Exclusive Interview With Hervé Dantan, Chef De Cave At LANSON

BestChampagne met with Hervé Dantan, the new Chef de Cave at LANSON. Dantan officially replaced former Cellar Master Jean-Paul Gandon in 2015, after two years spent side by side in the cellars and in the field. Dantan comes at a crucial time at LANSON, with a new, enhanced winery and vinification tool, part of a clear vision to further increase LANSON’s quality and add complexity to its distinctive style, based on the absence of malolactic fermentation of its wines.

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Prior to joining LANSON Hervé Dantan was Cellar Master at Mailly Grand Crus

BestChampagne : Lanson, one of Champagne’s iconic houses had several owners from its birth until it became part of the LANSON-BCC group in 2006. How did it influence the house evolution and the quality of its wines?

Hervé Dantan: Lanson has a varied history which started in 1760 with the Lanson family, who ran the house until the 1970’s. The Gardinier family, Danone, LVMH and the Mora family followed one another at the head of the house until 2006.

In 2006 the house was taken over by 3 families from the Champagne region, the Baijot, Paillard and Boizel families. Lanson then became part of the Boizel Chanoine Champagne group to form the LANSON-BCC group, which is the second largest group in the Champagne region. Today Lanson is managed by Mr Philippe Baijot.

Since 2006 there is a strong willingness from the LANSON-BCC group to give Champagne Lanson the means to dramatically raise again its quality level.

Beside the 120 hectares of land that the LANSON-BCC group owns, the Lanson house picks its grapes on over 500 hectares of the best vintages in the Champagne region.

It’s interesting to note that during the whole course of its history, Lanson always kept a supply of high quality grapes with 50% of the grapes coming from premiers and grands crus, which is still the case today.

Lanson has always been part of a continuing process to maintain past traditions with wine styles that are in the same vein as before, and a grape supply that remains of high quality today.

BC: How big is the Lanson vineyard and what is your champagne annual production?

HD : The total supply is 500 hectares of vineyards for a production of 5 million bottles. Our whole production is made in Reims.

BC : The Lanson champagnes are primarily composed of pinot noir and chardonnay. What areas of the Champagne region do they come from?

HD : The Lanson supplies have historically came from the best terroirs of the pinot noir and chardonnay, on the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs.

We have 4 pressing centres: one in Verzenay, which is an emblematic location for Lanson as the founding family had a vacation home there. Another one is in Trépail which is a beautiful chardonnay village located in the Montagne de Reims and produces chardonnay wines with a lot of character, more mineral and full-bodied than on the Côte des Blancs. Also in Dizy, where we drain the area from Reims toward Epernay, with beautiful pinots noirs and some pinots meuniers from the Vallée de la Marne around Cumières. We have also a pressing centre in Loches-sur-Ource for pinot noir supplies from the Aube region.

We use the pinot meunier in our brut non-vintage Black Label and in our Rosé Label to the tune of 15%. Today the Black Label includes about 100 different vintages. In the vintages or prestige cuvées we only have pinots noirs and chardonnays.

BC: Lanson is one of the only houses in the Champagne region to own a clos (walled vineyard), the Clos Lanson. Can you talk to us about it and explain the specificity of the wines produced from this plot?

HD : Clos Lanson is a little gem we look after carefully. It is a 1 hectare piece of land of chardonnay which was planted in 1960 and in 1986.

It is located on a terroir composed of very pure limestone which is very suitable to the chardonnay cropping. It’s the only intramural clos in Reims and it benefits from an extraordinary location, on the Lanson site, in the heart of Reims and right opposite the Cathedral.

The clos has a natural protection from bad weather conditions and prevailing winds, with a slightly higher temperature (+1.5 °C) during winter and summer; thus it enjoys an important precocity with grapes that are very mature and very healthy, which in turn produce fresh and rich chardonnays.

The clos is grown in agreement with integrated viniculture and combined with tillage. The grapes we obtain have always an outstanding level of maturity with a great balance between sweetness and acidity.

We use barrels to vinify the wines from the clos without the wood tainting the wine. The barrels we use from Burgundy have been toned down a lot so the wine can express its full character.

Since 2006 when Mister Baijot purchased Lanson, we do a special cuvee with it, The Clos Lanson. Annual production is small, around 8,000 bottles depending on the vintages. We produce a vintage every year.

When we experience that the vintage is not exceptional such as 2010-2011, our staff performs a very strict selection of the grapes and in this case production may be small. Every year we do our best to produce wine with this piece of land.

The first Clos Lanson vintage 2006 was vinified in 2007 and will be available for purchase towards the end of 2015 or early 2016.

BC: Lanson invested 14 million EURO in 2014 to further develop its winery and vinification tools. Why ?

HD : Today all our production is made in our centre in Reims where we have a capacity of 100,000 hectolitres of fermentation with 7 different fermentation rooms. There are big tanks, small tanks, tanks in stainless steel, concrete and wood with more than 400 different tanks. It gives us an important capacity and a lot of possibilities to separate wine by village and vintage.

