André Clouet: The Champagne of Chalk and Kings

A look at one of our most enchanting winemakers through the lens of his new cuvée, Chalky

'Chalky' Champagne from André Clouet

“For those in the know, the rare cuvées of André Clouet are immensely sought-after. You can’t buy these champagnes year-round in Australia, because they quickly sell out as soon as a shipment lands”

– Tyson Stelzer, Acclaimed Wine Writer & Champagne Expert

When we first brought on Champagne André Clouet in 2017, we were astounded at the way it managed to capture the hearts and the palates of both our staff and customers immediately, casting a spell over everyone it encountered and wrapping us up in an instant vinous infatuation – we simply had to have it. 

At the time, we had only brought on their NV Grandé Reserve Brut – a 100% Pinot Noir Champagne from their family vineyards in Bouzy and adorned with an intricate blue and gold label designed in 1911. It wasn’t one of the ‘big’ Champagne names, but it carried with it a lot of respect and a detectable electric undercurrent of intrigue, reserved for only the most ‘boutique’ and ‘in-the-know’ of producers. We pretty quickly added their No.5 Brut Rosé and their V6 Experience cuvées to the line up who in time, have also garnered a passionate group of fans here in New Zealand.

And now, seven years after adding this historic and revered house to our stable, we are so excited to announce the upcoming arrival of a new cuvée. NV Chalky is perhaps the most beautiful, clean, minimalist and frankly, instagrammable bottle we’ve laid our eyes on, and it houses the first Blanc de Blancs cuvée from the king of Pinot Noir, proving this producer is more than a one-grape pony.

“His champagnes offer that something else, without the Hollywood budget, yet with pyrotechnics all of their own.”

– Tyson Stelzer, Acclaimed Wine Writer & Champagne Expert

Chalky by André Clouet

‘Chalky’ draws reference to the very soils which made Champagne famous.

“No matter what I do, chalky soil is stuck to the soles of my shoes. It’s been a part of me since I was a child!”

– Jean-François Clouet

The Chardonnays that make up this cuvée grow one-third on the southern slopes of the Montagne de Reims and two-thirds on the Côte de Blancs.

Chalky is a particularly noteworthy addition to the Clouet lineup in that it’s a deviation from their cornerstone varietal, Pinot Noir. The other cuvées Clouet produces are all Blanc de Noirs from their vines in Bouzy, where Pinot Noir thrives. Jean-François – the winemaker and descendant of the domaine’s namesake, André Clouet – is never one to shy away from a challenge. Known for his uncanny knack at extracting balance, flavour, texture and character from this varietal – he’s also a big, charismatic and inherently curious personality. So while the pivot away from Blanc de Noirs may be intriguing, for anyone that knows about Jean-François Clouet, it’s really no surprise at all and perhaps even less surprising, is the fact he’s nailed it.

The Chalky Blanc de Blancs was aged for an astonishing 72 months on lees – or six years. The base wines of this initial NV release come from the “late-ripening, almost brutally brilliant year” (Lobenburg) 2013. Disgorgement was in 2021, with a dosage of 6g. The resulting wine is creamy, mineral and – you guessed it – chalky.

Chalky Champagne by André Clouet

Champagne André Clouet Chalky Blanc de Blancs Brut NV

  • 100% Chardonnay (1/3 from the southern slopes of the Montagne de Reims, 2/3 from the Côte de Blancs)
  • Ageing: 72 Months On Lees
  • Dosage: 6g/L
  • 12% Alc.
  • Best Drinking: 2024 – 2035

A bright golden colour. Powerful nose of lightly candied fruit and spice. Notes from the aromas accelerate on the palate with added notes of ginger bread with sweet citrus. Expect a lively, salty, mineral inflected wine.

Perfect for an aperitif or with fresh oysters.

Sally Hillman: “Taking to the Chardonnay vines with the precision of a Renaissance sculptor, Jean-François Clouet carves a brand-new, pure and flawless Blanc de Blancs cuvée from Champagne’s deep, chalky bedrock.”

Falstaff Magazine, 93 Points: “Medium golden yellow. Quite classic on the nose with citrus notes, exotic fruit nuances of mango and passion fruit. Elegant on the palate with a fine mousse, a noticeable impression of sweetness and a certain minerality. Complex even in the long aftertaste with smoky nuances.”

Lobenberg Wine Guide, 96 Points: What does 200 million years of manifest minerality taste like? Jean-Francois Clouet put the answer in this bottle. A completely new wine in Clouet’s portfolio, bottled in a special white-coated bottle with a matching box in a chalk cliff design… As the name suggests, Chalky tastes like the salty-chalky purism of the chalk soils of Champagne, but it wouldn’t be a Clouet if it didn’t also exude a wonderful, melting charm and seductive appeal. 200 million years of minerality poured into the bottle as liquid chalk, what a smooth, delicious mineral hammer!”

Why Chalk?

There’s two elements to the Champenois love affair with chalk; the vines and the cellars.

