Odilon de Varine joined Gosset in 2006 and became chef de cave in 2016, replacing late Jean-Pierre Mareigner who was in charge of winemaking since 1983. Odilon, a joyful Champenois of great pragmatism and with a very clear idea of what champagne should be, explains his approach to winemaking and to building the distinctive style of Gosset, year after year.
What characterizes the Gosset style? What do you want to transmit with your champagnes?
Champagne must give pleasure. Champagne should always be appetizing and never be tiring; never saturate the palate.
Champagne must give pleasure. Champagne should always be appetizing and never be tiring; never saturate the palate. It must always make you want another glass, with its appetizing, saline minerality. Champagne is meant to be shared, with a friend, with a dish, with another glass. You do not share something heavy and tiring. Gosset Grande Réserve, the cuvée that best embodies our style, is rich, yet elegant, with a very distinctive saline finish, preceded by freshness and fruitiness resulting from the absence of malolactic fermentation.
Why this stylistic choice?
We keep the malic acids in the wines, avoiding their fermentation, to preserve their natural fruity aromas and a certain freshness.
One of the peculiarities of our house is that we keep the malic acids in the wines, avoiding their fermentation, to preserve their natural fruity aromas and a certain freshness. Once the first alcoholic fermentation is complete, we let the wines rest on their lees, without tiring them by warming them to induce malolactic fermentation. Our wines are therefore much fresher, less oxidized, and express themselves more pleasantly. But our wines without malolactic fermentation need more time in the cellar to become smoother and consequently, we have today about five to six years of bottles in stock against an average of 2.5 years in Champagne. Moreover, we obtain today in Champagne riper grapes, a little richer in sugar and less acidic. This is due to global warming, changes in the clones of grape varieties used and in viticultural practices. So, not undergoing malolactic fermentation makes even more sense for us today.
But we also produce champagne to use our wines that undergo malolactic fermentation spontaneously: Gosset Excellence. We add very little sulfite to our reserve wines, and we keep them on their lees, which protect them from oxidation. Consequently, every year, we have reserve wines that naturally undergo natural malolactic fermentation. We prefer to allow this malolactic fermentation rather than add too much sulfite to our wines. These wines require more attention and more work, but we are a small house and we can afford to do it.
What is the role of reserve wines in building your style?
At Gosset, we start from the principle that the Méthode Champenoise is based on the vinification in the bottle, and it is that one that interests us, more than the one in vats.
Their role is essential. Every Champagne house has its ideas about reserve wines. There is a tendency to use more and more of them in the blends because the raw material–the grapes–changes every year, but you have to make a product consistent in style and taste, and the reserve wines help a lot in that. They also allow the champagnes to be sold earlier because a shorter aging time of the base wines is offset by the age of the reserve wines. At Gosset, we have a different approach to reserve wines. We start from the principle that the Méthode Champenoise is based on the vinification in the bottle, and it is that one that interests us, more than the one in vats. That’s why we do not use a lot of reserve wines in our cuvées, between 10% and 20%, depending on the year. Therefore, our cuvées must age, in the bottles, with carbon dioxide (bubbles), on the lees, in the cellar. We use reserve wines only to complement what the base year lacks. We do not create the consistency of taste with the reserve wines; they compensate with small touches what is missing in the base year, to recreate our style.
Your vineyard is limited in size. How does this impact the creation of your style?
Our vineyard is very small. Therefore, we work with long-term purchasing contracts with vine growers and one-off contracts from year to year. We get the grapes where we want, depending on the year, which is for me an advantage. Overall, we use about 70 crus from the whole Champagne region. Also, we do not press the grapes ourselves. We did in the past, but to have juices that are less exposed to the oxygen we rely on external pressing centers that are as close as possible to the harvesting places. This way, the time between the grapes being picked and pressed is reduced. From these juices, we only keep the cuvées and resell the tailles. In certain years, we may keep some tailles of chardonnay if we find them interesting (chardonnay tailles are more acidic than those of pinot noir and meunier).
We vinify the musts in small vats of different sizes–of 20, 40 and 60 hl–to separate the wines of different crus and sometimes of the different vine growers or parcels in the same cru.
We vinify the musts in small vats of different sizes–of 20, 40 and 60 hl–to separate the wines of different crus and sometimes of the different vine growers or parcels in the same cru. We use larger tanks for storing reserve wines that are grouped, not by year or cru, but by the grape variety of course, and especially, by the expressions they can bring to the cuvées–so, by their organoleptic characteristics, like their maturity, acidity, length, bitterness, etc.
