Champagne Henri Giraud, a boutique champagne house, lies at the heart of the Champagne region in France. The house is a part of the Aÿ commune, known as “the kingdom of pinot noir”, and one of the 17 rare villages in the whole region recognized as Grand Cru. Champagne Henri Giraud has been run by the generations of the Giraud family, as its current owner, Claude Giraud, took over from his father Henri in 1983. Today, the house produces 250,000 bottles of the finest champagne, guided by principles of sustainability, connection to nature, and the complex ideas of the eternity and fragility of the natural world.
“MAKING NATURE BETTER FOR NEXT GENERATION”
Henri Giraud’s chef de cave Sébastien Le Golvet has worked with Claude for over 20 years, inheriting from him the love for winemaking and internalizing his vision for Champagne Henri Giraud. Sébastien talks about the ideals that inform the winemaking process at Henri Giraud, influenced by the unique terroir of Aÿ and close connection to the Argonne Forest.
Aÿ Terroir and Argonne Forest: A Unique Duo
“I was born in Aÿ, and I have a passion for the terroir. When you taste the wine from Aÿ, the first thing you notice is saltiness, a unique note, which is followed by the fruitiness of pinot noir,” Sébastien notes.
The champagne house is located in close connection to the historic Argonne Forest. The winemakers at Henri Giraud have long placed this proximity at the centre of the champagne production at the house. According to Sébastien Le Golvet, the marriage between the terroir of Aÿ and the oak barrels originating from the forest results in “a meeting of these two alive environments”.
“It is an incredible atmosphere. It is magic,” he says. Sébastien acknowledges, however, that this is a challenging thing to achieve for a winemaker, but the outcome always exceeds all expectations.
“The most difficult thing is to find the right time and place to organize a meeting of these two terroirs. But when you know the right time and the right place, you can do a lot of things, everything is in front of you,” says Sébastien.
“At Giraud, we like to express two terroirs. It is a conjunction.”
The connection between the terroir and the forest is at the very foundation of Champagne Henri Giraud’s philosophy. The idea of duality is expressed in the branding of the Henri Giraud champagne: the trademark of the house is the letter “G” with two dots on top – “one is the terroir of Aÿ, one is the terroir of Argonne”, Sébastien explains.
Preserving the forest
The connection of winemakers at Champagne Henri Giraud to the Argonne Forest is far from commercial. The forest is recognized as an integral part of the champagne creation process at the house. Several generations at Henri Giraud have worked to restore the forest, damaged by the battles of World War I and later used by coopers to manufacture wine barrels. According to Sébastien Le Golvet, up until the 1950s, no one was taking care of the forest, which was being exploited by over 150 coopers for barrel-making at the time. Today, the number of coopers working in the Argonne Forest has come down to zero.
“Both Aÿ Grand Cru and the Argonne Forest, we have to make sure we take care of them, to make nature better for the next generation, compared to what we have received.”
Sébastien emphasises that, at Henri Giraud, the oak barrels are made using the old trees from the Argonne Forest in the most sustainable way possible. Sébastien himself is heavily involved in selecting the trees for the barrels.
“I do not use the words “cut the tree”. I am collecting the trees because nature gives us the trees. When I collect the trees, I select the old ones that can provide enough space for the new generations of trees to grow,” – he explains.
In 2013, Henri Giraud launched the “Save the Argonne Forest” program in cooperation with the French National Forest Office (ONF), the purpose of which was to replant the forest. As part of the program, over 45,000 new trees have been planted in the Argonne Forest so far.
The scale of the program’s impact is incomparable to the number of trees collected by Henri Giraud winemakers to produce barrels. “Until now, probably in the last 30 years, we have collected around 1,500 trees. At the same time, we have already replanted 45,000 trees – 30 times more than collected,” – concludes Sébastien.
“Eternal, yet fragile”
Champagne Henri Giraud’s connection to the natural landscape of the region is intertwined with the idea of eternity as another key element of the philosophy of the house.
The symbolism is expressed in the design of the Henri Giraud champagne bottles – a characteristic golden square made by skilled craftsmen by hand. “To create the foil, a special technique is used. Very few people can make it,” – says Sébastien.
Sébastien explains that the golden square represents the idea of eternity and longevity of the Henri Giraud champagnes, as well as reflects the fragility of the surrounding natural world: “The gold is the eternity. The gold foil can be preserved for a very long time, but if you scratch it, you will destroy it. It’s the same with nature: it is forever, but it is very fragile. And we need to take care of it.”