Ripening with André Clouet

The Vines:

Chalk (limestone) makes for a naturally high pH, alkaline-rich soil, with neutral shades of white, grey or beige that can also reflect sunlight to promote photosynthesis. It’s origins began over 200 million years ago, after the Jurassic sea levels receded and tectonic shift exposed an array of fossilised shells, coral and other debris that had accumulated and formed calcified sediments on the ancient sea floor. These remains give limestone its distinctive chemical makeup, called calcium carbonate.

This calcium carbonate content is extremely beneficial for vines. First, it offers incredible water retention capabilities while simultaneously permitting excellent drainage. Secondly, calcium rich limestone soils tend to have a higher pH than other soils, which translates to easier nutrient absorption and higher acidity levels in fruit that aids age-ability to the wines. Third, the high calcium content in limestone also helps berries fight off diseases. When calcium content in soils is low, grapes begin to prioritise their inner health rather than skin health, which in turn, makes clusters more susceptible to disease and rot.

All of this to say, fruit grown in limestone soils generally has bright acidity and solid structure, which then lead to wines of serious age worthy potential. (Read more about soil types and their impacts on vines here).

The etched-in '1741'

The Cellars:

Clouet explains, “Chalk is the protector of champagne as it ages, allowing itself to be dug into deep underground cellars, where the precious nectar can safely mature, tucked away from the light and fluctuations in temperature.”

Clouet’s cellar, where all of their cuvées age, was dug under their home in the 1700s. They have recently undertaken a project to expand their winemaking facilities and cellars, which is still in progress now.

Champagne André Clouet

The Clouet family history in Bouzy dates back to the 1400’s. Before their vinous adventures, the Clouet ancestors were the appointed printers for the French monarchs. Over the next 200 years and through several generations, the family slowly accumulated vineyards in Bouzy before finally, in 1741 they first started to make Champagne. Cellars were dug into the chalky soils and the family set down their roots officially in the town they’d spent several centuries in under the watchful eye of one André Clouet.

Champagne André Clouet

“During Creation, when God grew weary of sculpting the mountings, razing the deserts and firing up the volcanoes, he treated himself to a few moments of pleasure. He designed a little earthly paradise called Bouzy.”

André Clouet’s descendants took over his estate, ensuring that it remained in the family. The property had aged but has now been modernised, and the team working to perpetuate the House of André Clouet is inspired above all by the desire to preserve the personality of its champagnes.

“Jean-François is deeply rooted in the heritage of his village,” explains Tyson Stelzer in his book, The Champagne Guide 2020-2021 Edition VI, “He still possesses his family’s request for a deed for the purchase of land in Champagne by their ancestors in 1689 and a letter from the 1820’s requesting an order of Rosé to be sent to Paris.”

A story the family loves to tell is that of André Clouet’s memorable interaction with Marie Antoinette. In 1770, the future Queen of France visited the vineyards in Bouzy and a dinner in her honour was organised in a castle not far from the village. Andre Clouet was in attendance and decided to entertain the guests at the Queen’s table by adding a few drops of red wine from their vineyards to the white wine. Known as “Bouzy Rouge,” this Vin des Sacres, was the red wine served to celebrate the crowning of the French Kings.

On that night, it’s said the ladies’ eyes began to sparkle with amazement as the white wine became pink!

The men raised a toast to the Queen and André Clouet proclaimed: “This is how we perfect Pinot Noir in Champagne! Now the Burgundians will just have to deal with it!”

A few years later, a cousin placed an order for some of this ‘pink wine’, but sparkling this time, for her “crazy English friends!”

Jean-François Clouet

Jean-François Clouet, winemaker for André Clouet

Jean-François is the larger-than-life current generation of the Clouet line and is at the helm of this family Estate. Growing up amongst the vines, the vineyards are in his blood. He’s been described as many things – a wizard, a wonder, a ringmaster… and all of these may be true but there’s no doubt his legacy will also recognise him as a phenomenal vigneron.

“One of the living rock stars of Champagne, Jean-François choreographs every element of his business with his inimitable flair and accomplishment…”

– Tyson Stelzer

A fun story he enjoys telling pertains to the tanks and barrels that age the wines;

“When I was a little boy, I loved walking around the wine-making cellar. In my imagination, the enormous wine tanks transformed and became champions, guardians, protectors of the wine…

“My Heroes! Creaking, wheezing, groaning, squealing, sweating… sometimes they even seemed to be laughing! I watched the noisy show, as some were gushing from their nozzles, while others were being filled up. I grew up learning to play with my heroes who live in the wine-cellars.

“Each has its own name and personality to share and their attributes come alive in the wines: Superman, Zeus, and Thor lend their power to the Cuvée Grande Reserve.

“Laser, D’artagnan and Zorro transmit their intensity, tension and minerality to the Brut Silver.

“Sophie Marceau, Heather Locklear and Michelle Pheiffer flirt beautifully with the Rosé.

“Rocky comes out swinging to make a Dream Vintage!

