"Following Benoit down into his cellar, you can sense his thoughtfulness. Everything seems intentional - everything has a place and you sense the earthen tones travel through the barrel halls where the barrels are stacked in threes: "The triangle is the perfect shape," he explains, "And the wines only like to be a certain distance from the floor, and I need them to be happy!"
His energy is infectious; there isn't a wasted movement, and the few workers you see throughout are equally energetic. There's a pulse to this place, and it quickly begins to course through you as well.
But the best part is the wines.
Benoit was born into a winegrowing family who had some incredible holdings, principally in Ambonnay. In fact, their vineyards provided the backbone for Krug's Grande Cuvee for a great many years. It was in 2005 that Benoit started to seize the reins of the estate, and by 2008 had ended the leases of his family's land, and started to produce under the Marguet name.What made the land so special - including a family parcel that was the original Clos d'Ambonnay - was not only placement, but also the fact that no chemicals were ever used, and never were any mechanical devices used for plowing or harvesting. To this day, Benoit uses his two horses, Belle and Urban, to plow the vines. When Benoit took over, he made the choice to convert to biodynamics; honestly, you can tell he is not dogmatic, but is very spiritual, in that he is full of spirit and can sense that of others, extending to his vines. To this end, when as he shares vineyard boundaries with other producers, he will sell off even multiple rows of his own fruit so as not to blend anyone else's spirit (or methods) into his wines.
In the winery, juice flows solely by gravity - from the press, which is at an incredible 15' height, into tank, then into barrels. The barrels are from carefully selected staves, and as is his eye for detail, the staves will all align so that the root ends are on one side of the barrel, the leaf ends at another. Truly, nothing in this winery is without thought.
Benoit created a few different lines of cuvées with which to express his style: the Shaman and Yuman wines are expressions of the freshest of juice, without any sulfur added, and bottled at lower pressure; the white label "village" wines are expressions of the villages of Champagne, largely from purchased fruit but from vineyards where he controls the farming. Finally, the Crus are his family's historical vineyards, each a wildly different expression of their own terroir, and incredibly ageworthy.
Shaman is always of a single vintage, albeit not technically a "vintage" wine as it stays on the lees for a short period of time - about 18 months. "I couldn't stop pouring it by the glass while I hoarded the other cuvées," Courtney says. These are full of character and fresh fruit, free of sulfur and delicious values. Yuman follows the same protocol, but of entirely Chardonnay where Shaman uses predominantly black grapes. Bouzy and Ambonnay Rosé are white label wines, coming from incredible vineyards in Pinot Noir-dominant land, and are stunning examples of what feels like sparkling Burgundy.
As far as the Crus - stay with me here. Les Bermonts is wild, a Chardonnay but from Ambonnay that is in my mind always associated with lemon curd: soft, sensual, long and saline; divine. Les Crayeres was the first cru released by Benoit in 2008, and is perhaps the most sought-after of his crus. Chalky, saline, wildly floral and reductive like a great Meursault, it's got power, subtlety, everything you ever want in a great bottle of wine. Les Beurys comes from 39 ares (0.39 ha) in Ambonnay, about 75% Chardonnay and the rest Pinot Noir, expressive more in the floral tones and beautifully textural. Le Parc comes from the aforementioned original Clos d'Ambonnay, and often is only bottled in large format. Possibly the most ageworthy, as it shares terroir with Krug's Clos (like about 6 feet of clay above chalk), there are already ample orchard fruits and a solid mineral streak throughout. Oh - it's entirely Chardonnay. Wild.
A special word about Sapience - the project was conjured by likeminded individuals and completed in Marguet's winery with the help of Herve Jestin. Utilizing the three dominant grapes of Champagne from biodynamic producers - Chardonnay from David Leclepart, Pinot Noir from Benoit Lahaye (and later from Marguet), and Pinot Meunier from Vincent Laval, a super-cuvée was created first in the 2006 vintage. Marguet's spirit watches over the bottling, which occurs some 9 years from the harvest. It is a labor of love, and is not a wine for all - it is a wine to ponder, to embrace, and to spend time with, to watch evolve, as the producers involved largely crafted this wine by virtue of decades of dedication to farming.