TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY MEUNIER Cédric Moussé turns the Underdog Grape Into Champagne’s New Superstar

23rd May 2024

Cédric Moussé vigneron at Moussé Fils

The grower Champagne movement that has built an exciting and invigorating buzz around the world over the past few decades owes its prestigious fame to a handful of bold, passionate, and pioneering vignerons (winemakers) who fearlessly broke Champagne’s deeply entrenched age-old traditions.

With their unconventional experimental approach to winemaking, they have not only injected a new life into the legendary bubbly wine, but they have also imbued the Champagne region with a new vigor and gusto. The story of these trailblazer propagandists for a terroir-driven and ecologically minded Champagne is one of a precipitous rise that continues to move at a many miles per-hour-pace. Among the leading names upping the volume another couple of decibels in Champagne and adding a frisson of excitement is Cédric Moussé.

The fourth-generation vigneron at Moussé Fils, Cédric Moussé etched his name into Champagne’s history when in 2003, armed with an imposing pedigree and resume, he joined the family business alongside his father Jean-Marc and radically revamped the family-owned Champagne house. His discernable talent, vision, passion, and unflappable courage gave him the impetus to create a range of Champagnes that unequivocally represent today the pinnacle of Meunier.

Here M is for Meunier. Because if Meunier has increasingly become the mot du jour in the grower champagne vernacular, it is this rockstar winemaker who has made the underdog grape the star of the show while simultaneously plucking his home village of Cuisles in the Vallée de la Marne out of obscurity.

Known for its green clay soil (also called Illite), Cuisles is an atypical terroir that is very much part of the fabric of Moussé Fils’ champagnes. Each cuvée the petulant Cédric Moussé crafts is an incredible journey to the heart of an extraordinary family with an extraordinary story to tell.

But the captivating Champagne tale of the Moussé Fils family’s successful winemaking journey would have never become reality had it not been for two improbable characters: a Citroën B14 and Mona, Monsieur Fresne’s black semi-racehorse.

With each passing year, Cédric’s passion for his craft, his family-owned Domaine, and his indefatigable quest to have his Champagnes express their natural innate elegance is not only taking on more cultural resonance among the Champagne aficionados, the hedonists, the connoisseurs, and the amateurs alike, but also ensuring that the region of Champagne continues to flourish. Cédric Moussé doesn’t live his life drawing the lines, rather he lives it pushing them. He has successfully imposed his signature style on the landscape of Champagne becoming, rightfully so, a seminal figure.

I had the immense pleasure of chatting with Cédric Moussé via Zoom.

Hearing him flip through this incredible story that is Moussé Fils with such vibrancy and passion was quite a thrill for me. I later tasted two of his cuvée L’Esquisse and Les Vignes de mon Village and was immediately seduced. Each bottle is the manifestation of a place encapsulated in a grape and an unusually unique experience – a testament to the creative expression of the artistic vigneron.

Moussé Fils is a family-owned Champagne house that has been transmitted from father to son from generation to generation. Can you retrace the history?

The Moussé story goes back to 1629. There’s a total of twelve generations of winegrowers.

The older generations would grow grapes and sell them to the negotiants.

It was in 1923, four years after the Champagne revolution, that my great-grandfather Eugene Moussé decided to stop selling his grapes and start making his own wine.

There were about 165 residents living in the village of Cuisles so not a significant amount of people for business. As luck would have it, a gentleman living in the village had purchased a Citroën B14 and together with Eugene they left for Paris armed with two cases containing each 25 bottles of Champagne. Once in Paris, they met an American man who had recently settled in the capital. As a caterer, his business had been significantly affected by the Prohibition and he opted to relocate to Europe. Benefiting as well from the Roaring Twenties, together with Eugene, the two men grew the Champagne business all the way until the beginning of World War II.

What prompted your family to join the Resistance?

Eugene and Edmond (one of his 3 sons) were both part of the Resistance.

They joined the famed ‘Réseau Possum’ (the Possum Line) which had been put in place to retrieve all the American and British pilots and their crew who would crash during bombing raids over Germany. They would organize the recovery of these airmen, shelter, and feed them until the British army would fly to the region in the middle of the night to retrieve them.

In June 1944, the Réseaux was dismantled, and Eugene and Edmond were arrested by the Nazis. They were forced to work five months in a French camp and another 5 in a German camp. Only Edmond came back alive in 1945 whilst looking very emaciated.

It was Eugene’s wife, Susanne, who ensured the continuation of the business during their absence. Edmond resumed activities very slowly because he was physically weakened and slowed down. He had been brutally hit on his spine with a soup ladle in the camp while attempting to steal some food. As a result, he underwent surgery in Paris. He slept on a wooden table for a year. He never fully recovered his agility and his ability to work in the vineyards was diminished. Luckily, a man by the name of Francois became Edmond’s right hand for much of his life. Francois spent some 42 years at our side and even trained my dad.

