A visit to the Grand Noir region of Champagne

21st May 2018


Off the beaten track and well away from the glamour of Avenue de Champagne you will stumble across many wonderful growers when you are exploring the world famous wine region of Champagne. I say to many people that not all the best Champagne is reserved for the famous labels we all know or the flashy / bling decorated bottles – There are some amazing flavours that pack a powerful punch and offer wondrous delights from lesser known family sized producers well away from the bright lights of Reims and Epernay.

I spent one wonderfully sunny afternoon with Alasdair and his wife Philippa from a grower Champagne supplier company in the UK, Something Exceptional, who had offered to take me on a tour of two of the wineries on their books. Our first destination was up to Verzenay through the Reims Natural Regional Park and to a small grower Champagne producing around 35,000 – 40,000 bottle annually, Pehu-Simonet.

David Pehu, current winemaker and owner, owns around 7.5 hectares of vineyard (approx 6 are Grand Cru), and his focus is on the Pinot Noir grape and the fact that his land is mostly on the Northern slope thus he produces a range entitled ‘Face Nord’ (it is more common to have vines on South facing slopes with Pinot grapes of the Grand Cru). He also owns vineyards in neighbouring villages of Mailly, Verzy, Sillery and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. He has around 75% Pinot Noir grapes and 25% Chardonnay.

His two ranges of Champagne he titles as ‘Face Nord’ as explained above and also ‘Fins Lieux (translates as Fine Places) to showcase qualities and uniqueness of single plots in his ownership. The selection of wines that he is producing are of great quality and expressing fine flavours, many of the reviews I did on the day I gave 4/5 stars for Vivino with my favourite of his range being:

Champagne Face Nord Millésime Grand Cru Brut 2008: Dried pineapple, pastry and a touch of citrus on the nose. Slight dryness initially (2g of sugar) and then the wine offers a smooth taste sensation of citrus, pink grapefruit and minerals.

Verzenay is a great spot within the Northern area of the Champagne grape growing region and well worth your time to visit. Look out for the Moulin de Verzenay overlooking the many hectares of neat rows of vines producing great refreshing fizz!

It was time to depart for another Champagne grower so we said goodbye to David after enjoying a walk through his vineyards and we made our way just a few KM’s West towards the Grand Cru village of Mailly-Champagne and the house of J.P.Secondé.

Another Champagne house set in the middle of the Grand Noir region with a strong usage of the Pinot Noir grape. A family producer of father and daughter and making their own Champagne from growing to bottling with a production of approximately 75,000 bottles from 8 hectares of vineyards which most are Pinot Noir.

Current winemaker and owner is daughter Annabelle who joined the business in 2006, Jean-Pierre Secondé, her father, started and developed the business with his wife in 1975. They produce a selection of fine Champagne labels to include a Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru and a fine selection of Vintage.

Champagne J.P. Secondé Prestige Brut: “Peach, apple and even dried pineapple aromas. Initial dry flavours then a relaxed punchy fruit / pastry taste in length.”

 It is good to remember that many small grower producers across the Champagne region are mostly open to receive visitors (some may charge a small fee for a tasting) and you can also explore their winemaking methods and depending on how serious you are about your wine, you could even tour the likes of their cellars and visit their vineyards.

Christopher Walkey

Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.