Benefits of the Beneficio system of the Douro last week touched on by Xoel Cantero Alvarez, Blake Leja, Jeremy Eubanks and Mark Shipway. Obrigado!
This week: Clos du Mesnil
Tell us its history. Where is it located? What are the soils like? Who makes it? What is the current release? What was the first vintage? What grapes is it composed of? Should I ask another question?
Krug’s first single vineyard wine. This wine is 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from the renowned Clos du Mesnil vineyard within the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côtes de Blancs, which the family acquired in 1971.
They started to carefully restore the vineyard to its previous glory by replanting the Chardonnay vines one section at a time. By 1979 the vintage had achieved the quality Krug was aiming for and was therefore the first vintage of the Krug Clos du Mesnil. The production of the Blanc de Blancs Clos du Mesnil is around 12,000 bottles and the current release is 2004.
The Clos du Mesnil is an exception to the Krug rule of blending.
This historic vineyard has been enclosed by a stone wall since 1698 and is set on a southeast-facing slope and is sheltered from the weather by its wall and surrounding houses.
The soils are chalky with marine fossils and a sub-layer of limestone soil known as "Kimmeridgian".
It, along with Phillopannat's Clos des Goisses (the first single vineyard Champagne), helped promote and legitimize the thought of terroir driven sparkling wines from a single site. When a producer such as Krug, with the history and artistry of blending using so many reserve wines, makes a single vineyard Champagne it opens the flood gates for many more to come. Krug compares Clos du Mesnil to a great soloist while their Grand Cuvee is a symphony. Not one better than the other; simply different.
Another interesting point--the Clos du Mesnil cuvee came to be due to Krug's practice of aging the wines from each parcel that they contract separately. Year after year, they found that the wine from the Clos du Mesnil to be of exceptional quality that stood apart from the rest of the parcels, leading to their first foray into monoparcel Champagne.
While they only produce Clos du Mesnil in exceptional years, it's easier to list the vintages not produced since 1979. No Clos du Mesnil was not produced in 1984, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1997 (Salon's production this year makes Krug's decision curious), 1999, and 2001. Also, the 2003 was released prior to the 2002.
To keep their blending philosophy somewhat alive, they vinify this small vineyard in six different lots. It's a bit of a stretch to think that this is anything more than a gimmick with such a small homogeneous area, though, which is probably why they don't talk about it much.
Little known fun fact: Krug actually did make Clos du Mesnil in 1999, but they decided at the last minute not to release it after the last tasting before labelling. It will never be sold, and not all of it has been disgorged but I tasted a bottle at the maison in 2017.
As usual, some excellent points already covered in the comment stream on this topic. What I find is to be an interesting is that Krug only acquired Clos du Mesnil in 1971 (previously known as Clos Tarin, owned by Moet et Chandon then Salon) and blended it into the Grande Cuvée until 1979. This not that interesting fact in itself other than any possible motivation by Krug to release Clos du Mesnil as a mono-parcel champagne. The vineyard site itself measures only 1.84 ha in area and is located completely within the heart of the commune of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger (c.f. Clos des Goisses at 5.5 ha). The special attributes of Clos du Mesnil are firstly, the high reaching intact Clos (original records state there was a wall in 1698) that completely surrounds and increases the average growing season temperature within the vineyard compared to surrounding plots in any given year. Secondly Clos du Mesnil is a very tiny vineyard which allows not only high attention to detail in viticulture but also micro plot vinification and highly selective blending. Finally (and arguably most significantly), Clos du Mesnil is a monopole and subsequent lack of any competition in producing this vineyard together with the relatively small volumes released basically means Krug can charge whatever price they want for it (which they do).
So is Clos du Mesnil a great (producer driven) champagne? yes.
Is Clos du Mesnil a truly great vineyard that can perform every year in the same way as a great terroir like Clos des Goisses? Highly questionable...
Does Clos du Mesnil offer the same quality to price as say Pierre Peters Chetillons? Um.. Answers on a postcard please!