Attending producer: Aurélien Gerbais
The Gerbais family has been growing vines in Celles-sur-Ource for eight generations, and making wine since 1930. After the Second World War, Pierre Gerbais began investing heavily in vineyard land: while he started with just 40 ares of vines, the domaine has grown to nearly eighteen hectares today. His son Pascal is now at the helm of the estate, and since 2009, Pascal’s son Aurélien (pictured) has been working together with the family as well.
Apart from one parcel in the neighboring village of Landreville, all of Gerbais’s vineyards are in Celles-sur-Ource. Roughly half of the estate’s 17.5 hectares are planted with pinot noir, while the rest are split between chardonnay and pinot blanc—with over four hectares of pinot blanc, Gerbais is Champagne’s most important producer of this variety. Average vine age is 30 years across the estate, with the oldest pinot noir vines over 50 years and the oldest pinot blanc vines up to 80 years old.
Responsible agriculture is at the heart of the Gerbais philosophy, and since 1996, the estate has been a member of Ampelos, an organization that controls and certifies sustainable viticulture. (Other Ampelos-certified champagne estates include Vilmart & Cie. and René Geoffroy.) Ampelos allows no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides, and Gerbais grows cover crops where appropriate, plowing the vineyards regularly as well.
In an effort to reduce yields, Gerbais uses no chablis pruning, not even for chardonnay; instead, vines on clay soils are pruned in cordon, while those on more chalky soils are trained in Guyot simple. “We’re much more influenced here by Bourgogne than by Avize,” says Aurélien Gerbais.
The vineyards of Celles-sur-Ource lie at the confluence of several river valleys—the Laignes, Seine, Ource and Arce—and this creates a variety of expositions. A primary distinction, though, can be made between the vineyards that face south and those that face north. The south-facing slopes, which Gerbais terms “en droit,” are exposed to the sun throughout the day, creating rich, ripe wines. In contrast, the north-facing slopes, which Gerbais calls “en vert,” are less well-exposed, yet they provide a better balance in warm years, retaining acidity and freshness. The village’s growers have historically preferred the south-facing vineyards, yet Aurélien’s grandfather always believed in the value of the north-facing slopes, and today the estate’s holdings are divided equally between the two sides.
Gerbais owns both a traditional vertical press and a pneumatic one, and while it’s necessary to have multiple presses for an estate of this size, he notes that the characters of the two are different. “The extraction in the traditional press is more precise, since it takes a longer time,” he says. “It’s better for certain terroirs.” All of the wines are fermented in tank, “for precision, and to respect the terroir,” says Gerbais, although he has begun using some demi-muids for aging. All of the wines go through malolactic, and they are bottled without fining or filtration.
Information courtesy of Peter Liem's ChampagneGuide.net ©