The C\u00f4te des Bar is Champagne\u2019s laboratory. Everywhere you look, growers are experimenting with new blends and techniques, often out of sheer curiosity and always with plenty of conviction.\r\n\r\nA revival of historic grape varieties, organic and biodynamic practices, single-vineyard wines, egg-shaped tanks, amphorae, soleras\u2014it\u2019s all here. Even big companies get in on the fun.\r\n\r\nThe C\u00f4te des Bar is in the Aube department, which is the southernmost region for Champagne production and the biggest hemp grower in Europe. Grapes are the No. 2 crop of the Aube, and they\u2019ve long been a major source for the producers of Reims and Epernay, especially Pinot Noir. Increasingly, however, growers are releasing their own Champagne labels.\r\n\r\nBar-sur-Aube and Bar-sur-Seine, including its heart of Les Riceys, are landscapes of river valleys and steep slopes that support vines planted on the same Kimmeridgian soil as Chablis. It could be part of Burgundy, and, in fact, Chablis is closer than Epernay and Reims. But this is Champagne. Confident in what they make and not afraid to push boundaries, these producers with rebellious streaks are out to create excitement. They\u2019re succeeding.\r\n\r\n\r\nArnaud Gallimard\r\nCelebrating Pinot Noir\r\nPinot Noir is the key to Gallimard Cham\u00adpagnes, according to Arnaud Gallimard. The 28-year-old son of wine\u00admaker Didier Gallimard, Arnaud travels the world to promote and sell the 150,000 bottles the house produces each year from the family\u2019s 29 acres.\r\n\r\nLes Riceys in Bar-sur-Seine, where the Gallimards call home, is Pinot Noir central. The mix of clay and chalk in the soil of the rolling wood-topped hills around the village is well-suited to the variety.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe are surrounded by Pinot Noir,\u201d says Arnaud. \u201cIt\u2019s 90% of what we grow. We have been able to perfect it.\u201d\r\n\r\nOf course, subject to the experimentation that seems to be endemic in the Aube, the Gallimards have four amphorae they brought from Tuscany in 2014.\r\n\r\nEven the house\u2019s nonvintage cuv\u00e9es are not quite what they seem\u2014Gallimard foregoes the typical blending system and instead makes two Cuv\u00e9e R\u00e9serves.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe didn\u2019t have a style of wine in mind,\u201d he says. \u201cWe just wanted to see what would happen.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe result was Cuv\u00e9e Amphoressence Brut Nature. Bone-dry and aged six months in amphora, it fills out the freshness of the Pinot Noir with an oxidative richness.\r\n\r\nWhen it came to creating a ros\u00e9 Champagne, the house didn\u2019t choose between the two typical production methods for the style. Usually, producers gain color either through the addition of red wine or from the red grape\u2019s skins through a process known as saign\u00e9e.\r\n\r\nInstead, they blend the two techniques and add 20% Chardonnay planted on pure chalk sites in the vineyard, which Arnaud says, \u201cgive us a wonderful aromatic quality.\u201d\r\n\r\nEven the house\u2019s standard nonvintage cuv\u00e9es are not quite what they seem. Champagne Gallimard foregoes the typical blending system and instead makes two Cuv\u00e9e R\u00e9serves, one 100% Chardonnay and one 100% Pinot Noir.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe want to bring out the terroir in each grape variety,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\n\r\nOlivier Horiot\r\nExperimenter-in-Chief\r\nOlivier Horiot is 45, but when it comes to winemaking, he\u2019s like a kid in a candy store. He can\u2019t stop trying new things.\r\n\r\n\u201cI like experiments,\u201d says Horiot. \u201cI like to try things out. It\u2019s so much fun.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe may be in Champagne, but for Horiot, still wines came first.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen I took over in 1999 from my father, Serge, I only made still wines, Coteaux Champenois and Ros\u00e9 des Riceys,\u201d he says. \u201cI didn\u2019t make Champagnes until 2004.\u201d\r\n\r\nHoriot now makes Champagnes, including some from rare varieties that have almost disappeared, like Arbane. His 100% Arbane Champagne is, fittingly, called Cuv\u00e9e Arbane. Next year, he will highlight Pinot Gris.