Champagne Suenen

Scintillating ‘Living Soil’ Champagne from the Northern Côte des Blancs

One of the most exciting new growers to have arisen in Champagne in the last 15 years, Aurélien Suenen, is a perfect example of how quickly a terroir-obsessed grower with quality vineyards can make their mark. Aurélien Suenen made his first wines in 2009, the year he unexpectantly found himself in sole charge of the Cramant-based family Domaine. And now, the wines are being discussed in the same breath as the greatest names of the Côtes des Blancs. How he got here is an interesting tale.

Suenen had grown up in Champagne on his family estate, so he was no stranger to working in the vineyard and cellar. On his return, he almost immediately began to make some radical changes. His father’s practice had been conventional; the son chose a very different path. Aurélien had realized that all the Champagnes that really moved him emerged from organic practice. This helped him make the connection between high quality and ethical practice. He also associated his father’s illness (and the widespread cancers afflicting many of his father’s generation) with the chemicals used so heavily in the vines. These two factors drove him in his pursuit of better.

Suenen’s wines represent a scintillating range of ‘living soil’ grower Champagne and are some of the most precise, textural and intensely mineral wines emanating from the region.

Good friends in the region—in particular, Pascal Agrapart, but any number of other top growers—were on hand to help with advice and contacts. So, it was from the very beginning that Suenen began to lay the foundations for the quality we see today. He shrank the estate to be able to raise the standard of work in the vines, eliminated chemical usage, began cultivating his vineyards and moved towards organic viticulture. The wines got better and better until today—when they have achieved a standard associated with only the very finest growers.

As you would expect from any top grower, Suenen works tirelessly in the vines. Here he is assisted by his right-hand man, Christophe Barbier, who has been working for the family for over 20 years. Suenen and Christophe cultivate, use cover crops and organic composts to nourish the life in the soil and increase soil biodiversity as much as possible. Herbal infusions are used to promote the natural defences of the vines. Organic certification came in 2019. To further understand the nuances of his terroirs, Suenen works closely with vineyard soil specialist Emmanuel Bourguignon (son of Claude and Lydia). Yields are low (half the level of his father’s era) and while there is no fixed formula, Suenen picks later than most of his neighbours (which is of course not saying much in Champagne), thus bringing more ripeness and depth to offset his vineyards’ intense minerality. The winemaking here has followed a similar changing-of-the-guard trajectory.

From his tiny 3.2 hectares of vines, Suenen crafts two village blends and four vintage, single-vineyard lieux-dits wines. Suenen’s decision to bottle his Oiry vineyards apart is a game changer. In fact, Suenen’s two bottlings from this Grand Cru village are currently the only pure Oiry wines on the market. While the Oiry cuvée is all about tension, stony density and salinity, Suenen’s C + C cuvée blends the texture and flesh of Cramant with the ripe opulence of his south-facing Chouilly vines to produce something more hedonistic. Both wines are superb terroir statements from the northern Côte des Blancs and are underpinned by the mineral, chalky freshness that is one of this grower’s hallmarks. There are now four single-vineyard, single-vintage releases each year (season permitting) from each of the three Grand Cru villages mentioned above, and a fourth from Suenen’s 0.21-hectare plot of old-vine, ungrafted Meunier in La Grande Vigne in Montigny-Sur-Vesle, north-west of Reims.

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“One of the most notable rising stars in the Côte des Blancs.” Peter Liem, Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers and Terroirs of the Iconic Region

“Suenen’s progress has been thrilling to watch—I've been following him since my student days—and the wines reviewed here are the finest I've seen to date from this immensely promising talent. Readers will find much to admire.” William Kelley, The Wine Advocate

Country

France

Primary Region

Champagne

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Winemaker: Aurélien Suenen

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