Based in its beautiful palace in Reims, Louis Roederer is possibly the very best Champagne house today. Why? Because they have it all: superior champagne making know-how, financial muscle, independence (they are still family-owned), and a huge vineyard that covers for most of their champagne production. With all this, they produce beautiful wines, and Cristal, for many, the very best champagne there is.
Mr. Dubois and his sons founded their Champagne house in 1776 under the name Dubois Père & Fils. Nicolas Schreider from Alsace came to work with them and eventually purchased the company. Having no sons, his nephew, Louis, joined him in business in 1827. When Nicolas died in 1833, he inherited the house that he renamed Louis Roederer.
While it was common practice for houses to buy grapes, Louis familiarized himself with the specific characteristics of the Champagne’s vineyards and methodically acquired some of the finest parcels. A visionary entrepreneur, he dramatically propelled the business, and by the time of his death in 1870, sales had reached 2.5 million bottles a year. He is considered among the personalities of Champagne that had the greatest influence on the development of the champagne trade.
His son Louis Roederer II succeeded him, and the house became one of the most renowned, exporting its wines to the United States and Russia where Roederer became the official supplier to the Imperial Court. It is for Tsar Alexander II that Cristal, the very first prestige champagne, was crafted in 1876 (I detail the story in the BOX: Cristal, the First Prestige Champagne in Chapter I).
In the 1920s, the successor Léon Olry-Roederer consecrated his efforts to create a highly balanced wine: a consistent and delicate blend of several vintages to ensure that the wine would always be of the highest quality. This wine would form the basis for the later Brut Premier, the house’s brut non-vintage champagne and one of the best in this category.
After his death, from 1933 onwards, his strong-minded widow, Camille, ran the house with great dynamism. Embracing the festive and pleasurable aspects of champagne, she held many receptions at the family’s estate in Reims, introducing the house to new wine lovers.
Her grandson, Jean-Claude Rouzaud, an enologist and agronomist, took over in 1979 and decided to consolidate the house’s vineyards and implement a chateau strategy focusing to get the highest quality in the vineyard and the wine.
Meanwhile, the Roederer family acquired many properties in Champagne and beyond (including the Champagne house Deutz), altogether making up the Louis Roederer Group, which is currently managed by Jean-Claude’s son, Frédéric Rouzaud, who represents the seventh generation of the lineage.
Louis Roederer is one of the very few houses to hold the Royal Warrant to supply champagne to Queen Elizabeth II of England.
Vineyard and Production
During its history, the house continued the strategy, initiated by Louis Roederer, to acquire some of the best vineyards in Champagne to gain independence in terms of grapes supplies. This is how today they own 240 ha–planted for two-thirds with pinot noir–exclusively in grands and premiers crus in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, and Côte des Blancs, which supplies 70% of the grapes needed to produce 3.5 million bottles per year. They grow their vineyard with organic or biodynamic viticulture, to obtain grapes with an exceptional level of maturity and quality. They always harvest late to have richness in the grapes. They vinify the greater part of the musts in stainless steel vats for a pure expression of aromas, and some terroirs in oak barrels to give them extra richness. Some years they will proceed with malolactic fermentations, and other years they won’t; they adapt to the vintage. Most of the blends are characterized by the dominance of pinot noir, the house’s traditional grape variety and the favorite of Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon.
Given the great focus on their vineyard, they create their style not only with the assemblage but especially with tailor-made viticulture. Thanks to the chalky terroir of Champagne, and the maturation and concentration obtained in the grapes, the resulting wines are full-bodied and rich, yet elegant and very balanced.
Brut Premier is among the best brut non-vintage champagnes. It also available in demi-sec, with a tiny addition of wines vinified in oak. All the other champagnes are vintage and are also available in rosé and blanc de blancs. The most recent addition is Brut Nature made in association with French designer Philippe Starck, a fan of champagnes with no dosage. But their flagship cuvée is Cristal, for many, the best champagne that exists and the ultimate reference of quality and luxury in champagne. When I tasted all their fantastic range at once, my preferred champagne was not Cristal but Vintage (2009). Probably my palate still needs to evolve to appreciate certain details. I had both cuvée again, not at the same time though, and love them both, but I still think that Cristal is for more trained palates and that Vintage is easier to understand and enjoy.