Winding its way through the Montagne de Reims, from the southernmost tip of Reims all the way through to Fère Champenoise, just east of the Côte de Sézanne, is the scenic D9. A classic French main road – whose speed limit appears to be personal choice (drivers average anywhere between 70 km/h to 130 km/h) – it connects some of the region’s most noteworthy villages: the Premier Crus of Ludes, Tauxières, and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ in the northern Montagne de Reims, with the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil and Vertus in the southern Côte des Blancs.
Before reaching any of these prestigious destinations however, wine lovers heading south from Reims will pass a particularly picturesque domaine, sheltered by the dense woods of the Montagne on one side and a steep hill on the other. Tucked away on a remarkably bendy stretch of road, not quite in Ludes and not quite in Mailly, lies the grower champagne producer, Bérêche et Fils.
A more appropriate name might be Bérêche et Frères: the house is currently managed by brothers Raphaël and Vincent, the family’s fifth generation, who took 15 years to establish full control of the business from their parents. They divide roles – Raphaël works in the cellars and Vincent in the vineyards – and it was on an especially sunny day in June that we met with Raphaël to learn more about this ambitious house.
“The first reason to make champagne is to express the terroir,” said an infectiously energetic and cheerful Raphaël. The terroir in question for Bérêche et Fils is spread across the Montagne de Reims and into the left bank of the Vallée de la Marne. The majority of their 14 hectares of vineyards are located in nearby Ludes and Ormes (in the Petite Montagne). They also have 3 hectares in Mareuil-le-Port, to the south-west of the Montagne de Reims, and 0.5 hectares of prized Chardonnay in the Premier Cru village of Trépail.
However, Raphaël was most excited about their most recent – and first Grand Cru – acquisition: a small 0.4 hectare plot in Mailly, planted in 1954. The size might sound insignificant, but a purchase of this prestige, in an appellation where a single hectare of land in the highest rated villages can fetch up to an eye-watering €1.5 million, is precious. Despite the average holding per grower being just 0.12 hectare (and closer to 0.5 hectare is needed to fill a champagne pressing machine), the brothers had to look high and low for “a grower with an old vineyard who doesn’t want to make his own wine”, before stumbling across their treasure.
Prime real estate is one thing, but it is the brothers’ hands-on, quality-focused, detail-driven approach; combining innovative work in the cellar with a turn towards natural viticulture, that is slowly transforming Bérêche et Fils from a top grower into an iconic domaine. They were the first in the Montagne to ditch pesticides, haven’t used herbicides since 2002, and have started using cover crops and biodynamic farming methods to encourage soil and vine health. Although not certified organic, Raphaël estimates that every two out of three years they follow organic practices to the letter.
In the cellar, they are focused on the fine details. Each parcel is vinified separately and around 80% of their wines are fermented in neutral, large French oak barrels – always bought new, washed with the last juice of the Chardonnay press and left to stand for a year – for a long period of six weeks. Second fermentation takes place under cork and traditional agrafe rather than crown caps (which are “very closed… the exchange is finished”), for all but the non-vintage champagnes. They don’t use commercial yeasts, malolactic fermentation is blocked on everything but the reserve wines, lees ageing takes anywhere between three and eight years (“to encourage terroir expression”), and all bottles are disgorged by hand.
Aside from their two non-vintages, they only produce single vineyard champagnes, which speaks to Raphaël’s first reason for production (“to express the terroir”). They also bottle a blanc and a rouge Coteaux Champenois; still wines of the region which are often considered the most authentic expression of the land.
Their champagnes are first-rate and very precisely structured, a testament to their fine tuning in the cellar. Each is clearly distinguished from the other and to taste the range in one sitting is to really take a journey across the appellation. As with many growers, Bérêche are generous with their information and a well-presented portfolio provides astonishing detail about each champagne, from the average vine age in the vineyard, to the specific altitude and gradient of the slope. Where available, this information has been included with the tasting notes below.
Raphaël truly bubbles over with enthusiasm and passion for his trade. Alongside Aurélien Laherte, he initiated the hugely popular Champagne Week, which takes place every April. The Bérêche brothers clearly adore their work, and their love for the family’s vineyards and respect for terroir focused champagne is evident not only in their spirited manner, but more importantly in the quality of their wines.
Crucially, they are also no strangers to hard work, a trait which clearly runs in the bloodline. Their grandfather was producing just 20,000 bottles a few decades ago; their parents took production volume up to 80,000 bottles; and today, the Bérêche brothers, with assistance from the ten workers they employ in the vineyard, are making more than 110,000 bottles of champagne per year.
|Bérêche et Fils Coteaux Champenois Les Monts Fournois Blanc 2016 | 15.5+/20
Lots of fresh fruit, really peachy with tropical notes; lots of pineapple and ripe apples. Bright and fresh with good length. Comes from a vineyard with very chalky soil, planted in 1961.
|Bérêche et Fils Coteaux Champenois Les Monts Fournois Blanc 2015 | 15/20
Tropical hints like pineapple and really ripe apples. Great freshness. Very fresh acidity and bundles of oak.
|Bérêche et Fils Rive Gauche 2014 | 16/20
Vineyard | 0.45 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 45 Years | Altitude: 200m | Slope: 35%
Champagne | 100% PM | Lees Ageing: 2 Years | Disgorged: November 2017 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Lots of ripe apples, lemons and hints of toastiness from the oak. A touch of peaches on the mid-palate and it really lifts up with saltiness on the end – a direct link to the vineyard where there is a thin soil full of shells.