Edmond specialized in wine and became a prominent winemaker imparting his savoir-faire to a lot of other vignerons in the region.

How did your Champagne journey begin?

My dad, Jean-Marc, joined the family business in 1976 and gave it a massive boost.

He was the mayor of Cuisles and was one of the first winegrowers in Champagne to reintroduce the concept of grass between the vines.

I finished school and joined him in 2003. I earned a Baccalaureate in ‘Agronomie Environnement’ (agronomical and environmental studies), and a BTS ‘Viticulture Oenologie’ (Viticulture oenology). Then I traveled and worked in California and Bordeaux. I also worked in the ‘Cuverie Expérimentale’ of the Comité Champagne, which was one of my best experiences because we conducted a lot of experiments – something I immensely enjoy doing and continue to do today.

I worked with my dad for ten years. Together we redesigned the winery to be completely self-powered through solar panels.

Tragically, my dad passed in December 2013 from a work accident just two months after the end of the harvest. He had started the vinification and I brought it to completion on my own. My mom provided immense support and gave me a lot of encouragement when I officially took the reins in 2014.

Was it hard for you to suddenly fly solo? What were some of the first initiatives you took?

When my dad passed away, I told myself I would not change a thing, and then 6 months later I changed everything. It was in 2014 that we moved to a 100% organic viticulture.

Today the entirety of our estate is organic and biodynamic.

A lot has happened in 10 years. The area of production has tripled, and we increased production too.

We started using herbal infusions and essential oils that act as ‘vitamins’ for the vines; we got rid of pesticides and chemicals and use minimal doses of copper. We traded the use of petroleum sulfur for a raw form of Sulphur, which I burn myself.

Also, we have also ameliorated and expanded the distribution of our Champagnes. We don’t sell our Champagne here on the property. The French market represents 25% of our sales and the other 75% is our international markets spreading over 35 countries.

Meunier is your superstar. Why is Meunier considered the Black Sheep?

Meunier is the grape variety that did not tolerate the mass production that happened in the 1970s.

When all the chemicals made their introduction in Champagne, grape production was doubled.

Meunier is not a grape equipped to withstand mass production. It has a bad reputation because it typically was planted on the worst sites, and it was overcropped and poorly farmed.

But Meunier, when farmed organically and/or biodynamically, produces high-quality wines.

Today, we are rediscovering this grape. It is a grape that has the ability to express terroir with utmost authenticity. It’s a grape that does not need high dosage either.

Meunier excels on green clay – it is a rarity in Champagne, one that gives wines added complexity.

What does Meunier shine through your Champagnes?

In Cuisles the green clay gives our Meunier aromatic notes of white fruits, citrus, and white peach – typical Chardonnay flavors. When people blind taste ‘Les Vignes de mon Village’ – a 100% Meunier – they think it’s a 100% Chardonnay.

Also, green clays over limestone marls are rich in magnesium which gives my Champagnes a certain delicate acidity/bitterness that will prolong the finish and gives the wine structure.

That’s why when I speak about our soil, I refer to it as our treasure.

The impact of green clays is significant.

Speaking about green clay, how is the identity of your terroir expressed in your Champagnes?

I always thought there was something uniquely extraordinary to be found on this terroir.

Cuisles is an atypical terroir – predominantly composed of green clays and planted to 85% Meunier.

I remember when Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, world-renowned microbiologists and soil experts, came to visit. When Claude saw the terroir and the green clays, he asked if our terroir was ranked Grand Cru. When I chatted with him, he shared with me all the benefits of this green clay on the grapes. I then realized that in the world of wine, you can deal with a lot of makeup or ‘masks’ which taint the true characteristics of the soil and the grapes.

Today my wines have a low dosage (no more than 2.5g/l).

With a low-dosage approach and stainless-steel fermentation, the grape is allowed to truly shine.

Overoxidation, new oak, sulfites, and additives are all elements that can mask the wine.

The idea was to eliminate all masks.

Our wines have radically changed. They’ve been purified and they have gained tension and freshness. They are extremely natural and have exceptional ageing potential.

When you taste my wines, you can keep the bottle open for 12 hours without recorking it and there will be no oxidative deviance. The wines have an incredible stability.

You’re the first member of the Club Trésor de Champagne to have crafted a 100% Meunier Special Club cuvée.

That was my dad. I was the link with the Club Trésor de Champagne. But in 2005 my dad was still at the helm and made the decision to join the Club. But it was predicated on the condition that we could produce a 100% Meunier Special Club bottle.

