The Best Champagne You've Never Heard Of – Drappier
Based in its enchanting family house in Urville, a village of 200 people in the southern Aube district of Champagne, Drappier is the best house in this subregion. With over 200 years of history firmly in the hands of the Drappier family, it perfectly incarnates the 21st-century concept of Champagne house, with the brand and reach of a great maison and the soul and approach of a conscious grower. Drappier researches and experiments in virtually anything possible in champagne making, from the vineyard to the cellar and beyond, to develop contemporary champagnes of natural charisma and great quality. International celebrities who are fans of Drappier include Jean Paul Belmondo, Mikhaïl Gorbachev, Venus Williams, Barack Obama and Jennifer Lopez. If you do not have Drappier in your champagne cellar, well, you do not have a real champagne cellar.
The family tree dates back to Champagne when Rémy Drappier was a cloth merchant in Reims in the early 17th century. In 1808, one the Drappiers’ ancestor, François, settled in Urville. There he exploited a vineyard and founded his Champagne house.
Drappier was a pioneer in introducing pinot noir in the Aube in the early 20th century, after the phylloxera crisis when it was necessary to replant the vineyards. The strategic choice still characterizes the distinctive style of their champagnes.
After WW2, the Drappiers bought the magnificent 12th-century vaulted cellars in Urville, until then part of the nearby Clairvaux Abbey, near their house.
In 1952 they launched their flagship Carte d’Or cuvée with its distinctive yellow label, to remind of quince jelly, a yellow fruit of which several aromatic notes are found in every bottle.
A few years later, Charles de Gaulle, France’s favorite President, served Drappier at his private receptions in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, a few miles from Urville where he resided when he was not at the Elysée Palace in Paris or on official business elsewhere. He chose a cuvée rich in pinot noir (80%) which was renamed in 1990 Drappier Charles de Gaulle in his honor.
Since 1979, Michel Drappier, the seventh generation in line, is at the helm of the house and in charge of winemaking. Michel’s son Hugo is in charge of the large vineyards, while his daughter Charline is in charge of the commercial development and marketing activities. His father, André, with a lifetime’s experience in champagne making, is still on his side and participates in the charm of this house. He can be found, at the venerable age of 94, sipping champagnes with guests and telling witty stories in the elegant living and tasting room at the property.
Vineyard and Production
Drappier owns 57 ha, mostly in Urville. One third is cultivated organically and the rest with sustainable and natural principles. It is the first house to have reduced its carbon emissions to a net-zero carbon footprint with the use of solar and wind energy. The vineyard is planted for 70% with pinot noir, 15% chardonnay, and 15% pinot meunier. It is also one of the rare houses to cultivate few hectares of the so-called forgotten grapes, namely petit meslier, blanc vrai, and arbane. It sources the rest of the grapes from vine growers throughout Champagne to produce about 1.6 million bottles per year. Vilifications are carried out primarily in stainless steel vats, but oak is also used, including a peculiar egg-shaped barrel of 2,400 liters that favors the circulation of the lees, further enriching the wine. The wines are not filtrated, nor centrifuged, and very little sulfites are added. The general dosage level is low, and the dosage liquor is made of very old wines up to 25 years of age, which rest first in oak and then in glass demijohns for further aging and avoid any wood taste.
The region’s first zero-rated carbon producers, the Drappiers are proactive in pushing the envelope, fearlessly embracing the concept of large-format bottles (despite losing a staggering 25% to exploding bottles), experimenting with maturing their wine on the ocean floor and developing an exclusive wild yeast sourced from their own estate to use on their wines. They use 90% recy-cled glass and 75% of their electricity is sourced from solar pan-els.
The Drappier style is based on the large use of pinot noir from the Aube region, with its distinctive Jurassic Kimmeridgian soil and slightly southern and warmer climate. This results in complex, savory champagnes with a more assertive style yet fresh and dry, also thanks to limited dosage.
There is much to admire about this innovative family house, not least the brilliant prices of their exquisite champagnes.