|Bérêche et Fils Rilly la Montagne 2015 | 17/20
Vineyard | 0.40 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 36 Years | Altitude: 178m | Slope: 22%
Champagne | 100% PN | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: April 2019 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Months
Loads of ripe red berry fruits. A lively mousse with ripeness of apples and a slight toastiness from the oak. Hints of brioche character on the palate. Really rather good.
|Bérêche et Fils Rilly la Montagne 2014 | 17.5+/20
Vineyard | 0.40 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 35 Years | Altitude: 178m | Slope: 22%
Champagne | 100% PN | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: March 2018 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Quite tight on the nose at present but it has more character on the palate and lots of toasty notes; a richness of tropical peaches and great acidity.
|Bérêche et Fils Les Beaux Regards 2015 | 17/20
Vineyard | 0.45 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 50 Years | Altitude: 170m | Slope: 10%
Champagne | 100% CH | Lees Ageing: 2 Years | Disgorged: December 2018 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 7 Months
Lots of toasty notes, really quite creamy and round. This has the lively bubbles of recent disgorgement and is showing very well; fresh and zesty. Has a lot of chalk terroir and salinity.
|Bérêche et Fils Les Beaux Regards 2013 | 17.5+/20
Vineyard | 0.45 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 48 Years | Altitude: 170m | Slope: 10%
Champagne | 100% CH | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: March 2017 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
A partially walled vineyard. Has a roundesss to the nose. Loads of peaches, lemons and richness. Quite vinous and powerful.
|Bérêche et Fils Campania Remensis Rosé 2015 | 17/20
Vineyard | 0.71 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 40 Years | Altitude: 109m | Slope: 5%
Champagne | 60% PN, 30% CH, 5% PM, 5% Coteaux Champenois Rouge | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: May 2019 | Dosage: 4.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Month
Bright red fruits dominate, some strawberries and delicate rose petal aromatics. The toasty character from the barrel really comes through on the palate along with red cherry and good texture from the lees.
|Bérêche et Fils Campania Remensis Rosé 2014 | 18/20
Vineyard | 0.71 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 39 Years | Altitude: 109m | Slope: 5%
Champagne | 60% PN, 30% CH, 5% PM, 5% Coteaux Champenois Rouge | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: March 2018 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
The tropical notes come straight out, really exotic with hints of chalk and minerality. Really lifts up at the end with freshness from salinity. This is very pure and fresh with long length. Gives the impression this will last ten plus years. Precise and fresh.
|Bérêche et Fils Brut Réserve NV | 17/20
Vineyard | 7 ha | Avg. Vine Age: >40 Years | Terroirs: 35% Ludes, 30% Ormes, 25% Mareuil-le-Port, 10% Trépail
Champagne | 35% PM, 35% PN, 30% CH | Base Vintage: 2016 | Reserve Wine: 35% | Lees Ageing: 1.5 Years | Disgorged: December 2018 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 7 Months
Has a good texture and is showing ripe fruits. The peach dominates to start, then you see apricots and more tropical notes. This showing well, precise and quite richly flavoured.
|Bérêche et Fils Brut Réserve NV Magnum | 18/20
Vineyard | 7 ha | Avg. Vine Age: >40 Years | Terroirs: 35% Ludes, 30% Ormes, 25% Mareuil-le-Port, 10% Trépail
Champagne | 35% PM, 35% PN, 30% CH | Base Vintage: 2016 | Reserve Wine: 35% | Lees Ageing: 2 Years | Disgorged: May 2019 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Month
Tighter nose. Seems much more focused on the palate. Nice fresh and juicy fruit. Very refreshing and good lees texture.
|Bérêche et Fils Reflet d’Antan NV | 17/20
Vineyard | 0.60 ha | Avg. Vine Age: >30 Years | Terroirs: Ludes, Trépail, Ormes, Mareuil-le-Port
Champagne | 35% PM, 35% PN, 30% CH | Base Vintage: 2013 | Reserve Wine: 30% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
This is a real red fruit festival with a hint of butter. Good lees texture with hints of minerality and lots of rich, concentrated fruits.
|Bérêche et Fils Le Cran 2011 | 18/20
Vineyard | 0.52 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 45 Years | Altitude: 190m | Slope: 9%
Champagne | 50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 3.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Lots of really ripe and juicy fruits. Great texture – this one is quite vinous. Has a mix of power of fruits and yet a very precise and soft texture coming from the lees, which really adds to the mouthfeel.
|Bérêche et Fils Le Cran 2010 | 17.5+/20
Vineyard | 0.52 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 44 Years | Altitude: 190m | Slope: 9%
Champagne | 50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 4 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Planted by Grandfather on top of a hill in Ludes. The PN looks east and the CH looks west. Rich with some tropical notes. Loads of peaches, pineapple and ripe apples. Very good; refreshing and nice length. Can taste the minerality from the soil.
|Bérêche et Fils Mailly-Champagne 2013 | 18+/20
Vineyard | 0.40 ha | Avg. Vine Age: 60 Years | Altitude: 170m | Slope: 5%
Champagne | 100% PN | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: October 2018 | Dosage: 3.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Light and elegant with white flowers and a distinct chalky character. Has a really distinct lees character mixed with racy acidity and salinity that leaves your palate refreshed. Really good. More red clay in the soil here (iron) and you get hints of this in the wine.
|Bérêche et Fils Les Tourrets 2014 | 19/20
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: June 2019 | Dosage: 4 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 0 Months
Very rich on the nose. Has bundles of fruit and a slight spicy character. Quite vinous. Has loads of ripe fruits; red berries and peaches. Has a muscular feel to it with a velvety texture. Zingy, unctuous and very perfumed.