been a strong will to give Lanson the means to rise again. Besides the vineyard of 120 ha that the group owns, Lanson picks its grapes from over 500 ha of the best vine growers in the region. It’s interesting to note that during the whole course of its history, Lanson always kept a supply of high-quality grapes with 50% of them coming from grands and premiers crus, which is still the case today.
Your champagnes are primarily composed of pinot noir and chardonnay. What areas of the region do they come from?
Our supplies have historically come from the best terroirs on the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs.
Our supplies have historically come from the best terroirs on the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs, and we have four different pressing centers scattered throughout Champagne. In the Montagne de Reims, one is in Verzenay, an emblematic location for Lanson as the founding family had a vacation home there, and another one is in Trépail, a beautiful village that produces chardonnay wines with a lot of character, more mineral and full-bodied than on the Côte des Blancs. Also, in Dizy, in the Vallée de la Marne where we drain the area from Reims toward Epernay, with beautiful pinots noirs, but also some pinots meuniers from the Vallée de la Marne around Cumières. Finally, we have a pressing center in Loches-sur-Ource for pinot noir supplies from the Aube region. We use pinot meunier in our brut non-vintage Black Label, which includes about 100 different wines, and in our Rosé Label to the tune of 15%. But in the vintage or prestige cuvées, we only use pinots noir and chardonnay.
Lanson is one of the very few Champagne houses to own a clos. What are the specificities of the wines produced from this plot?
Clos Lanson is a little gem we look after carefully. It is a 1-ha piece of land of chardonnay planted in 1960 and in 1986.
Clos Lanson is a little gem we look after carefully. It is a 1-ha piece of land of chardonnay planted in 1960 and in 1986. It is located on a terroir composed of pure limestone, which is very suitable to grow this variety. It’s the only intramural clos in Reims and it benefits from an extraordinary location, in our house, in the heart of Reims and right opposite the Cathedral. The clos has natural protection from bad weather conditions and prevailing winds, with a slightly higher temperature (+1.5 °C/35 °F) during winter and summer; thus, it enjoys an important precocity with grapes that are very mature and very healthy, which in turn produce fresh and rich chardonnays. The grapes we obtain with attentive viticulture have always had an outstanding level of maturity with a great balance between sweetness and acidity.
We use barrels to vinify the wines from the clos without the wood tainting the wine.
We use barrels to vinify the wines from the clos without the wood tainting the wine. The barrels we use come from Burgundy and have been toned down a lot so the wine can express its full character. Since 2006, we do a special cuvée with it–Clos Lanson. The annual production is small, around 8,000 bottles, depending on the vintages. We produce this champagne every year, but when we experience that the vintage is not exceptional, our staff performs a very strict selection of the grapes and in this case, production may be smaller. Every year, we do our best to produce great champagne with this piece of land.
Lanson invested 14 million euro in 2014 to further develop its winery and vinification tools. Why?
More than 400 different tanks give us an important capacity and a lot of possibilities to separate wines by village and vintage.
All our production is made in our center in Reims where we now have a capacity to ferment 100,000 hl of wine with seven different fermentation rooms. There are big tanks, small tanks, tanks in stainless steel, concrete, and wood, with more than 400 different tanks. It gives us an important capacity and a lot of possibilities to separate wines by village and vintage. All this allows us to have an even larger wine portfolio, do more parcel-based vinification, with more possibilities, while being a lot more precise in the blending and have an identity that truly stands out for each champagne we wish to make.
The new winery tool includes wooden barrels. How is this influencing your style?
These barrels are made of wood from Allier (a region of central France) and Champagne. We rely heavily on this wooden winery to age reserve wines without malolactic fermentation. It gives them a creamy taste with a lot of depth, which is interesting, and it also gives a lot of harmony to the crisp, clean, mineral side of the wines that didn’t undergo this fermentation, which is particularly interesting during the blending.
We selected three-barrel suppliers, Seguin Moreau, Radoux, and Vicard, who are all different in terms of taste and texture. One supplier uses warm notes, another one brings an interesting depth, and the third one has toasted, roasted notes.
It is an innovation that adds value, but Lanson will never have woody notes, vanilla notes or tannins. We want to enjoy the breathing of the wine in the wood to bring depth and purity that we deem important and essential to Black Label, our brut non-vintage. The addition of wood gives our wines an extra dimension. We also work our liqueurs in wood to bring more complexity.
What does the absence of malolactic fermentation bring to your champagnes?
The Lanson spirit is to have fruity, powerful, crisp wines with a lot of purity and always a lot of elegance.
The Lanson spirit is to have fruity, powerful, crisp wines with a lot of purity and always a lot of elegance. The absence of malolactic fermentation allows us to preserve the natural fruitiness of the grape, to obtain fruity aromas and brings more freshness, more minerality, and less milky notes (typical of malolactic fermentation). But we can also combine wine with or without malolactic fermentation. Using reserve wines also brings multiple dimensions.
Can you elaborate on how reserve wines contribute to the development of your style?
Wines that didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation need more rest. It’s the reason why Black Label ages for at least three years.
Wines that didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation need more rest. It’s the reason why Black Label ages for at least three years on lees before it is sold. Today we use more reserve wines to bring extra smoothness and richness. Historically, for Black Label we used from 15% to 20% of reserve wines. From 2014, we use 30%, from 10 different years.
Lanson has in its winery a treasure that was established over the years with reserve wines from 1998 onward, from many grands crus like Avize, Mesnil, Cramant, Verzy and Verzenay, and many premiers crus. This fabulous palette of reserve wines brings complexity, roundness, richness and body to our champagnes that reach a balance between crispness and fullness in line with Lanson’s spirit.
Some wine connoisseurs consider champagne good as long as the wine is sharp and there is no added sugar. It’s not always the case.
There is a sort of fundamentalism around champagne without dosage. Some wine connoisseurs consider champagne good as long as the wine is sharp and there is no added sugar. It’s not always the case. There are only a few champagnes that don’t need dosage. Moreover, sugar plays an important role in the aging of champagne and in the protection from oxidation. When one compares aged champagne with no dosage to one with dosage, the first will always have more oxidative notes and less elegance. By contrast, champagne with a slight dosage will have more purity, clarity, and freshness.
What is for you the ideal dosage?
A dosage of 3 g/l of sugar could be enough to stabilize the wine and ensure a nice evolution, but you need to try with each blend and test different dosages for the right balance. The current Black Label receives 8 g/l.
What do you want to bring to Lanson?
Lanson has a style that we need to respect; it is the original champagne style.
I replaced former Chef de Cave Jean-Paul Gandon who, for 27 years, made wine beautifully and I will maintain this continuity. Lanson has a style that we need to respect; it is the original champagne style, with wines expressing this fruitiness, crispiness, purity, and finesse. I started with new ideas and I work side by side with our president and I completely agree on the strategy to follow: “To respect our style and raise the quality of our wines even higher.”