Your choices of wines are based more on technical analysis or tasting?
All our wine choices are based on tastings and are then confirmed by technical analysis.
All our wine choices are based on tastings and are then confirmed by technical analysis because sometimes the sensations on the palate are different from what we could expect from the analysis. But both are necessary because the tastings can also hide things that can be revealed with the analysis. But the final choice is always based on the tasting.
What is the role of the dosage in your champagnes?
In Champagne, the grapes do not always reach full maturity, and we must give them the balance that the aging on the lees does not completely bring. Dosage adds the last touch of perfection to champagne, so it is a consequence of the wine. All our tastings for dosage are done blind and the final dosage varies from champagne to champagne–between 6-8 g/l for some cuvées and 4 g/l for others–to obtain the same balance.
But there are increasing numbers of champagnes with no dosage and they are not necessarily worse, they are just different. Every producer makes the wine he loves. There are extra brut champagnes that have a fantastic balance that does not require dosage and then some champagnes that need to be smoothed a little because of a lower maturity of the grapes and the use of certain vineyards rather than others.
You are the oldest wine house of Champagne. How did you manage to always remain among the best, in more than four centuries of history?
In Champagne, perpetual renewal is a necessity. We were founded in 1584. If we had not evolved in our way of doing things we would not exist anymore.
In Champagne, perpetual renewal is a necessity. Houses have disappeared, either because of financial problems or because of steadiness rooted in their successes. We were founded in 1584. If we had not been modern–evolved in our way of doing things, in our minds, in our wines–we would not exist anymore. There must be fundamentals, but they must not prevent evolution and renewal. In the last few years, we have launched for the first time, a blanc de blancs, a blanc de noirs and the first champagne where we speak of age and not of vintage: 15 Ans de Cave a Minima, a new concept.
Tell us about this new 15-year-old champagne. What is its specificity?
According to the Champagne appellation, non-vintage champagne must remain in the cellar on the lees for a minimum of 12 months and a vintage a minimum of three years. But it takes more than that for champagne to acquire richness, maturity, and creaminess. That’s why our brut non-vintage champagne Grand Réserve ages in the cellar on average four to five years. The idea behind this new champagne, bottled in 1999, is to optimize its very long aging time to 15 years minimum. It is a cuvée made our way, with few reserve wines, but where we look for complexity through the aging on the lees that for us is paramount.
We have other projects in progress. This constant innovation is fundamental for us.
But we have other projects in progress. This constant innovation is fundamental for us. These stylistic exercises are limited-edition champagnes that are not included in the permanent range of wines. They exist to please us and, of course, our customers.
Is there a profile of Gosset aficionado?
There are consumers who only drink Gosset. Generally, these are wine lovers who have drunk a lot of champagne. They are mainly in France, our main market, where more palates are used to champagne, but also in the UK, in the US and now in Japan, a country very sensitive to the wine culture and the art of living of the Western world.
The competition of sparkling wines from other regions is increasing. What makes champagne unique?
The terroir of Champagne makes our wines unique, with this chalky, salty sensation that can be found in certain wines, which is extraordinary.
The terroir of Champagne makes our wines unique, with this chalky, salty sensation that can be found in certain wines, which is extraordinary. This brings an appetizing side to champagne with one glass that calls for another. No other wine region can reproduce this because it is the terroir of Champagne that brings it.
There are very nice sparkling wines produced in the south of England where the soil is similar to ours, but not the climate, which is much milder than ours (continental and Atlantic). It is the equation of soil-climate-grape variety that makes champagne. Here, the grapes never reach complete maturity, but we do not need it because we are looking for this freshness, this finesse, this acidity, and salinity, together with a long stay on lees that brings structure and roundness.
Champagne is a magic word, thanks to the work of generations of producers for its evolution and improvement.
Moreover, champagne is a magic word, thanks to the work of generations of producers for its evolution and improvement. We must continue to defend our name, and our generation must also bring something so that champagne remains magic; it is our collective wealth that we share with the world. The biggest challenge ahead for us is to remain the king of wines, which makes the eyes shine when we talk about it. For this, champagne must remain approachable–never be too complicated or tiring. Champagne must remain magical, a moment of celebration.