Over 30 years, Erick De Sousa of Champagne De Sousa has refined the best of traditional thinking and progressive methods to revitalise, transform and grow the estate to become one of the finest on the Côte des Blancs. Production has increased to 85,000 bottles annually and vineyard holdings have grown to 42 plots spanning 9.5 hectares, including 2.5 hectares of coveted old vines in Avize, Cramant and Oger. With the exception of his entry Brut Tradition, every vineyard source is grand cru, with 70% of vines over 40 years of age and a significant percentage 50-60 years old. Some planted by his grandfather are more than 80 years old.
The roots of these old vines plunge deep into the soil, even as far as 30-40 metres into the chalk. Here they extract the salts and trace elements that are fundamental to the structure of these wines.
Erick regards his work in the vineyards as the key to the quality of the grapes. Respect for the vine and the earth is paramount, and he spent a decade converting the domaine to biodynamic viticulture, with full certification granted in 2010. The soil is ploughed for ventilation and to restore microbial life, with a horse in some vineyards.
Fruit from vines older than 50 years is fermented in small oak barrels, with regular batonnage to enhance depth and breadth. He has used about 15% new barrels for his top cuvées. Fruit flavours always take precedence over oak flavours and texture is enhanced, amplifying minerality and definition. The first fermentation is initiated with natural yeasts, and all wines pass through malolactic fermentation. Sulphur dioxide is used sparingly.
The 200-year-old cellars under the house run 800 metres directly beneath the square in the middle of the village. Here, the old method of poignettage is practised, in which autolytic flavours are enhanced by shaking the bottles by hand to stir up the lees. Bottles are also riddled by hand.
De Sousa’s substantial and diverse portfolio is growing with the introduction of tiny production cuvées like Umami and Mychorize. The recent unveiling of a Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs and Rosé de Saignée are stunning first attempts, showing the masterful dexterity of this estate far beyond the realm of mineral rich blanc de blancs.
With the decision to phase out their Zoemie de Sousa brand, the status of a more streamlined De Sousa has changed to Négociant-Manipulant with purchased grapes now included in some cuvées.
De Sousa has risen to a rightful place among Champagne’s greatest producers under Erick’s visionary guidance over the past quarter century. Now ably assisted by his three children, Charlotte, Julie and Valentin, all of whom have completed degrees at the local wine school.