The Wine Society first started working with Gratien in 1906, making it one of our oldest suppliers. To mark the 100th anniversary of our business relations in 2006 we launched a centenary cuvée which was a resounding success with members.
Based in the heart of Epernay, Gratien has deservedly earned its place as a top Champagne house over the years and its approach is very much quality-driven. Indeed its owner, Alfred Gratien used to compare his Champagne to haute couture. For much of this time, the company was family-owned but then was sold to the German sparkling wine specialist, Henkell & Söhnlein, who immediately began to use their extensive wealth to good effect, making essential repairs, buying vineyards and allowing for modest expansion, without in any way challenging Gratien’s devotion to the old methods of making great Champagne.
These include fermentation in small oak casks, which are bought second-hand from the Chablisienne cooperative in Chablis. Each cru is vinified apart and such is Gratien’s reputation that they are able to buy grapes from top producers and from choice grand and premier cru villages. Though ownership has changed, the cellar master has not: indeed, this all-important job has been in the same family for four generations. Nicolas Jaeger, the present cellar master is very much in charge, though his father is still influential in perpetuating relations with grape suppliers.
The Jaeger family comes from the small village of Reuil in the Marne Valley where pinot meunier is the majority grape and has an important role to play here. The meunier works well with barrel fermentation but only if the malolactic fermentation – the conversion of sharp, malic acidity to softer, lactic acidity after the alcoholic fermentation – is suppressed. Gratien wines do not undergo the malo and because of that, they need longer cellaring to enable acidity levels to settle. Non-vintage bottlings, for example, are not released until 3 years after the end of the final stage of production. Nicolas’s mother comes from Le Mesnil where some of the best chardonnay is grown so, not surprisingly, chardonnay is also an important element especially in the long-lived vintage wines.
For such a small house, Gratien produces numerous cuvees, including non-vintage, demi-sec and non-vintage rosé, examples of each of which are sold under The Society’s label. The prestige Cuvée Paradis is a non-vintage blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, drawn from the best vats of grand cru wines. The vintage wines come exclusively from grand cru vineyards and, with their immense complexity and capacity for ageing, are the flagship of the house. Finally there is a vintage-dated blanc de blancs, from grand cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, exclusive to the Society and bottled under the Exhibition label.