By Linden Wilkie, 22 September 2022
The usual story amongst the smaller Champagne estates is that a family has been farming for generations, selling fruit to the large Champagne marques. But not here. Maxime Ullens, a young architect from Belgium, arrived in Champagne in 2012, and built up his land holdings from scratch. He attended wine school in Avize, and made his first harvest in 2016. Unconstrained by any tradition, Champagne Ullens is the product of his intellect and passion. So rare is it to create something in Champagne from scratch that the authorities would only let him commence work on his own winery after five vintages in an existing facility (we met him in the old Ayala Champagne facility that he has been using in the meantime).
Currently at 30,000 bottle annual production in Hermonville in the Massif de Saint-Thierry at Champagne’s northern limit, Max has a long-term vision to build a true Champagne “Maison”. Small grower estates typically make their nominally “non-vintage” Champagnes almost exclusively on the base vintage each year, but here at Ullens the goal is to build up the reserve wines to blend for a consistent house style expression.
Great care is taken in the primary fermentation – all in oak barrels, without lees stirring. The flat sides of the barrels are made of glass rather than wood (“These barrels ends are usually not toasted as well as the staves, and can give a greenness to the wine that I don’t want, so I use glass ends”). Wood for the barrels comes from the Domaine de Marzilly’s own oak forest.
“We are making a more concentrated, structured Champagne, with tension, rather than the typical light style of Champagne”. Named by wine guide Gault & Millau their winemaker of the year in 2020, Maxime Ullens is one to watch.
There are two Champagnes – Brut, 80% Pinot Meunier, 20% Chardonnay and around 4g/l dosage, is a lively Champagne with richness and fine fruit, crisp and well-balanced. ‘L.P.M.’ (La Petite Montagne) is 100% Pinot Meunier, 2.4g/l dosage, and is in a similar style, really fragrant with fuji apple-like aromas. We also have a tiny quantity of still white wine from 100% Pinot Meunier grapes – the 2019 Côteaux Champenois. Only 245 bottles and 75 magnums were produced.