Goodbye, Champagne Salon
Salon, it’s been good to know you
If you should come across a 750mL bottle of Champagne Salon vintage 2008, don’t buy it.
Why? Because it will be a forgery. In 2008, Salons only bottled in magnums. 10,000 of them.
Salon is unique among champagne houses for several reasons: They only make one wine – around 60,000 annually. They source their grapes from a single vineyard in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. They only use Chardonnay (where other producers press Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in addition to Chardonnay) and they don’t blend. And all their wines are vintage-dated.
If the grapes are not up to Salon standards, they do not release a champagne (the grapes from their vineyard go to their sister company and next door neighbour, Delamotte, for their blend).
Champagne Delamotte, founded in Rheims in 1670, is the fifth oldest champagne house and while it produces Blanc de blancs champagnes like Salon, it does not restrict itself to Chardonnay-only grapes; it also makes non-vintage, blended Brut and Rosé.
The house of Salon was founded by Eugène-Aimé Salon, the son of a Champenois cart-maker. At the beginning of the 20th century, having worked successfully in the fur trade in Paris, he travelled frequently to New York on business where he developed a taste for the ‘good life.’
As a Champenois, he loved his local wine and he dreamed of creating the perfect champagne for his own consumption. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Champagne cellar master, he chose the best vineyard land on the Côte de Blancs, in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger – two plots totaling one hectare and known today as ‘le jardin de Salon’.
The village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger would be classified some fifty years later as one of the seventeen 100% Grands Crus vineyards in Champagne. (Incidentally, Krug bought the Clos du Mesnil in 1971 – a walled Chardonnay vineyard of less than five hectares that produces sublime Blanc de blancs champagne at a stratospheric price.)
It was in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger that Eugène-Aimé Salon began his production of sparkling wine. The first known vintage of Salon was 1905. Over the past 100 years there have only been 37 vintages that bear the fabled Salon S Blanc de Blancs Brut label. The current vintage on the market is the 2008 since the house does not release its wines until ten years after bottling.
At first, Eugène-Aimé Salon shared his production with his friends but his champagne was of such a quality that its reputation spread and the demand required him to step up to a commercially viable operation. Salon himself would see some 40-odd vintages before his death in 1943. He left the business to his nephew and in 1963 Besserat de Bellefon took it over before selling it fifteen years later to Champagne Laurent-Perrier.
As a single cru, unblended champagne, made from a single variety, Salon is essentially a grower’s champagne. As Richard Juhlin, the most knowledgeable writer on the subject, says in his book, 2000 Champagnes, ‘Salon may be the best grower of all, but the success shows that Selosse, Diebolt and Charlemagne are all on the right course after all. When even the master of the blend – Krug – made a monocru champagne from Le Mesnil, it became harder for the major companies to sing the praises of blending in such dogmatic fashion.’
Once in your life you should treat yourself to a bottle of Salon. And if you drink it all yourself, I wouldn’t blame you. But perhaps you should consult your bank manager first. The average price around the world in Canadian dollars is $750 a bottle.
(And give a thought to poor Richard Juhlin who had to taste and rate out of 100 points, 2000 Champagnes!)