Vilmart & Cie Champagne is just south of Riems. It was established in the late 19th century by Desire Vilmart and has remained in the family ever since. Vilmart owns 28 acres of Premier Cru vineyards near the village of Rilly. The vineyards are planted to 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. The estate makes a full range of vintage and non-vintage Champagne. Reviewers give Vilmart Champagnes high marks. Wine Advocate has written that “Proprietor Laurent Champs makes some of the most elegant, refined wines in Champagne. All of the wines are aged in oak…Few producers have been able to find such impeccable balance using oak…simply put, these are majestic wines that no one who loves fine Champagne will want to be without.”
Champagne is a small, beautiful wine growing region northeast of Paris whose famous name is misused a million times a day. As wine enthusiasts and all French people are well aware, only sparkling wines produced in Champagne from grapes grown in Champagne can be called Champagne. Sparkling wines produced anywhere else, including in other parts of France, must be called something besides Champagne. Champagne producers are justifiably protective of their wines and the prestige associated with true Champagne. Though the region was growing grapes and making wines in ancient times, it began specializing in sparkling wine in the 17th century, when a Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Pérignon formulated a set guidelines to improve the quality of the local sparkling wines. Despite legends to the contrary, Dom Pérignon did not “invent” sparkling wine, but his rules about aggressive pruning, small yields and multiple pressings of the grapes were widely adopted, and by the 18th and 19th centuries Champagne had become the wine of choice in fashionable courts and palaces throughout Europe. Today there are 75,000 acres of vineyards in Champagne growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Champagne’s official appellation system classifies villages as Grand Cru or Premier Cru, though there are also many excellent Champagnes that simply carry the regional appellation. Along with well-known international Champagne houses there are numerous so-called “producer Champagnes,” meaning wines made by families who, usually for several or more generations, have worked their own vineyards and produced Champagne only from their own grapes.