\r\n\r\nAnother of his Champagnes, 5 Sens, is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Arbane.\r\n\r\nWhile still wines came first, Horiot now makes Champagnes, including some from rare varieties that have almost disappeared.\r\n\r\n\u201cI am attempting to understand my vineyards, so I make single-variety wines to see how they relate to the land,\u201d says Horiot. \u201cIf I was commercial, I would only be making three wines.\u201d At last count, he makes eight.\r\n\r\nBut it\u2019s Ros\u00e9 des Riceys that fascinates him most. This dark-colored ros\u00e9 made from Pinot Noir, almost like a light red wine, has had its own appellation for just over 70 years.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe vinify the grapes on the skins until the tannins start tasting,\u201d he says. \u201cThen we stop because we want a soft wine.\u201d Despite that, it can also age. Currently, Horiot sells the 2013 vintage.\r\n\r\nOf course, there are more plans for the future of the house. He wants the estate to become a polyculture, with other plants and cows for the biodynamic mixes he uses.\r\n\r\nThe next time you find a bottle of Horiot\u2019s wines, maybe his single-\u00advineyard S\u00e8ve, his M\u00e9tisse or the Sol\u00e9ra, just consider what marvelous wonder he might create next.\r\n\r\n\r\nNathalie Falmet\r\nMerging Passion and Science\r\n\u201cI can\u2019t talk until after four,\u201d says Nathalie Falmet when asked when would be a good time. \u201cI\u2019ll be out in the vines.\u201d\r\n\r\nFalmet, 50, is a trained chemist who not only manages her namesake Champagne house, but also runs her own laboratory as a consulting enologist. While her background provides insight into the full range of winemaking techniques, it\u2019s her eight-acre vineyard that\u2019s her true passion.\r\n\r\nAfter inheriting the plot from her parents who sold grapes to the local cooperative, she released her first Champagnes in 2009. She now spends 90% of her time on her wines.\r\n\r\nBut the chemist in Falmet hasn\u2019t gone away. In the tiny winery behind her house in Rouvres-les-Vignes in Bar-sur-Aube, she has an amphora because, \u201cI wanted to understand the vortex effect on the lees inside a traditional amphora shape.\u201d\r\n\r\nFalmet says it explains why amphora-fermented wines have so much richness and intensity, and how they get the oxidative effect of wood fermentation.\r\n\r\nGreat attention to detail is in line with her winemaking style, which is to best express terroir in her Champagnes.\r\n\r\nThis attention to detail is in line with her winemaking style, which is to best express terroir in her Champagnes.\r\n\r\n\u201cI want to put the year, the grape variety and the terroir in my wines,\u201d she says. \u201cI want to put the exchange between the Kimmeridgian chalk soil and the grapes into what I produce, and then I want to celebrate the difference the year brings.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile a vintage label is, in Falmet\u2019s opinion, \u201cjust a bureaucratic declaration,\u201d many of her wines, such as her single-vineyard Le Val Cornet, come from a single year.\r\n\r\nFor those that don\u2019t, Falmet employs a solera system, operated since 2008. It\u2019s a perpetual reserve that\u2019s replenished each year and drawn down for her nonvintage Brut, which represents the bulk of her annual output of 30,000 bottles.\r\n\r\nBut there will always be smaller-run offerings like her single-variety releases, each which amount to around 100 bottles.\r\n\r\n\u201cI love to do different things,\u201d she says. \u201cI adore making new wines.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nMichel Drappier\r\nProtecting the Future\r\nChampagne Drappier is the heavy hitter of the C\u00f4te des Bar. Founded in 1808, the firm is based in Bar-sur-Aube.\r\n\r\nNow 60 years old, Chief Executive and Winemaker Michel Drappier has been in the business since he was 15. His three children, Charline, Hugo and Antoine, represent the family firm\u2019s eighth generation. The family holds about 135 acres of vineyards, with about 120 more under contract, throughout the Aube and the Marne to the north.\r\n\r\nHistory is what\u2019s on Drappier\u2019s mind. Vineyards in Urville, his home village, date to the 12th century, when Saint Bernard of Clairvaux brought Pinot Noir from Burgundy.\r\n\r\nDrappier\u2019s Grande Sendr\u00e9e reflects the balance between the preservation of history and forward thinking.