A Visit to Vilmart

As a huge fan of Vilmart’s entire range of champagnes, I looked forward to our next stop and the drive down from Merfy to Rilly-la-Montagne.

Impressions from my visit to Chartogne-Taillet are here:


The fog persisted for the duration, as you can perceive in this shot just outside Vilmart’s entrance:

As we approached, Laurent Champs greeted us along with a Finnish couple, and into the sitting area, past the receptionist we went.

The room was gorgeous, filled with Christmas decorations and stained glass murals, reminiscent of the label adorning Vilmart’s Cuvee Creation. It reminded me of a rural, but beautifully appointed slopeside cabin, with exposed wood beams and dark wood paneling along the walls. It felt like home.

Laurent uncorked the following bottles for us to taste after a quick tour of the facility:

NV Grande Reserve (70% Pinot, 30% Chard)
NV Grand Cellier (same proportion as the Reserve)
2003 Grand Cellier d’Or (80% Chard, 20% Pinot)
2001 Coeur de Cuvee (80% Chard, 20% Pinot)
1999 Cuvee Creation (70% Chard, 30% Pinot)

We were fortunate to catch the disgorgement of bottles in action, beginning with the freezing of the lees, necks plunged into a solution before having the resulting ice/lees plug ejected.

I was tempted to ask if I could assist with a couple bottles, but didn’t want to impose as everything was moving pretty quickly.
In this contraption, the ice plug is ejected and the dosage injected:

The freshly dosed bottles frothed as they entered the corking/caging area. Again, it was tough to resist making like the kid in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, lunging for a bottle and gulping from it.

Corks inserted and cages on, the bottles headed toward the end of the line to be labeled and boxed.

Psyched to have witnessed the process, we viewed the barrel room and then proceeded back to the reception area to taste the wines.

The NV Grande Reserve was a fine wine, but a bit angular and paled in comparison to the rest of the range, an experience I’ve found consistent. Well worth spending the extra dollars on the Grand Cellier IMHO.

The NV Grand Cellier was mind-bending juice for its “lowly” NV designation, and if I understood correctly, Laurent said that after the 2000 Cuvee Creation, that cuvee will go away, with the old vine juice going to both the NV Grand Cellier and vintage Coeur de Cuvee bottles. Imagine, the minerally, spicy, energetic and persistent Grand Cellier getting BETTER!?!?

Next up was the 2003 Grand Cellier d’Or. I was eager to try this for two reasons, I’ve only had one 2003 Champagne (Bollinger’s) and the price was amazing (28 Euros). Having tasted the 2002 recently, I was excited to compare. Whether my mind was playing tricks on me seeing the vintage (the dreaded 2003 summer in Europe) or not, the fruit tasted tropical. Not sweet, but just amped up and rich, almost like the 1998 Cuvee Creation. I would have been a buyer, but they had sold out.

Up next, the tete de cuvee, 2001 Coeur de Cuvee. Whoa! What a treat! I restrained myself for the third time on the visit, almost running to place an order after just sniffing this beauty! Exotic fruit, I swear there was coconut, combined with the funk of burgundy at its best, topped off by notes of spices had me swooning. Luxurious and broad on the palate and the finish, oh the finish. This bottle is class personified and it’s amazing what Laurent and his vines produced in 2001. I have been hunting like a demon (as Juhlin noted about the 1993 Coeur) for more.

The 1999 Cuvee Creation seemed more elegant and less brash than the 1998 (which wasn’t poured, but I’ve tasted). I believe Laurent said this bottling is from a single parcel, but I could be totally wrong, as I entered a fugue-like state following the 2001 Coeur. Rich, creamy and well-defined structure, I like it more than the 1998 version, but I generally prefer 99s to 98s across the board.

With that, we received dinner recommendations from Laurent (L’Apostrophe in Reims was unpretentious and a fun ambience), settled up for some purchases and said au revoir to Vilmart.

Laurent, like Alexandre Chartogne, is a gentleman and was a pleasure to meet and taste with.

I’m plotting my return to this glorious region.

Thanks very much for the fine reports Peter. How’d you make out with customs and the bubbly on your return flight with the new TSA hassles? How’d you like Paris? Anything of specific wine/food interest?


Another great post Peter, I’m also curious about the handling of the wine to the US.

My wife and I had similarly enjoyable visit to Vilmart in October, except that we had the '00 Coeur instead of the '01. The ex-cellar prices on Vilmart wines are truly extraodinary–we picked up some Coeur and Creation for I think 40 and 45 euros each (or maybe it was even less), and some 03 cellier for 28. Great people there and consistently terrific wines.

Waaaay Coool. Love the Vilmart stuff…just hard to find up here at times.


So we brought back 10 bottles, 6 in a styrofoam shipper that I obtained at Lavinia (huge, multi-level wineshop near the Madeleine Metro). You had to buy a bottle to get a shipper, but there are deals there if you hunt around. The other four were tucked into our checked bags, wrapped in clothes.

