There’s a certain type of person who can recall what the weather was like in two specific months of the year more than two decades ago. Someone whose livelihood could be devastated by an uncharacteristically cold July or a wet September; a person who cares about soil quality and tasting notes in equal measure. “If I remember correctly,” says Alexandre Cattier, inhaling deeply from a glass, “it was a good year — quite warm and cloudy during July and August.” He’s holding a pour of 1995 Cuvée Renaissance Cattier Premier Cru, which benefitted greatly from those temperate conditions, resulting in a balanced and toasty drop.
The aforementioned wine expert must have at least a small amount of champagne in his blood, given that he’s the 13th generation Cattier to run the business along with his father, Jean-Jacques. The family has been growing grapes in Montagne de Reims, a rather scenic range of hills in the Champagne region, since 1763, and have been producing their own bottles under the Cattier name since 1918.
The champagne house’s headquarters are situated in Chigny-les-Roses, just a short, rolling drive away from those vineyards, and is precisely how you’d imagine a small village filled with wine-making houses to be: it’s comprised of dusty-coloured buildings with old-fashioned signs hanging outside, and it’s not hard to spot a stray cork lost down a drain or lodged stubbornly in a crack.
I’m visiting this postcard location not necessarily to talk about the French house’s storied heritage — rather, the comparatively new addition to its portfolio of exceptional drops: Armand de Brignac. The title came about in the 1950s, when Alexandre’s grandmother took a liking to a character’s name in a book, and registered it for the creation of a potential new wine. But it wasn’t until the turn of the century, when the family decided they wanted to create a new prestige cuvée, that it was finally put to use in tribute to the family matriarch.