Tarlant

The Tarlant family has been a pioneering presence in the Vallée de la Marne of Champagne since 1687, when Pierre Tarlant cultivated the first family vineyards. Fast forward to the early 20th century, when Louis Tarlant was not only the the mayor of their home village of Oeuilly but also a leader in the grower movement to regulate and protect Champagne production, which led to the creation of the Champagne AOC in 1927. Louis also was the first in the family to bottle Tarlant wine in 1928. Today, the energetic brother-sister team of Benoît and Mélanie is the 12th generation to carry on the traditional yet progressive spirit of the family. Benoît took over as full-time winemaker in 1999, with his sister handling the business and marketing side, and father Jean-Mary still tending the vines.

The estate comprises 14 hectares of vines spread over in 4 Marne villages: Oeilly, Boursault, St-Agnan and Celles-lès-Condé. The vineyards are divided into 55 parcels which notably are harvested and vinified separately; the Tarlants neither source nor sell fruit. The soils in this area west of Epernay are quite diverse and include sand, crumbly chalk, hard chalk, limestone, fossils, flint and small pebbles; a special kind of clay-limestone soil called Sparnacien is also particular to this corner of Champagne. The Tarlants grow a mix of Pinot Noir (50%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Meunier (20%) with a smattering of rare historic varieties as well. The vines are ungrafted, planted at a density of 9000 plants per hectare and average around 30 years of age. With an eye toward maximizing the impact of terroir in the wines, the farming is very clean and environmentally conscious, done without chemicals and with only organic fertilizers as needed. There are cover crops and grass between rows, and biodiversity across their holdings is actively promoted.

Just as the parcels are tended individually, so are they hand-harvested and brought into the cellar and vinified individually. Fermentation is mainly carried out with indigenous yeasts (enhanced with cultured ones only when Benoît feels it to be essential to the health of the fermentation). Most of the production is barrel-fermented; stirred regulary; does not go through malolactic fermentation; spends extended time sur lattes before hand-riddling and disgorgement; and is bottled with little to no dosage. Total production is approximately 10,000 cases annually. The benchmark botling for Tarlant is their Zéro Brut Nature, which accounts for 60% of their production and which is indicative of their top priority in the bottle: purity. Additionally, there is a range of small-lot, single-vintage and single-parcel bottlings, plus a zero-dosage rosé made by black-grape skin-maceration instead of red-wine-blending; the crowning glory is their Cuvée Louis, their equivalent of a prestige cuvée.

The Tarlant style is an intriguing, complex one. There is an austerity to it, arising from the soils, the avoidance of ML and the choice of zero-to-very-small dosages and manifesting itself in a firm acid/mineral structure and fine bubbles. But that apparent hardness is softened by a gentle creaminess of texture and richness of flavor achieved through the ripeness of fruit, barrel aging and extended lees contact. These wines are palpably vibrant, pure and intense--not unlike the current generation running this small house.