Everything arrived safe and sound, I didnt bother to double box the styro shipper, though I did scribble “Fragile” all over it, since CDG didnt have any special stickers or tape of that designation. Customs was an absolute breeze, I claimed 10 bottles and they just waved me through without hesitation. I was surprised, frankly, at how smooth it all went, especially given the heightened security given the Xmas day events. When we flew back to the US, after passing through security, you pass through a second gauntlet at your gate. Full pat down, open briefcases/laptops, etc. so plan ahead on your trip back to the US. Also, the baggage line at CDG, while short, took FOREVER.

Paris was amazing, I’m plotting a return in the spring. I would highly recommend Cheri Bibi on Rue Andre del Sarte in Montmartre 18e. Their hours were odd and it doesnt look like much on the outside, but they have a fun and reasonable wine list and good food. Ambience like a trendy coffee shop, if that makes sense, so dont expect a high-end place.

We ate at Taillevent for lunch, and while it’s overpriced (isnt any lunch for 95 Euros?) the experience was well worth it. And the house Armagnac has me hooked.

I thought the food at Willi’s Wine Bar was outstanding, you read a lot about the wines on the boards, but little about the food.

There’s also another low-key place in Montmartre off Rue Muller near Sacre Coeur called L’été en Pente Douce. The wine list is pedestrian with just basic AOC stuff, but get the “Canard en Croute.” It’s a duck breast encased in a salt crust, roasted that way to retain the moisture of the meat. Under the breast are legumes, carrots, etc. You cut through the shell (dont eat it) and get to the good stuff.

The prices are insanely good, if I had the means to transport 2 cases home, I wouldnt have hesitated.

Plus you get the discount for buying 6 btls, making the 01 Coeur a paltry 37 Euros!

Great stuff, thanks. We opened a Vilmart 2000 Grand Cellier d’Or on NYE and it was the sparkler of the night, eclipsing a trio of 1996 Champagne.

Peter - Thanks for the report. how did you plan/coordinate your visits? Any tips? I’m planning a trip to Champagne too. TIA

Excellent stuff Peter. Sounds like a great time in Paris and looks like you found some gems in Montmarte. Wish I would’ve spent more time there while staying in nearby Saint-Ouen a year ago. Seem to be a lot of very positive reports about the 18e, including some of the finest boulangeries.

Glad the wine travel was smooth. In a few weeks I’ll be meeting my wife in Paris on her return leg from a business trip to Algeria. She’s expecting tougher security.

Thanks for the report on Willi’s. Enjoyed some drinks there but haven’t yet eaten more than nibbles. I’m a fan of Juveniles around the corner, mostly for the chance to converse with owner Tim Johnston.

Did you get a chance to cruise any markets? It’s one of my favorite things and a reminder that the US is, by comparison, lost in the culinary 3rd world. You’ve made it tough to wait!



Ramon - I used Juhlin’s books for the addresses for the drive, but I emailed both Alexandre and Laurent in my bad French to initiate contact and ask to visit. I knew they both spoke at least some english, but thought it would be courteous to at least try my hand at their language.

Turns out, I ran one of my posts to Laurent by a french-speaking friend - and instead of saying “I’m eagerly awaiting our visit” I apparently said “I’m impatient to hear from you about our visit.” LOL - it all turned out well and I’m sure he understood the language barrier, though I was nervous at first.

Let me know if you’d like Alexandre’s or Laurent’s contact info, be happy to email/pm it.

I drove from Paris and would recommend taking the TGV if you’re not used to driving in large, congested cities. But the views were gorgeous if you’re into that sort of thing, which you may or may not see on the train. Downtown Reims is lots of fun and they have Champagne dirt cheap in shops there. I saw 95 Henriot Enchanteleurs for 50 something euros, sigh. Just no more room to lug stuff bag.

Thanks for the tip on Juveniles, will definitely hit that on my next trip!

I didn’t check out the markets but did spend 50% of our time just wandering around random streets. I loved how slow-paced everything/everyone seemed in contrast to our lifestyle here in the US. Finding out of the way wine shops was a blast and just stepping into a patisserie for a croissant or pastry was worth the trip in and of itself.

I hate you Peter!!! Please tell me you at least brought a sample for me?
flirtysmile [middle-finger.gif]

You went to France and there were no front page diplomatic incidents? Sacre bleu! Sounds like an awesome trip. Paris lives up to all the hype…

Awesome report. This is one winery that I would LOVE to visit.

Thanks so much for these posts.

I enjoyed your reports tremendously (& enviously).

Photos were such a great addition. [thumbs-up.gif]

Take care,

Cris - happy to open a bottle if you make it out to Boston [thumbs-up.gif]

Jud - amazing right? The first thing I did was find the US Embassy :wink:

Paul & Rob - thx!

One other fun photo I forgot to include:

Thanks Peter, always useful to hear news on one of my favorite Champagne producers.

I’m eyeing one of those 1998 mags that showed up recently but haven’t quite nerved myself to buy one. Maybe next month after I pay for my bathroom retiling :slight_smile:.