Long the quietest member of the Champagne blend, Pinot Meunier is charming, character-filled and finally coming into its own.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s the historically disregarded third grape of a Champagne blend, obscured by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the variety Grandes Marques producers only reluctantly admit to using.\r\n\r\nBut now, along the length of the Marne Valley, from \u00c9pernay west toward Ch\u00e2teau-Thierry, Pinot Meunier (or just Meunier, as producers call it) makes remarkable Champagnes with a character and quality all its own. It\u2019s the Cinderella grape that\u2019s beginning to reveal itself in all its beauty.\r\n\r\n\u201cMeunier can give wines that are so fresh, with a winning combination of fruit and minerality,\u201d says Fanny Heucq, joint manager with her father, Andr\u00e9, of Champagne Andr\u00e9 Heucq in Cuisles. \u201cAt its best, it can produce Champagnes that have fruity complexity, peaches, green apples along with this tension.\u201d\r\n\r\nWith more of these quality Meunier-driven bottlings coming from growers, they want the world to know. Read on to learn more about how this oft-overlooked grape made its way to the spotlight.\r\n\r\n\r\nThe Horse-Drawn Problem\r\nIn the past, when horses pulled the wagons carrying grapes, one problem for big producers in \u00c9pernay and Reims was the distance from Meunier vineyards.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt was too far to avoid problems with grape damage,\u201d says Eric Taillet of Champagne Eric Taillet in Baslieux-sous-Ch\u00e2tillon and founder of the Meunier Institut. \u201cPeople in the grand cellars thought little of the Meunier, even though they had to use it to make up quantity in the blend.\u201d\r\n\r\nNow, perhaps due to climate change, Meunier\u2019s virtues overcome prejudice. This is largely thanks to the emergence of its Marne Valley growers. Historically, they sold their fruit to the Champagne houses, but now they\u2019ve found the confidence to make their own Champagnes, which show Meunier\u2019s true colors.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s finally possible to put Meunier-only or Meunier-dominant Champagnes in your glass. And they\u2019re worth the effort to seek out.\r\n\u201cPeople in the grand cellars thought little of the Meunier, even though they had to use it to make up quantity in the blend.\u201d \u2013Eric Taillet, founder, Meunier Institut and Champagne Eric Taillet\r\nGosset is an unlikely source, a house that specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However, in 2007, as its cellarmaster, Odilon de Varine, tasted the new wines, he found a batch of Meunier from vineyards around \u00c9pernay that, \u201chad impressive elegance and finesse,\u201d he says. \u201cI decided it would be interesting to turn this batch into a 100% Meunier wine.\u201d\r\n\r\nAnd so, Gosset produced 5,000 bottles of 2007 Grand Blanc de Meunier; the vintage was released in 2018.\r\n\r\nThe wine broke many Meunier myths. After 12 years, it was still fresh and aromatic, just touched with honey, dispelling common wisdom that Meunier cannot age.\r\n\r\nIt also had a complex, dense texture that started with fruit and ended with minerality. Another legend gone: that Meunier only makes simple Champagnes.\r\n\r\nGosset Meunier was a one-off, but it\u2019s an inspiration for great lovers of Champagne.\r\n\r\n\r\nIn Search of the Marne\u2019s Meunier\r\n\u00c9pernay, the self-proclaimed capital of Champagne, is at the focal point of the three traditional Champagne vineyards. To the southeast, the chalk slopes of the C\u00f4te des Blancs are home to great Chardonnays. To the north, the bulk of the Montagne de Reims, which has forest on the summit and vineyards on its slopes, produces great Pinot Noir.\r\n\r\nThe Marne Valley stretches to the west of \u00c9pernay. Its vineyards follow the Marne river from the city, beyond Ch\u00e2teau-Thierry, 30 miles away. Only 60 miles away sits Central Paris.\r\n\r\nThis is Meunier\u2019s natural home, where the grape shows its true colors. It likes the mix of clay and chalk slopes along the Marne as it winds lazily toward its confluence with the Seine on the edge of Paris. Side valleys, the Belval and the Flagot, add to the array of exposures and slopes that inspire the vineyards.