Tarlant

The Tarlant family has been a pioneering presence in the Vallée de la Marne of Champagne since 1687, when Pierre Tarlant cultivated the first family vineyards. Fast forward to the early 20th century, when Louis Tarlant was not only the the mayor of their home village of Oeuilly but also a leader in the grower movement to protect the purity of Champagne production, which led to the creation of the Champagne AOC in 1927. in 1928, Louis also was the first to bottle Tarlant estate wine. Today, his great-great-great grandchildren, the dynamic brother-sister team of Benoît and Mélanie Tarlant, are the twelfth generation to run the show. Benoît took over from his father Jean-Mary as full-time winemaker in 1999, with his sister handling the business and marketing side; Jean-Mary still tends vines and lends advice.

Tarlant neither sources nor sells any fruit. Total production is approximately 10,000 cases annually. They grow mainly Chardonnay (30%), Pinot Noir (50%) and Pinot Meunier (20%), with an intriguing dash of old local varieties like Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc.  The soils in this area west of Epernay are quite diverse, containing sand, clay, pebbles, crumbly chalk, hard limestone in various combinations, including a local clay-limestone soil called Sparnacien. Fourteen hectares of vines are spread over four western-Marne villages (Oeuilly, Boursault, St-Agnan and Celles-lès-Condé) and about 55 parcels.  Each parcel is harvested manually and vinified separately. The vines average around 30 years old but some are much older, going back to the 1940’s. With an eye toward maximizing the impact of terroir in the wines, the farming is organic (not certified) and includes some biodynamic preparations. Cover crops and wild plants grow between rows, and biodiversity is actively promoted throughout their property.

Notably, the Tarlant range is mainly brut nature (80% today) and has been since the 1970’s. Long before the current fashion for zéro dosage wines, Jean-Mary felt strongly that adding any sweetening tended to mask terroir expression. The rest of Tarlant's practices have evolved to maximize terroir and also vintage transparency. It starts with full ripening of the fruit, which is critical to balance and success with no dosage; once that organically farmed, hand-harvested, rigorously sorted fruit enters the cellar, it is very gently pressed and the must fermented mainly with native yeasts. All wines are moved by gravity only.The mainstay “Zéro” line, white and rosé wines comprising 60% of production, starts life in tank before being blended with barrel-aged reserve wines; the higher end of the range is entirely barrel-fermented.  None of the wines are allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, but they are stirred regularly.  Critical also to the character of Tarlant is extended bottle aging--from 3-4 years for Zero and up to 15 years for prestige bottlings--before disgorgement. As emphasized by their name, the "Zero" line receives no dosage, and nor do virtually any of the prestige-level wines (with increasingly rare exception).

There is another notable aspect of the Tarlant line-up when considering the non-Zero wines. The historic house crown-jewel Cuvée Louis and the uinque heirloom-grape BAM! are both multi-vintage wines. The rest of the bottlings are all single-vintage, but interestingly, among these Tarlant distinguishes between terroir-focused wines and vintage-focused wines. The “terroir” wines-- La Vigne d'Antan, La Vigne d'Or and La Vigne Royale—are from single parcels, are usually made yearly and do indicate the vintage—but in tiny characters tucked away on the back of the bottle.  The “vintage” wine is only one per year, a snapshot selected to represent that vintage in the Tarlant experience and dubbed with a one-time name—e.g. the 2002 L’Etincelante, 2003 La Matinale, 2004 L’Aérienne—with the vintage prominently featured on the front label.

Theirs is a unique and complex approach, which well describes Tarlant’s overall Champagne style as well. While ranging naturally with site and vintage, their wines have a consistency of power and complexity, marked by intense fruit character, acidity and minerality; rich texture; fine bubbles; and a persistent finish. Vibrancy is truly the hallmark of this estate's history, wines and current generation.