We built a wooden winery and field wine tanks. This new tool allows us to do more parcel-based vinification on our own winery but also with our partner winegrowers.

All this allows us to have an even larger wine portfolio with more possibilities, while being a lot more precise in the blending and have an identity that truly stands out for each of the wine we wish to make.

BC: The new vinification tool includes wooden wineries. Why did you make this choice? How is it going to influence the Lanson style ?

HD : We innovated by investing in a wooden winery during the 2014 harvests. It is made of wooden barrels from the Allier and the Champagne regions.

We rely heavily on this wooden winery to age reserve wines without malolactic fermentation. It gives them a creamy taste with a lot of depth which is interesting, and it also gives a lot of harmony to the crisp, clean, mineral side of the wines that didn’t undergo this fermentation, which is particularly interesting during the blending.

We selected three suppliers, Seguin Moreau, Radoux, et Vicard, who are all different in terms of taste and texture. One of the suppliers uses warm notes, another one brings an interesting depth, and the third one has toasted, roasted notes.

It will be an innovation that will add value. ButLanson will never have woody notes, vanilla notes or tannin. We really want to enjoy the breathing of the wine in the wood to bring depth and purity that we deem important and essential to the Black Label, our brut non-vintage. The addition of the wood will give our wines an extra dimension.

We also work on our liqueurs in wood to bring more complexity. The first Black Label with wines matured in barrels will be offered for sale in 2017.

BC : Indeed the Lanson style is characterized by no malolactic fermentation. What characteristic does it bring to your champagnes?

HD : The Lanson spirit is to have fruity, powerful, crisp wines with a lot of purity and always a lot of elegance. The absence of malolactic fermentation allows us to preserve the natural fruitiness of the grape, so as to obtain fruity aromas. The absence of malolactic fermentation brings more freshness, more minerality and less milky notes.

BC: When you taste champagne, can you tell if it has undergone malolactic fermentation?

HD : It depends on the wines. The complexity of blending may give you doubts in regards to the absence of malolactic fermentation. Using reserve wines brings you multiple dimensions. You can also combine wine with or without malolactic fermentation.

BC : You were talking about using reserve wines more importantly. Can you elaborate on this and explain how this will contribute to develop the Lanson style?

HD : Wines that didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation need more resting. It’s the reason why at Lanson, the Black Label ages at least for 3 years on lees [15 months being the minimum provided for by law] before it is sold. Today we use more reserve wines to bring extra smoothness and richness.

Historically for the Black Label we used from 15 % to 20 % of reserve wines. In 2014 we use 30 % of reserve wines coming from 10 different years from 2013 to 2002.

Lanson has in its winery a treasure that was established over the years with reserve wines from several vintages from 1998 to 2013. Lanson boasts of a supply of Avize 1998, Avize 2002, Mesnils 2002, Cramant 2004, Verzy 2004 or Verzenay 2005 and a lot more other vintages from 2006 and 2014. We then have a fabulous choice of reserve wines, mostly from premiers and grands crus.

This way, through blending we bring complexity, roundness, richness and body which allow our champagnes to find a balance between crispness and fullness, just like the Lanson’s spirit has always been.

This complexity brought by the reserve wines will allow us to bring more fat just like the creamy side we extract from the reserve wines ageing in wooden barrels.

But not all reserve wines will be kept in wooden barrels; they will also be in stainless steel tanks, in small tanks, big tanks, in concrete tanks; wood is only a part of this style. It shows that in the future we won’t have a wooden style.

BC : During the last few years, there has been a tendency to move toward lower dosage, with a growing number of champagnes without liqueur d’expedition. Do you think dosage is really necessary?

HD: I think that sometimes there is a sort of fundamentalism around champagne without dosage. For some wine connoisseurs, champagne is considered good as long as the wine is sharp and there is no added sugar in the dosage. It’s not always the case. There are only a few champagnes that don’t need dosage, but it always needs trial beforehand.

Moreover, sugar plays an important role in the ageing of the wine and in the protection from oxidation. When one compares champagne with no liqueur to one with liqueur, when ageing the one with no liqueur will always have more oxidative notes and less elegance. By contrast, champagne with a slight amount of liqueur will have more purity, clarity and freshness.

BC: According to you what is the ideal dosage?

HD : 3 grams/litre of dosage could be enough to stabilize the wine and ensure a nice evolution, but you need to try with each of the vintages. We are working a lot on that aspect. Dosage must be balanced and before each vintage is realised, we test different dosages. The 2014 Black Label has 8 grams/litre.

BC : Mister Dantan, to conclude, as a new cellar master what would you like to bring to Lanson ?

HD : I have been part of the Lanson house for the last two years. I replaced Jean-Paul Gandon [former cellar master for Lanson] who, for 27 years, made wine beautifully and I will maintain this continuity.

The Lanson house has a style we need to respect, it is the original champagne style, with wines expressing this fruitiness, crispiness, purity and finesse.

I started with new ideas and I work side by side with Mister Baijot. I completely agree on the strategy to follow: respect the Lanson style and raise the quality level of the wines even higher.

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