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe region is cooler than the C\u00f4te des Blancs and the Montagne de Reims, with a disposition for damaging spring frosts. Meunier, which starts its spring cycle late, is less likely to be affected.\r\n\r\nThere\u2019s dynamism in these vineyards and the string of villages that lie along the valleys. Just as growers elsewhere in Champagne have made their own mark with family brands, so have those based here.\r\n\r\nIn Cerseuil, J\u00e9r\u00f4me Dehours, of Champagne Dehours et Fils, is one of them. A man of many words, he\u2019s passionate about Meunier and has 40 tiny parcels clustered around his cellar.\r\n\r\nHe talks about the need to handle Meunier carefully. \u201cMeunier is the most difficult grape in Champagne to work, but when it is treated correctly, it can give beautiful Champagnes,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nHis Terre de Meunier, a nonvintage from several of his parcels, is an explosion of floral aromas and white fruits, along with a finely balanced, taught texture. Like many Meunier Champagnes, the fruit is there at the start, while the minerality comes in subtly at the end.\r\n\r\n\r\nDrilling Down into Meunier Land\r\nDehours has started to produce single-parcel wines in small quantities, like his Genevraux and La Croix Joly. This is the next logical step in the celebration of Meunier: to bring the grape and the terroir together in one bottle.\r\n\r\nHeucq, in her series of parcel wines, Hommage Parcellaire, is another example. The grapes are grown biodynamically, which gives intensity and concentration that reinforces her conviction that Meunier can \u201cmake a great wine.\u201d\r\n\r\nMeuniers to Try\r\nThese grower Champagnes can be hard to come by stateside, so keep an eye out for these bottles.\r\n\r\nBaron-Fuent\u00e9 NV Grand R\u00e9serve Brut\r\nB\u00e9r\u00eache & Fils NV Rive Gauche\r\nDehours et Fils NV Grand R\u00e9serve Brut\r\nH. Blin NV Ros\u00e9 de Saign\u00e9e Edition Limit\u00e9e Extra-Brut\r\nLaherte Freres NV Ros\u00e9 de Meunier Extra Brut\r\nLelarge-Pugeot NV Les Meuniers de Cl\u00e9mence\r\nDaniel Falala, director of the H. Blin cooperative in Vincelles, follows that conviction, but with a twist. He talks more about villages and crus, rather than parcels, to emphasize the quality of certain places over others. He believes Vincelles, with its semicircular slope of vineyards, makes great Meunier Champagnes.\r\n\r\n\u201cAll our grapes come from a radius of three miles,\u201d he says. \u201cThat gives our Champagnes a distinctive taste and consistency.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe idea of distinct villages in the Marne Valley is new, he believes.\r\n\r\n\u201cBefore it was just the Marne Valley, without any differentiation,\u201d says Falala. \u201cNow we can identify individual villages characters. Vincelles is on the north bank of the Marne with its floral, fruity wines that have great freshness. J\u00e9r\u00f4me Dehours\u2019s village of Cerseuil, on the cooler south bank, produces wines that have greater finesse and lightness.\u201d\r\n\r\nVillages and individual parcels are two ways to tell the world that Meunier is as much a grape of terroir as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. You can find variations in fruitiness, texture and tension depending on where the grape is planted, its exposure and how high up the slope the vines are planted.\r\n\r\nIf you tell a Meunier grower that this is all very Burgundian, he or she will thank you. Then they will walk to two tanks and point out that these two very different wines came from parcels that sit just a short distance apart.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThat\u2019s exactly what happened with Alexandre Salmon, at Champagne Salmon in Chaumuzy, just out of the Marne Valley proper. As he tastes vins clairs, or young wines, that just finished their first fermentation and weren\u2019t yet bottled, he points to the vineyards.\r\n\r\n\u201cOne is just behind the house, the other is over there behind those trees,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nThe differences were obvious. One was full and round in character, the other floral and crisp, the distance between the vines only a matter of yards.\r\n\r\nThe epoch of Meunier as just the third workhorse grape in Champagne is over. Now is the time to search out wines from these producers and many others and give the variety its rightful, equal and distinctive place in the firmament of Champagne.