We left the Club 3 years ago. Being a member was fantastic because it has such an international cachet. It allowed us to gain name recognition and expand our notoriety in the US, Scandinavia, Italy, and Germany. The fact that we elaborated a 100% Meunier generated a lot of curiosity from people and got us media attention too.

Speaking about attention, social media has become a great tool for growers like you to reach new consumers, hasn’t it?

Social media is a great tool for us and a significant strength.

In France, we have a law called ‘La lois Évin’ which forbids us from advertising alcohol except on social media. It is an opening to the world that was not possible otherwise.

Of all your cuvées which one has sharpened your understanding of Moussé Fils’ culture and essence?

All my Champagnes have their own unique personalities and contribute to the identity of the house. If you taste our cuvée Eugene (a perpetual reserve spanning the 2003-2018 vintages) you will find an incredible structure and complexity for such a young wine.

If you taste the 100% Meunier ‘Les Vignes de mon Village’ (the one people think is 100% Chardonnay) you find the delicacy emanating from the green clay on the hillside of Cuisles.

And my favorite cuvée ‘La Confiance de Mon Père’, a rosé de saigné and former Special Club Rosé, which is a jewel. It’s a 100% Meunier that delivers exquisite aromas of strawberries and tomato.

Each cuvée has its identity and its purpose especially when paired with food.

We often invite Chefs to come over and prepare dishes to accord with our wines.

My range of Champagne is a formidable toolbox for sommeliers because you can basically pair everything with all my cuvées.

You designed new labels for all your bottles with a barcode that offers food pairing suggestions.

Yes, we redesigned our labels to include a barcode which allows customers with one scan to access the technical sheet and see our food pairing recommendations.

Each label has a symbolic reference to the history of the house, the vinification process, the terroir, and the best food to pair it with. There are still a lot of Champagne consumers who do not see Champagne as a wine. I think Champagne is a wine and it is a wine from Champagne above it all.

The new labels symbolize a rupture between yesterday and tomorrow. It is a way to leave behind the old methods of yesterday and fully embrace the more modern farming practices of today revolving around organic viticulture. I wanted the labels to be as natural as my wines and be in alignment with our environmentally conscious approach and the ‘lutte raisonnée’ philosophy. These new labels are made with recycled paper and whitened with chalk.

To improve our ecological record vis a vis our carbon footprint, last year we produced the first Capsules made of recyclable paper which represents 5 times less carbon than aluminium.

What other future projects are in store for Moussé Fils?

Another project I have this year.

The village of Cuisles is made of 35 hectares of vines. A total of fifteen vignerons including myself created a sort of cooperative in the village for 30 hectares and we just bought two robots to handle the soil on the totality of our vineyards. That way we transition to zero weed killer in Cuisles and net zero emission. We’re the pilot project for the Champagne region.

The idea is to try to make things move and never settle for the status quo.

So, you’re always investing in Champagne figuratively and literally speaking.

Yes, the key is to always invest.

For example, in 2014, I increased the price of my bottle to be able to bring a horse to my vineyards. Some of my vines were inaccessible to our tractors and I knew I needed a horse to effectuate the work. Today, the steepest plots are ploughed by horse.

I also realized that the horse would cost me a certain amount of money per year, so I raised my price to compensate for the expense. Two years later I increased the price again to transition to homemade compost. Each improvement and each detail will help us increase the quality and the vibrancy level of our wines and improve the emotion that they convey.

What heritage do you hope to leave in Champagne?

I am very proud of my Champagne and how it has structured itself. We are facing major changes. I often talk about a revolution. We are doing what Burgundy did 3 years ago.

Today we speak of terroir, of crus, of grape varieties, of lieux-dits etc.

It’s a beautiful Champagne because there is a lot of exchange, sharing, help and assistance among vignerons. We’re facing some major ecological challenges which we are slowly but surely overcoming. Champagne is injecting millions of euros to assist in the fight against climate change and it’s great to see that vignerons and negotiants agree.

To say that I will personally leave something to Champagne, perhaps it is not for me to say.

I just continue my own merry journey and try to make things move the best I can to ameliorate the image of Champagne and the quality of the wines. Globally, we have fantastic results and are blessed to have some security with our reserve wines.

Before we ended our Zoom talk, Cédric benevolently shared with me the famous story about THE horse:

Mona, I didn’t dare tell you but during the years when Eugene would famously carry his cases of Champagne to the train station to go to Paris, the name of the horse was Mona.

Mona was Monsieur Fresne’s black semi-racehorse, which was pulling an upholsterer.

The Champagne bottles would be expedited to the Gare de l’Est in Paris.

A routine that lasted until World War II.

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Mona Elyafi

Founder of ILDK Media, a boutique Public Relations and Digital Communications agency. Champagne specialist, educator, writer & consultant. She has WSET Level 2 Award in Wines certified and also Champagne Master Level by the Wine Scholar Guild.