They say that great things come from great adversity and that is certainly true for Erick de Sousa who, from modest beginnings in the Côte des Blancs area of Champagne, is well on his way to building a global reputation for Champagne De Sousa.
It was Erick’s grandfather, Manuel a native of the Portuguese town of Porto, who first visited France to fight in the First Word War. Soon after the war he came back to Champagne to find work – there was plenty to rebuild in this corner of France that had been badly damaged during the fighting.
Manuel died at the age of just 29 leaving a widow and 4 sons. In due course the eldest son, Antoine, married a local girl, Zoémie Bonville, and learned the art of growing grapes. Again war intervened and Antoine spent 2 years as a prisoner in Germany. On returning home to the village of Avize he set up his own champagne house under the name De Sousa., however the real expansion of the brand started when Antoine’s son, Erick, took over the family business at the age of just 25 in 1988.
Today Erick runs the business with his wife Michelle. Their eldest daughter, Charlotte, looks after most of the export sales, whilst their younger daughter Julie and son Valentin will join the business after completing their studies.
The estate has grown from 3 hectares in 1988 to 12 hectares today and sales have gone from just 30,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles, 60% of which are exported. Awards and medals galore have been won along the way as well as the respect of some of the world’s leading wine experts. How has this been possible? Well not without raising a few eyebrows.
According to Erick the overriding focus has been on producing top quality wines and two of the main planks of this strategy have been a) to acquire vineyards in many of the Grand Cru villages of Champagne: Avize, Oger, Cramant, Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger, Aÿ and Ambonnay and b) by leaving the vines until they are 50 or even 70 years old, unlike many houses that dig vines up after about 30 years when the yield starts to decline. The quality of the grapes produced by these old vines is one of the secrets of the success of the De Sousa prestige range of champagnes that bears the name Caudalies ( A Caudalie is the unit of measurement of length of taste on the palate)
This isn’t the only way in which Erick has literally ‘ploughed his own furrow’. In 1999 he started to use biodynamics. Putting a huge crystal in the vat room to diffuse it’s beneficial vibes to the wine and going back to ploughing the vineyards by horse, not by tractor, are just two things that got Erick noticed.
“People looked at us as if we were aliens” says Erick “but today those same people are wondering if we weren’t perhaps right all along and the younger generation certainly are more open to these new ideas”.
There’s a practical side to Erick too: “ I’m not an evangelist for biodynamics; I like to think I’m measured in what I do. For me the two most important things are looking after the environment and producing great wines and I’ve noticed that the wines now have more finesse, more minerality and are longer on the palate”.
After all that Erick has already achieved you might think that he would be relaxing a bit and resting on his laurels – not a bit of it; there seems to be no let-up in Erick’s energy and willingness to ‘push the envelope’.
Although most of the De Sousa champagnes are Blanc de Blancs a new cuvée ‘3 As’ has been added to the range. It’s made with Chardonnay from Avize and Pinot Noir from Aÿ and Ambonnay – the 3 Grand Cru villages whose name starts with an A. Another new cuvée called Mycorhize has recently been introduced and you can find an explanation of this somewhat unusual term on the video link above.
A new brand, Zoémie de Sousa, named after the matriarch of the family, has been launched and under this label a cuvée called Umami will be released in September 2014. Umami was discovered in Japan and is the 5th category of taste to add those we already know: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Charlotte describes this new champagne as being all about density and depth of flavour along with texture and length in the mouth.
Undoubtedly the best way to get to know De Sousa champagnes is to visit the property in Avize, but you’ll also find them on the wine list in many of the finest hotels and restaurants around the world. In either event it will be a discovery well worth making.
To discover more go to http://champagnedesousa.francefinewines.eu/
Author: Jiles Halling is an Englishman and long-time resident in Champagne. You can find out more on www.mymaninchampagne.com