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis was [the heart of] Champagne at the time,\u201d says Drappier. The region\u2019s capital city back then was Troyes, not Reims. About 35 miles away from Urville, Troyes was where the Counts of Champagne lived.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe Aube is the original Champagne vineyard,\u201d he says. \u201cAnd we have stayed faithful to Saint Bernard and his Pinot Noir ever since.\u201d\r\n\r\nDrappier is known for rare large bottles and special cuv\u00e9es. Quattuor is a blend of Arbane, Petit Meslier, Blanc Vrai (a.k.a. Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay. Meanwhile, Cuv\u00e9e Charles de Gaulle, made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, commemorates the former French president\u2019s preference to serve the style at his home in nearby Colombey-les-deux-\u00c9glises.\r\n\r\nDrappier\u2019s Grande Sendr\u00e9e is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that reflects the balance between the preservation of history and forward thinking.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cIt comes from a vineyard that was planted on a south-facing slope after a massive fire destroyed both the local forest and the village of Urville,\u201d says Drappier. Part of it is now made in an egg-shaped wooden fermenter, introduced for the 2012 vintage.\r\n\r\nIndeed, the future is underway here. The winery became 100% carbon neutral in 2018, an effort that was bolstered by solar and wind power. Biodynamic vineyards, limited sulfur use and even electric tractors work to the greater good of the environment.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen we had children and then grandchildren, we wanted to protect their health,\u201d says Drappier. \u201cIt is our investment for the next generations.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nJean-Christophe Gremillet\r\nCreating a New Tradition\r\nForty years is not a long time in the history of a Champagne house that produces a half-million bottles per year. Yet, the ascent of the Gremillet family in such a period has been impressive.\r\n\r\nAnd it is a family affair. Jean-Christophe Gremillet, 44, is winemaker and president of the company. His sister Anne, 38, is director general in charge of marketing, while his 63-year-old father, Jean-Michel, looks after the vines.\r\n\r\nFor Jean-Christophe, it\u2019s winemaking that he loves. \u201cMy favorite moment is when I draw the wine from the tanks after fermentation,\u201d he says. \u201cThen I can really see the full potential of that year.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe Gremillets are planners, evolving from tiny vineyard owners to grower-n\u00e9gociants in just a few decades.\r\n\r\nWhile the family has a history of grape growing, \u201clooking back, it seems like destiny,\u201d says Anne Gremillet. \u201cWhen my grandmother, Lulu, bought just under an acre of vines in 1978...there was no thought that we would have 103 acres today.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe family is proud of Lulu\u2019s heritage in their Bar-sur-Seine community of Les Riceys. The region is capable of producing wines under three appellations: Champagne, Coteaux Champenois still wine and the local specialty of Ros\u00e9 des Riceys.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe are always looking for freshness,\u201d he says to describe the Champagnes he produces. The one exception in the house\u2019s range of seven Champagnes is Cuv\u00e9e \u00c9vidence. It\u2019s lightly wooded and boasts a more pronounced yeasty character than the other wines.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThen there\u2019s the new baby, the Clos Rocher single vineyard. Planted to three-and-a-half acres of Pinot Noir, this walled, organically cultivated vineyard is a first for Les Riceys. Named after an ancestor, a new single-vineyard cuv\u00e9e was made in 2013 and is set to be released this year.\r\n\r\nThe Gremillets are planners, evolving from tiny vineyard owners to grower-n\u00e9gociants in just a few decades. They planted an arboretum with trees from many of the countries where the family sells Champagnes, and they buy grapes from the rest of Champagne, including Chardonnay from the C\u00f4te des Blancs.\r\n\r\nThe future seems bright for this young Champagne superstar.