Not far from Burgundy, situated on the calm side roads of the Aube department, the so-called Côte des Bar sub-region of southern Champagne hides a worldwide renowned champagne house in its peaceful, preserved environment: Champagne Drappier in the tiny village of Urville.
Far off from the noise of the northern vineyards of the Marne department – popular for the Côte des Blancs, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne – Champagne Drappier has always appreciated being surrounded and protected by the calm, even if it wasn’t on the wine trip maps of many tourists.
The house’s story began in 1808 with François Drappier, a lumberjack who worked for the Cristallerie Royale de Champagne and dreamed of making wines that would fill all the shining champagne glasses that were manufactured at the Cristallerie. He settled in Urville, bought 1,5 hectares of land, and started what he didn’t know would one day become one of Champagne’s sparkling success stories.
A few generations onwards, the discreet champagne house belongs to Champagne’s most popular names and has grown to a size of 110 hectares of vines – of which 60 hectares are owned by the family. 17 hectares have already obtained the certification for organic farming while many more hectares are still undergoing conversion.
In contrast to most other champagne houses, Champagne Drappier remains a fully family-owned and family-run estate, which is why the Drappiers consider themselves more as a family of vignerons than a global brand or negociant. The continuity of the family’s heritage and vision is currently assured by three generations who work together under one roof: André Drappier – the warm soul of the house who retired many years ago but still loves to show up to keep an eye on the vineyards, greet visitors with his bright smile, or taste the latest cuvées his son Michel has disgorged – cellar master Michel Drappier and his wife Sylvie, as well as their children Charline, Hugo, and Antoine, who all decided to join the domain in recent years.
The confidence to keep the family heritage evolving without losing its origin or identity, and the courage to find new dimensions to the Drappier taste in the context of generational convictions, runs through the Drappier generations like a thread.
In search of the universal taste that would please the crowds, André Drappier first introduced the house’s emblematic cuvée Carte d’Or Brut in 1952. The aromatic blend with a base of 80 % Pinot Noir with generous fruit character and gentle complexity quickly found a large fanbase on international grounds and set the benchmark for the „Drappier taste“, helping André to grow and develop the family estate in the following decades.
When Michel Drappier joined his father in 1979, he was quickly handed the cellar keys with all responsibilities; not only did his father want to avoid conflict regarding the two generation’s differing winemaking approaches, but he also sensed that Michel’s attention to detail and his interest in experimentation would bring about innovation and modern touch to the domain’s champagnes.
Inspired by a new generation of winemakers rising in Burgundy, where Michel Drappier had studied enology, he set out to create more vinous champagnes full of character that would carry the unique and identifiable taste of the family’s vineyards. Giving in to his unbound curiosity, he focused on increasing the quality of the domain’s production and finding the tiniest tweaks to enhance and refine his cuvées with more complexity, consistency, and character.
Over time, Michel Drappier has built an impressively large collection of reserve wines and demijohns of differently aged liquors in his cellar, putting them to use in the blending process like a chef uses his collection of kitchen spices. He introduced huge oak casks into his wine cellars a long time ago, wanting to add the structural and textural benefits that oak provides, all while minimizing the impact that oak may have on the taste of champagne.
One of Michel Drappier’s most unexpected successes was a zero dosage champagne long before non-dosé champagnes became a lasting trend among wine lovers: cuvée Brut Nature is made from 100% Pinot Noir that is harvested at perfect maturity to bring the ample personality of Côte des Bar Pinot Noir to the full expression where it doesn’t need any further addition of liqueur. The refreshingly mineral yet creamy champagne was so enthusiastically embraced by champagne lovers that a Brut Nature Rosé, produced in a saignée method, was launched as well.
Today, 70 % of Champagne Drappier’s vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir, the most common grape variety of the Côte des Bar sub-region of Champagne, and 20 % are planted with Chardonnay. The remaining 10 % are dedicated to the old grape varieties of Champagne that are maintained to keep the diversity of Champagne’s history. The lion’s share of these old grape varieties is 2 hectares of Blanc vrai, a synonym of Pinot Blanc, followed by 70 ares of Fromenteau, the historical name for Pinot Gris, as well as 40 ares of Arbane and Petit Meslier.
These historical grape treasures are used in the Blanc de Blancs Signature, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc showcasing delicate yellow fruit notes, or cuvée Quattuor, a super-vibrant and original blend of old grape varieties Pinot Blanc, Arbane, and Petit Meslier; furthermore the vintage cuvée Clarevallis, made from a base of organically farmed Pinot Noir that is spiced up with a touch of Meunier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc.
Named after French army general and statesman Charles de Gaulle, who preferred this champagne for his private receptions, the partially oak-aged Cuveé Collection Charles de Gaulle represents the domain’s most extravagant cuvées with remarkable depth and complexity, length, as well as persistence.
Another particularity is the cuvée Grande Sendrée which comes in a special bottle shape, a reproduction of an 18th-century bottle found in the Urville cellars. In honor of old traditions, this cuvée of 55 % Pinot Noir and 45 % Chardonnay is partly aged in oak barrels and entirely riddled by hand instead of gyropalettes. The dosage comes from a special liqueur de tirage that was barrel-aged for over 15 years, which adds great palate weight, intensity, and complexity to this cuvée. It also exists as a rosé version: Grande Sendrée Rosé is a blend of 92% Pinot Noir and 8 % Chardonnay is proof of how bold, yet refined and gentle the typical grape of the Aube can be.
Today, many of the family’s efforts go into preserving their land for future generations. With great conscience for nature’s sensibility and fragility, Champagne Drappier don’t use any herbicides and apply only practices that protect and respect the vineyards, environment, and soils – such as manual weeding, partial grass coverage, and horse-drawn plowing, which contribute to preserving biodiversity and harvesting healthy grapes for exceptional champagnes.
If you happen to make it to Urville one day, where Champagne Drappier offers visits and tastings with great pride and joy, don’t miss out on visiting the historical wine cellars once built by the Clairvaux Abbey, and learning more about the Aube’s fascinating history before you taste the excellent champagnes.