According to Michael Edwards in his book The Finest Wines of Champagne, Henri Giraud is “one of the most engaging and interesting producers in Champagne.” We wholeheartedly agree! Over the past three decades, under the control of the extremely capable Claude Giraud, this house has exploded onto the scene and has taken its deserving place amongst the top grower-producers in Champagne. Henri Giraud is the only house currently using local oak from the Argonne forest. Their wines are sumptuous, substantial and significant.
71 Boulevard Charles de Gaulle, Ay +33 3 26 55 18 55
The Henri Giraud wines are rich and voluptuous. The oak is obvious but not obtrusive, and the character of the fruit provides a depth and intensity to the flavours and mouthfeel.
Henri Giraud Esprit
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay with 20-30% reserve wines. This non-vintage cuvee is soft, fruity and bursting with aromas. It is fermented in stainless steel and spends a year on the lees. Dosage is around 9g/L.
Henri Giraud Esprit Rose
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, of which 8% is oak-aged red wine from Ay. The base wine is the same as the Esprit blanc and is also fermented in stainless steel.
Henri Giraud Esprit Blanc de Blancs
100% Chardonnay. A recent addition to the range, this non-vintage wine uses Chardonnay from the Montagne de Reims. The wine is mostly fermented in tank, with the addition of about 10% barrel fermented Ay Chardonnay.
Henri Giraud Hommage a Francois Hemart
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru village of Ay. The wine starts out in stainless steel for six months on the lees and then spends another six months in barrel, giving it both fresh and rich characters.
Henri Giraud Code Noir
100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir from Ay. This vintage wine was first produced in 2003. It is aged for 12 months in Argonne oak barrels and the dosage is typically around 9g/L.
Henri Giraud Code Noir Rose
100% Pinot Noir vinified the same way as the Code Noir with the addition of 10% red wine, also from Ay.
Henri Giraud Fut de Chene
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay from the best parcels of the estate’s Grand Cru vineyards in Ay. This prestige cuvee is fermented in Argonne oak barrels and perfectly embodies the Giraud philosophy, with its layered richness.
Henri Giraud Coteaux Champenois Blanc
100% Grand Cru Ay Chardonnay. First made in 2005, this exceptional non-sparkling white wine is vinified in new oak, but not from the Argonne forest, as it was not the best complement for this wine. Quality versions of white Coteaux Champenois are rare, and Peter Liem proclaims: “I am hard pressed to think of one finer than Giraud’s.” (champagneguide.net)
Henri Giraud Ratafia
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. Ratafia is a blend of grape must and ‘marc’ (distilled grape pomace). At Giraud, they age theirs in a solera-style ‘perpetual cuvee’.
At the beginning of the 20th century Leon Giraud married Madeleine Hemart, whose Ay ancestors date back to the 17th century. She is a direct descendant of Francois Hemart, who is considered to be the founder of house. Together, Madeleine and Leon reestablished thriving vineyards after the phylloxera epidemic, and their son Henri (namesake of the house) continued the development and expansion of their land after the devastation of World War II.
Claude Giraud, Henri’s son, took over in 1983 and transformed practices at the house, substantially improving the character and quality of the wines, which in turn has rapidly raised their reputation. Despite the long family history, the house seems like a relative newcomer amongst the celebrated vignerons.
Henri Giraud was originally registered as a ‘recoltant manipulant’ (grower producer), but in 1975 was recertified as a negociant so that they could buy in a portion of grapes for their entry level wine, Esprit.
In January of 2012, Claude Giraud began work to construct a new winery and transport facility in Ay. The facility is the base for a new arm of the business, Giraud Distribution, supplying hotels and restaurants with wine and champagne.
All 9 hectares of Henri Giraud vineyards are located in the Grand Cru village of Ay. They are planted with 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, which is the same percentage that makes up the blend of most of the wines. The estate vineyards do not supply their entire production needs so they purchase grapes as well.
The grapes are pneumatically pressed and then undergo a relatively extended period of cold-settling at 10˚C, which Claude says aids in better clarification of the musts as well as the enhancement of aromas. Stainless steel tanks as well as oak barrels are used for fermentation, depending on the desired style of the finished wines, and all the cuvees go through malolactic fermentation.
Interestingly, Claude experimented with many different types of oak from different regions, but has found the best wood comes from a local source – the Argonne forest, just 80km east of Ay. The forest is near the small town of Sainte Menehould, the birthplace of Claude’s grandmother, and has proven through many trials to produce oak wonderfully suited for champagne. The champagne barrels of the 19th century were all sourced here, but this wood had not been used for many years until Claude rediscovered it, with the help of a good friend and experienced cooper, Camille Gauthier. He underwent the process of certifying the wood for use in winemaking, and now vinifies about one-third of his production in 228L Argonne oak pieces. Giraud is the only house in Champagne to use the oak from the Argonne forest.
Every year Giraud undertakes research into the terroir of the Argonne forest (just as Chateau Latour does in the Troncais forest). In an article in Decanter in April 2013 (“Maison Giraud urges Champagne industry to use local oak”), Giraud winemaker Sebastien le Golvet explained: “Forests have a terroir, like vines. Today many big houses use barrels, but they are from Burgundy or Bordeaux barrel makers, and are sourced without traceability or provenance. We work with the forestry commission, choose our plots, season them for three years, and then record the effect of each plot on our Pinot and Chardonnay, depending on vintage. The subsoils have an extraordinary impact on the texture and structure of the wine. We want to get this type of information out to others. To have real traceability of the barrels can only help increase the reputation of Champagne.”