Fatcork musings from a trip to France
Founder Bryan Maletis and general manager Iza Feyeux jumped into the new year head first with a work visit to Champagne, where they met with new growers and tasted new cuvées they hope to bring to the fatcork portfolio. We’re excited to reveal more in the months to come, but for now, take a peek at Bryan’s travel journey for a sense of what was going through his head as he made his way through this most recent trip to Champagne.
08:00, January 3, 2024
One of my favorite parts of a trip to Champagne is riding the TGV from Paris’ Charles-de-Gaulle airport to Champagne. Boarding fuzzy-brained and bleary-eyed, then sitting back as the high-speed train rips through the countryside, covering the 104 km in a mere 30 minutes. For me, the fast-moving journey is all about anticipation. What’s to come? Who might we meet? What might we taste? Or smell?
Thinking of smells, nothing wakes me out of my travel-induced fog like that first whiff of a cellar in Champagne. Walking down, into the cold, ducking my head while feeling the slickness of the walls and sensing the dampness in the air.
Surrounded by wet, chalky limestone and fermented grape juice. The scent is inimitable and after so many trips, a familiar friend that always has some surprises up its sleeve. The moment I smell it, my brain lights up with excitement and expectancy. What wonder will this particular visit hold?
23:00, January 4, 2024
When Abby and I first visited Champagne in 2008, I had been selling bubbles for about five years, and I thought I knew something about Champagne. I did not. I liked almost everything I tasted and rarely had the words (let alone the confidence) to describe what I was smelling when in front of the pros making the wine.
Fast forward to tonight's dinner at Sacré Burger with a small group of vignerons. The restaurant is one of my favorites for its amazing list of grower Champagnes. I asked the owner if he would select some bottles and bring them out wrapped in paper, so we could drink them without knowing what they were. I never would have exposed myself like this years ago, but this has become one my favorite things to do while in Champagne. That is, to taste “blindly” and try to figure out the wine alongside our producers.
So there we sat, a group of professionals who always have preconceived notions based on a label, naked and exposed. What would each of us say about this wine? Would I have the confidence to say it’s a 2019 vintage blanc de blancs from the Aube with little dosage and a hint of oxidation from barrel fermentation? Sometimes I’d get it right. Mostly, I got it wrong. But it is the confidence to speak that matters. We’re collaborators now. Partners both in our victories and in our failures, each of us doing our best in this amazing profession.
05:30, January 5, 2024
Waking up well before day break to start our two-hour journey down to Aube, which is located in the very southern part of Champagne, has me yearning for the good coffee from back home and a couple more hours of sleep. But, I have energy. Though I’ve been coming to Champagne for 17 years now, Aube is new to me. It’s only been in the last three years that I’ve explored its unique terroir and gotten to know the characteristics of its Kimmeridgian soil — full of fossilized sea creatures.
And it is what I don’t know that excites me the most. The opportunity to learn sparks an energy in me that even the best coffee can’t elicit. What will we learn and taste today? I’m not sure. What I do know is that some of the most creative, interesting, complex and fun Champagnes are being made in Aube.
A group of vignerons down here has been at the center of the biodynamic movement in France for three decades. Theirs are wines made in the vineyards with minimal intervention and maximum character. No dosage to get in the way of the flavors given to the grapes by way of sun, earth and moon. Just don’t call them natural wines!
This evening’s TGV train ride from Champagne back to Paris seems like the first leg of the journey home. But it isn’t. The journey really begins when I put my head on the pillow after our last meeting with a grower.
On the train, I’m still thinking about how the pieces might fit, but I’m also thinking about my good fortune as I realize, yet again, that we’re in the unique business of identifying the best sparkling wines in the world and introducing them to the U.S. in a way that honors the labor and love that goes into each cuvée we import. Completing this puzzle and revealing it to our wonderful customers back in the U.S. has me ready to rock. Let’s go!