Winemaker Interview: Mélanie Tarlant of Champagne Tarlant
The Tarlant estate is one of the pioneer families in the Vallée de la Marne of Champagne since 1687, ever since Pierre Tarlant cultivated his first vineyard. In the 20th century his descendant Louis Tarlant, who was also the mayor of Oeuilly, worked towards the creation of the Champagne AOC 1927.
Fast forward to today, and we find his great-great-great grandchildren – the dynamic brother-sister team of Benoît and Mélanie Tarlant – running the show across 14 hectares spread through 4 different crus: Oeuilly, Boursault, St-Agnan and Celles-les-Condés, all in the Marne Valley. Benoît is the main viticulturist and winemaker, while the latter runs the business and marketing side of things.
We catch up with Mélanie to share more about Tarlant Champagne.
Tell us more about the terroir in Oeuilly, where your vineyard is located.
Oeuilly is a village in the centre of the iconic Champagne River Valley. The river name is Marne so in French we call that land “Vallée de la Marne”. This is the oldest terroir of Champagne wines, dating back to the 13th century. Our vineyards are planted on the hillsides, which are surrounded by rivers at the bottom and forest at the top, with important biodiversity.
The roots of our vines live into the different subsoils of this valley: the main one is Campanian chalk from 70 million years ago, followed by Lutetian and Thanetian limestones, then by Sparnacien which is found only in a small part of Champagne AOC.
What is your winemaking philosophy – that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Our winemaking philosophy is to convey this nuance of terroirs into wine tastes and emotions, with only two ancestral tools: nature and time. We favour the expression of lieu-dit with single-vineyard Champagnes like Cuvée Louis; six lieux-dits Champagnes are actually in the area.
We also perpetuate the origin of Champagne by elaborating on wines without dosage, i.e. Brut Nature. The creation process takes years, at least five years for the Zero and Rosé Zero, and for such as vintages and single-vineyards ten to twenty years. This is not a predetermined action which creates our Champagnes. It is the work of time, the land, and 12 whole generations.
What would you say makes the difference between a Grower Champagne and one produced from houses that don’t grow their own grapes?
The origin of the wine for the Grower Champagne is by definition the terroir, inherently inspired by the non-acceptance of standardization. Terroir includes traditional know-how born from the constraints of the origin of the vineyard. Creating a terroir wine leads the Vigneron to progress year after year, with more understanding and knowledge, each time confronted with rules set by nature.
What’s an interesting fact about your wines or estate that is not commonly known?
La Vigne d’Antan is the only Chardonnay Champagne with ungrafted roots. This is so rare that the production is almost unknown.
Are there any interesting winemaking techniques or tools that you’d like to start experimenting with?
Since the 2011 harvest, we have been innovating with fermentations in clay. It’s experimenting with the same way of making wine as it was 6000 years ago! What inspires me is the birth of wine in contact with natural materials: the wood barrels and the clay amphoras, because it makes wine breathe and each becomes an identity.
My experimentations are now in the vineyards, I started research from our native variety of Champagne such as our Petit Meslier and Arbanne, and our ungrafted Chardonnay in order to see how very old varieties could still be a future with the Champagne climate change.
Who are some of your favourite winemakers today?
Elena Pantaleoni, Arianna Occhipinti, Alessandra Bera, and the Foradori Family.
What are some of your favourite food pairings for Tarlant Champagne?
Tarlant Champagne with oysters, and everything coming from the sea. And, I must confess, with French cheeses too!
What bottle is open in your kitchen right now?
I’m drinking Cantillon! It’s made by a friend and a very old traditional brewery from Belgium, with no residual sugar and long ageing.