If the name Francis Egly rings a bell with anyone, he or she must be familiar with the world of Champagne’s cult wines.
Instead of at big wine tastings, one is more likely to encounter the reticent legend in Ambonnay, at the family estate, where he speaks modestly but assuredly and with more than 50 years of experience behind him regarding the wines.
He took over the family estate from his father in 1982, and he immediately started organic cultivation, since then he has only worked with his own grapes and carries out the full process of champagne making at home. He was among the first (besides Anselme Selosse and the Larmandier family) to make grower champagne in the wine region, based on Burgundy inspiration.
The last time we were in the wine region, we managed to visit him. It was perceptible from the very first moment that that absolutely everybody concentrates on making wine at theirs, and also that the house rarely has visitors. After a short cellar tour, we tasted three freshly disgorged wines, and concentrating on them, we could truly get answers to all our questions. There were hardly any words said about experiments, dilemmas or exciting novelties, as the winemaking philosophy has been unchanged, sound and constant since the first vintages, and the winemaker is stoic and firm. “We’ve been working based on the Burgundy method,” he says when we ask him to sum up what he does differently to the others. Because everybody agrees that the Egly-Ouriet style is completely unique and it differs from the usual: an emphasis on Pinot Noir, harvest at complete ripeness, a large proportion of oak use and long ageing all adds to the full and rich structure of the wines. The mousse is often modest, the experience is concentrated, powerful and vinous, similar to the greatest Burgundies.
The four-member family and their three colleagues harvest from almost 12 hectares, the selected grapes are put into a new Coquard press, and only the best fraction, the cuvee, makes it into the cellar, where fermentation occurs in the barrels of Burgundy cooper-winemaker Dominique Laurent. At the time of the July bottling, the wines of the three grand cru villages are blended with 50% reserve wine, and secondary fermentation is followed by a minimum of three years of ageing on the lees. The estate’s vineyards can be found in three villages, among which Ambonnay is the most important, where they harvest from the most-valued, old Pinot Noir vines. It is one of the reasons why Francis Egly’s wines are often compared to Krug among the big houses.