“As I blend to create champagne, I work to find the perfect balance of characteristics that come from all my remarkable, dauntless heroes: the Stainless Steel Giants.”

Listen to Tyson Stelzer…

You can choose to take our word for it when it comes to Clouet’s brilliance, but if you don’t then you must listen to Tyson Stelzer.

Already quoted a few times in this piece, he is a multi-award winning wine writer, television host and producer and international speaker. Tyson has been named The International Wine & Spirit Communicator of the Year, The Australian Wine Communicator of the Year and The International Champagne Writer of the Year. He is the author and publisher of seventeen wine books, contributor to many wine magazines, a frequent judge and chair at Australian wine shows and a presenter at wine events in 12 countries. All this to say: he knows his wine and is great at articulating the magic where mere mortals fall short!

“Jean-François is a courageous visionary and an ebullient creative with the nous to bring his dreams to completion and the humility to gather round him the talent to make it happen.”

In 2017, Tyson published an article titled “Is this the most underrated champagne grower of all?” which is a poetic and beautiful summation of this Champagne House, which we’ve detailed below:

“It’s always puzzled me that the remarkable, terroir-expressive champagnes of André Clouet never seem to come up among the rockstar growers of Champagne. And yet on the basis of his current cuvées, I have again anointed this little grower in the grand cru village of Bouzy among the top six growers in Champagne. This of course places him among the top sparkling growers on earth. My scores rank him equal to Dom Pérignon, Louis Roederer and Taittinger. And that’s mighty company!

“For those in the know, the rare cuvées of André Clouet are immensely sought-after. You can’t buy these champagnes year-round in Australia, because they quickly sell out as soon as a shipment lands. Cru Bar in Brisbane recently told me of a pallet arriving and selling before the staff even had time to unpack it into the store.

“I am always intrigued that something of the personality of the maker is translated into the character of all great wines. In this, the wines of Jean-François Clouet capture a profound and intriguing juxtaposition.

“The man and his cuvées are deeply rooted into the multilayered and convoluted history of Champagne, arguably more than any other. He is the privileged custodian of eight hectares of estate vines in the best middle slopes of Bouzy and Ambonnay, the epicentre of pinot noir in Champagne. His family heritage in Bouzy extends back to 1492 and they have been making their own champagnes here since the early 1700s.

“Every time I introduce new friends to Jean-François, he doesn’t first show us through his winery or cellars, doesn’t walk us through rows of vines, or even pour his champagnes. He takes us to the top of the vineyards, on the edge of the forest overlooking Bouzy, and recounts the remarkable sweep of history that has played out in view of this place over two millennia, and the role his own family has played in the stories: Attila the Hun, the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields, the birth of the monarchy, the crusades, the Templars, Marie Antoinette. ‘To understand Champagne you need to understand its political history,’ he says.

“It’s a history that lives on in his champagnes, both in spectacularly classical labels designed by his great grandfather in 1911 (harking back to the family’s printer heritage, making books for the king since 1491), and in a traditional approach in the vineyards and the cellar. ‘I like the idea of the work of human hands in pruning, performing the same actions as my grandfather and even the Romans, who planted vines here 2000 years ago.’

“Such deep heritage makes for a striking contrast to the flamboyant personality of Jean-François, dubbed by one of my recent guests as ‘a combination of winemaker and circus ringmaster.’

“He is daringly creative, with a distinctly modern twist to his approach. It is his goal that some day none of his champagnes will have any dosage at all, an ideal that he rightly describes as revolutionary.

“His are rich and concentrated expressions of pinot noir, wines of deep complexity, multifaceted interest and engaging character, yet with remarkable restraint and sense of control. Tasting after tasting confirm my impression that this small and relatively unknown grower ranks high among Champagne’s finest practitioners of pinot noir — and represents one of the best value of all.

“And yet for all of his success, this extroverted young chef de cave doesn’t take himself too seriously. ‘Champagne is always for flirting!’ he grins.

“Visits with Jean-François are always recounted as a highlight by my little tour groups in Champagne, and it has long been my dream to introduce my knowledgeable and entertaining friend in Australia.”

That Packaging Though… 🤩

André Clouet

The (beautiful) elephant in the room here is undoubtedly the phenomenal packaging that Clouet’s Chalky is presented in.

You don’t have to look far to see where the inspiration was drawn from (really, just take a look at the cellars!), but the execution is simply as much of a visual masterpiece as the phenomenal juice it holds, and brilliantly announces the kind of ‘simple done well’ beauty that one can expect when opening the bottle.

They’ve taken ‘Chalky’ quite literally, and made the bottle and its gift box look like… well.. Chalk. But they’ve done it with stunning accuracy and still managed to weave the signature Clouet label branding through.

It’s sleek, minimalist, and draws the eye with its sheer modesty and sophistication. Frankly, we can’t imagine a situation where this bottle wouldn’t look divine. It’s the ideal bridal Champagne (imagine the wedding photos!) or celebratory tipple at any event. Little black dress? How about little white champagne…