Champagne Laherte Frères
Laherte Frères was founded in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte, although the Laherte family sold grapes to the local cooperative for many years. Michel Laherte, the father of current proprietors Thierry and Christian Laherte, began to bottle champagne under his own label, and when brothers Thierry and Christian took over the estate, they appropriately changed the name back to Laherte Frères. Since 2002, they have been joined by Thierry’s son Aurélien , who represents the seventh generation of his family to grow vines in this area and is now taking the lead at the estate..
Laherte Frères is registered as a négociant-manipulant, but in reality this is true grower champagne, and all of the wines are estate-grown. The NM designation is the result of a bureaucratic formality: each member of the immediate family—Thierry, Christian, Aurélien, his mother Laurence—owns a portion of vines, and the company of Laherte Frères “purchases” the grapes from the family members. If it were registered today it would likely be called an SR (société de récoltant), but that structure did not exist at the time.
The Lahertes own ten hectares of vines, spread over an astonishing 75 parcels in ten different villages. Needless to say, some of these parcels are quite small, and fortunately much of the estate’s holdings lie in areas not too far away, in communes such as Chavot, Courcourt, Moussy, Vaudancourt, Mancy and Epernay. Aurélien Laherte is particularly interested in natural viticulture, and since 2005, five hectares of the estate have been farmed biodynamically. The other five are essentially organic, worked without any chemical pesticides or herbicides, and while Laherte would like to expand his biodynamic treatments to include more parcels, the main difficulty right now is distance, as some plots, such as those in Vertus or Voipreux, for example, are simply too far away from Chavot to effectively manage the intense labor required for biodynamic viticulture.
Many of Laherte’s champagnes demonstrate the distinct character of the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, the area just to the south and southwest of the town of Epernay that falls between the Côte des Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne. The chalk in this region is noticeably softer and more friable than the hard chalk found in the Côte des Blancs, and here it’s usually covered by 50 centimeters to one meter of clay, often mixed with other elements such as silex, limestone, schist and marl. Combined with the diverse array of different expositions offered by the numerous folds and twists of the rolling slopes here, this creates a distinctive character in the wines that distinguishes them from those of the surrounding areas. “Our pinot noir is finer than that of the Vallée de la Marne because we have some chalk,” says Aurélien Laherte, “and our chardonnay is rounder and fruitier than the Côte des Blancs because we have some clay.” At the same time, this region is far from homogeneous: Laherte identifies 15 different terroirs in the village of Chavot alone, and vinifies each separately in order to preserve its individuality of expression.
Ever inquisitive, the Lahertes are not averse to experimentation in either the vineyards or the cellar. The average vine age here is about 30 years, with the oldest vines over 60 years of age, and as some of these have gradually needed replanting, the Lahertes have replaced them with ungrafted vines, chosen from a sélection massale. They now have close to 500 individual vines on ungrafted rootstock, scattered over several parcels, and as the vines are all quite young, the Lahertes are still waiting to evaluate the results. In addition, they have planted a parcel in Chavot called Les 7 with seven different varieties—pinot noir, meunier, chardonnay, arbanne, petit meslier, pinot blanc and fromenteau (pinot gris)—which are field-blended, farmed biodynamically and vinified in barrel for a cuvée of the same name.
In the cellar, the Lahertes have two traditional Coquard vertical presses. “It’s a little excessive for an estate of our size,” admits Laherte, “but it allows us to press very quickly as the grapes come in. It’s better that we wait for the grapes rather than having the grapes wait for us.” There is no strict recipe for vinification: about 70 percent of the harvest is vinified in barrel, but some wines might be fermented in large, wooden foudres, and some might even be fermented in tank and later transferred to barrel, together with their fine lees. The young vines are often fermented with selected yeasts, while older vines can go through a longer, natural-yeast fermentation. Malolactic may be carried out or not, depending on the individual wine—in general, Aurélien Laherte prefers chardonnay without malolactic and meunier with a full malo, but again, there is no strict recipe. Profile courtesy of Peter Liem, Champagneguide.net