The style of the cult Champagne estate is entirely unique, and it goes back to old methods: all base wines are fermented in oak barrels, and contrary to the usual way, they don’t carry out malolactic fermentation, but they lift it into the wine.
The house was founded by Désiré Vilmart, in the heart of Rilly-la-Montagne, at the foot of Montagne de Reims, in 1890. Later it was taken over by his son, Charles, who was followed by his grandson, Renan (Charles’ son). By then, they’d become independent and confident players in the wine region. After the Second World War, Renan reconstructed the building over the intact cellars, and they have been welcoming their guests here ever since.
In 1963, Renan's son-in-law, carpenter René Champs, took over the management of Vilmart. He transformed the experience he had received from his father-in-law, showing good sense: he had been experimenting with biodynamics in the vineyard and filling the cellar with large barrels since 1970. In 1989, his son, Laurent Champs, joined before taking over the entire running of the estate in 1995. He kept all the core values but fine-tuned the details wherever he could.
He is a generous character who talks about the estate with calm in his voice and precise wording. He’s now the most highly-regarded producer of the wine region.
Until the harvest
Vilmart cultivates the entirety of its own vineyards, the furthest of which is on the outskirts of the village, barely a kilometre from the cellar. The varietal composition is unusual – Pinot Noir makes up 90% of the grapes in the village, however, most of the Vilmart areas have Chardonnay. From the beginning, only his own grapes have been vinified at the cellar, with one exception – the only neighbour to deliver his crop in good years is Laurent’s cousin. “I couldn’t say no to his Chardonnay. He cultivates it the same way as we do, on top of that, it’s next to our best plot. I gave up on the RM title [Récoltant Manipulant – grower estate] because of these few grapes,” adds Laurent.
After the harvest
It’s not surprising that only the best bunches are transported to the cellar, where they are put into the 50-year old Coquard press without destemming. This is followed by slow winemaking, the must is settled via the gravitational method, then it is put into barrels where it ferments with its own yeast. The wines are bottled after 10 months of ageing, which is when the secondary fermentation starts, with 3 to 4 years of bottle ageing for non-vintage, while in the case of vintage, it’s 5 to 8 years of bottle ageing.
“I primarily make wine. That provides the basis of everything. Turning it into sparkling wine is the topping, for my greatest pleasure.” – Laurent Champs.
Vilmart’s style The style of the house is sophisticated and extremely enjoyable. Deep flavours, maturity, precise and lively acids, a glittering appearance, slow and rich bubbles. All base wines are fermented in oak barrels, and contrary to common practice, the natural malic fermentation is blocked, instead they lift it into the wine, which includes two such steps that only a few know as well as they do at Vilmart.