Based in its family house in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, next to Epernay, Philipponnat is a boutique house with a long history in winemaking that craft champagnes for the connoisseurs. They are renewed to for their rich yet elegant style, and for Clos des Goisse, a single-vineyard prestige cuvée of growing fame. I see Philipponnat and its champagnes carrying the best expressions of the two identities of Champagne–houses and growers–making this maison beautifully contemporary.
The Philipponnat family, originally of Fribourg in Switzerland, settled in Champagne in the middle of the 16th century. The ancestor Apvril le Philipponnat was a soldier of King François I of France, who granted him land in Aÿ in 1522. The generations that followed were vine growers and wine merchants, supplying magistrates and mayors of the city, as well as the court of King Louis XIV. Later on, under the Second Empire of France in the middle of the 19th century, they devoted themselves to the making of sparkling champagne.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Auguste and Pierre Philipponnat settled in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ where they acquired cellars dug in the 18th century. There they established in 1910 the house Philipponnat to produce champagnes under their brand.
In 1935, Pierre Philipponnat acquired Clos des Goisses, a unique vineyard on the southern flank of the Gruguet hill opposite the Marne river. He used it to create a remarkable single-vineyard champagne that has become an icon among connoisseurs.
The following generation of Philipponnats further developed the reputation of the house, first in France and then abroad. In 1997, Philipponnat joined the Boizel Chanoine Champagne group, later Lanson-BCC. Since 2000, Charles Philipponnat, grandson of Auguste, and the 16th generation in line since the ancestor Apvril le Philipponnat, is at the helm of the house, bringing new energy to its international development. In 2003, the house invested in new winemaking facilities and a barrel room. Today, Philipponnat enjoys growing acclaim from both wine critics and the world of haute cuisine.
Vineyard and Production
Philipponnat own 20 ha situated at the heart of Champagne in Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, and Avenay, classified grand and premier and cru. They work the vineyards with natural methods, hoeing the soil by hand and ploughing with horses. Their gem is Clos des Goisse, a remarkable walled vineyard of 5.5 ha with a 45° incline, facing south, opposite the Marne river. It receives no shade from sunrise to sunset for superb maturity of the grapes that are used to make a rare champagne. The house sources the rest of the grapes from other vine growers in the Vallée de la Marne, the Côte des Blancs, and the Montagne de Reims to produce something more than half-a-million bottles per year.
Philipponnat uses barrels intensively, with half of their wines fermented in oak and the rest in stainless steel. In addition, usually, they do not perform malolactic fermentation to increase and adjust the perception of acidity and freshness. They also use a form of solera, keeping reserve wines in oak barrels and including them in non-vintage blends (in a proportion of one-quarter to one-third) and using this blend as reserve wine for the following blend. This progressive dilution allows every bottle to retain a trace of previous years’ wines blended since the very beginning. Aging is adequate and dosage moderate.
The Philipponnat style relies on the careful balance between intensity and freshness. The intensity results from the dominance of pinot noir in the blends, particularly from southern-facing vineyards in the south of the Montagne de Reims, and the search for optimal physiological maturity of the grapes through slightly late grape picking. The freshness ensues from the avoidance of malolactic fermentation, but also the inclusion of decent amounts of chardonnay, the use of only the first pressing, and moderate dosage to protect the aromatic freshness and the natural minerality of the wines.
The non-vintage range includes brut, brut nature, and rosé. The vintage range includes a blanc de noirs, but also a blanc de blancs, quite surprising for a pinot house, also available in a sec version with an unusual dosage of 30 g/l. The prestige cuvée 1522, named in honor of the origins of the family in Champagne, is available in brut and rosé. Clos des Goisse, their most iconic cuvée, is becoming increasingly popular and is also available in rosé. They also produce three single-plot cuvées of pinot noir from the house’s historic premier and grand cru parcels they own since 1522. I am a great fan of their non-vintage Royale Réserve Brut and clearly of Clos des Goisse, and of Philipponnat in general because they make slightly richer champagne but never heavy, plus I find the shape of the bottles to be very seductive. Something quite useful if you are champagne-obsessed like me, Philipponnat is one of the very few Champagne houses to produce Coteaux Champenois red still wine, from pinot noir obviously. I had it with a burger with foie gras as I felt champagne would be a bit short for that, and it made it perfectly, keeping the champagne spirit–and bottle–in red wine.