Salon is a house, a wine, and a myth because it produces only one great champagne, a much-aged, powerful vintage blanc de blancs, from one single grand cru in the Côte des Blancs: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Many champagne connoisseurs, particularly the Japanese, swear by it. Since the production of Salon is very limited in quantities and vintages, in the years they do not produce it its sister house Delamotte, among the oldest, uses the grapes. The two brands Salon and Delamotte are part of the Laurent-Perrier group, and under the management of one president: Didier Depond.
Eugène-Aimé Salon was born in 1867 in Pocancy, a village just east of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. He moved to Paris, where he found a position in the fur trade, initially as a messenger boy, then rapidly gaining responsibility in the firm and taking charge of the development strategy, leading to its expansion and great success. During these times at the turn of the 19th century, he became one of the key figures of Paris’ glittering society. A hedonist and great amateur of fine cuisine and champagne, he traveled a lot for work, from Europe to the US, tasting different champagnes. However, he was not fully satisfied with their quality, and always dreamt of creating a champagne of incomparable taste and finesse.
At the beginning of the 20th century, under the advice of his brother-in-law who was a winemaker for another champagne producer, Aimé used his proceedings form the fur trade to buy some vineyards. He compared the respective merits of the best vineyards in the Côte des Blancs planted with chardonnay, a grape variety that was not so much in vogue as it is today. He looked at Cramant, Avize, Oger, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, finding the grapes from the latter best suited to produce wines with the greatest aging potential. He used them to produce chardonnay vintage champagne for his consumption and that of his entourage, with the first vintage made in 1905. Salon’s approach was ground-breaking, given no champagne house had marketed single-variety wines before WW1. This way, Eugène-Aimé Salon was the pioneer of blanc de blancs champagne.
Encouraged by his friends, Aimé decided to sell his champagnes to the public after WW1. This is how he founded his Champagne house in 1921, with the first vintage available to the public produced in the same year. Salon became the champagne of Maxim’s restaurant in Paris, helping to establish the wine’s extraordinary reputation during the Roaring Twenties. The house continued to create its special champagnes only in the best years, with an average of just three per decade. Aimé Salon died in 1943 and the house changed hands a few times until the Laurent-Perrier group bought it in 1988. In 1997, it appointed President Didier Depond, who is firmly in charge ever since.
Vineyard and Production
Salon is still produced from its original vineyard of 1 ha in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger–dubbed “Jardin de Salon”–that Eugène-Aimé Salon bought and planted with chardonnay. It is combined with 18 other parcels planted with chardonnays from vine growers also in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, for a total of 15 hectares and production of just about 60,000 bottles per vintage. Pressing is carried out on-site with a traditional press used only for Salon and only the cuvée is retained as it contains the highest percentage of acidity. Every parcel is fermented separately, and the lees are kept in the wine to gain structure and last longer. Salon discontinued the use of oak barrels when President Depond, who is not a fan of wood for fine champagne, took over. Malolactic fermentation is typically avoided and Salon champagnes are never released before at least 10 years of aging when great complexity and the perfect marriage of acidity and fruit are reached. In fact, these superior blanc de blancs can age much, much longer, for additional complexity and pleasure.
Salon is very rich and complex yet elegant and mineral, coming to represent the ultimate expression of long-aged blanc de blancs from the Côte des Blancs. It is often compared to the great wines of Burgundy, but with tiny bubbles.
Salon produces only one single cuvée, Cuvée S, always vintage and always 100% chardonnay from 19 parcels in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. The latest release is 2102, a great vintage in Champagne, and is preceded by 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004 and 2002. I have tasted a few of them, but I prefer the older ones from the ’90s as I think that indeed these are chardonnays that need time and that have great aging potential.