The Rodez family has been growing grapes in the village of Ambonnay since 1757. Today, Champagne Rodez cultivates 12 hectares of vineyards and produces a modest 45,000 bottles of Champagne a year, 6% of which is sold in France. The rest is exported to 32 countries.
The operation is currently in the hands of Eric Rodez. More than just an impressively knowledgeable and experienced viticulturist and winemaker, he’s a vinous visionary and poet, a zealot with a range of talents to back up his passions. His impressive photographs literally reflect his engaging and beautiful view of the world. His cosmic finger prints are all over his wines.
Eric Rodez left a “university background” and entered the family business in 1984. There was much to do in the vineyards and at the winery but he was encouraged by the observation that the local weather was growing noticeably warmer. He concluded that “it would lead to riper fruit, and it would become easier to produce (single vineyard) wines than it was for my grandparents.” In his pursuit of improvement he “learned that recipes in the vineyard and chai are useless.” Between ’84 and ’88 he spent three years in Burgundy. “I met with enologists, not growers. In ’85 I was told ‘work the soil.’”
He then did a fourteen month stint as winemaker at Krug, the Vatican of Champagne.
In 1989 Eric “changed things on the domain. I had to sell the idea to my family. I introduced organic techniques. In 1995 we were certified and later became biodynamic (an ultra-orthodox school of organic viticulture and vinification created by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s.) It completely changed my view of life. I’m an organic biodynamic crusader.” His summary of the philosophy is that “yesterday’s decision affects today, which affects tomorrow.”
Beyond the family domain, Eric is active in a variety of organisations dedicated to maintaining wine quality, sustainability and other aspects of production in the Champagne region. That activity includes serving as the mayor of Ambonnay.
Rodez’s professional raison d’être is to provide “pleasure for the consumer and put joy in your glass. I make wine with my heart.” The thing is, Eric really means it, and he delivers the goods as promised. A sworn enemy of “industrialised grapes and the standardisation of champagne,” he warns that “other sparkling wines have evolved. Champagne has to be different.”
Rodez champagnes are blended from numerous vineyards and vintages, but beyond richness and full fruit with wings of refreshing acidity there is no homogeneity here. His base wines are complex and rich, bearing no resemblance to the thin acidic specimens I’ve tasted elsewhere. They are actually very like the still white Burgundies to which Eric compares them.
The champagnes produced by Rodez are divided into three lines: champagnes d’auteur or author champagnes, champagnes de lieux-dits or parcel champagnes, and produits de terroir or products of terroir. Prices here are hard to determine, but bottles sold at the winery ranged in price ranging from 35 Euros through 135 Euros.
Rodez Cuvée des Crayères (score 90) is a blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay from nine sites and seven vintages (’07 through ’11.). It’s harmonious, citric and sweetly autolytic, rich but not heavy with a long fresh lemon finish.
Rodez Blanc de Blancs (score 90+) is all chardonnay, sourced from nine vineyards over the ’06 to ‘11 vintages. A mineral and lemon nose leads into a brisk citric mineral palate with a fresh, rich long finish.
Rodez Blanc de Noirs (score 91) is 100% pinot noir from the ’11, ’10, ’09, ‘08, ’06 and ’05 vintages grown on eleven sites. It’s finesseful with integrated autolytic, mineral and white peach aromas and flavours with power married to delicacy through a lacy finish.
Rodez Cuvée des Grands Vintages (score 92) caused a sensation among the CWW’s international members’ tasting at Rodez in October 2016. It’s a blend of 70%pinot noir and 30% chardonnay from ten vineyards—but wait, there’s more! It’s made exclusively from the “têtes de cuvée” from the domain’s recent best vintages, ’07, ’06, ’05, ’04, ’02 and ’00. Drinking it is like listening to the Rolling Stones playing together with so much relaxed harmony on “Blue and Lonesome.” The wine is complex with sweet autolytic, mineral, white peach and tropical fruit elements from your first sniff through a crisp but creamy mouthful and a long finish.
Champagnes de lieux-dits
Rodez Les Beurys 2010 Pinot Noir (score 90+) is a single-vineyard single-vintage 100% pinot noir wine. It’s spirited, delicate and finesseful with fresh lemon fruit and delicate mineral autolytic character. It’s crisp and linear through a long fresh tasty finish.
Rodez Les Genettes 2010 Pinot Noir (score 90+) is another single vineyard single vintage pinot noir wine. It’s round, sweetly autolytic, brisk and full through a long complex finish.
Produits de terroir
Rodez Empreinte de Terroir: Chardonnay 2004 (score 91) is a 100% chardonnay champagne from grapes grown on four plots in 2004. It’s a party for the senses with autolytic lemon, white peach and mineral notes. It’s a crisp lemony autolytic mineral nuanced mouthful with a long fresh rich lemon finish.
Rodez Empreinte de Terroir: Pinot Noir 2004 (score 91+) is 100% pinot noir from four vineyards. It has the tell-tale golden hue of a serious blanc de noirs and a more complex presentation than its chardonnay counterpart. Big sweet autolytic notes dance with white peach fruit through a crisp autolysis and fruit palate. It’s big and complex with no trace of heaviness.