You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Cuisles, let alone visited it. It’s a little village hidden away in a valley leading off the main valley of the River Marne and despite its château and its long history Cuisles has never been anything more than tiny (mind you there was a period between 1793 and 1851 when the population ‘exploded’ by 63% … from 152 to 248 people) and today there are still only some 150 inhabitants. Despite its size however, Cuisles is well worth a second look.
The 33 hectares of vines, almost all of which are planted with Meunier, are all situated on a single, broad and rather steep, south-facing slope that runs behind the village and looks down on the houses below and on a stream called Le Ruisseau de La Maquerelle which runs into the Marne at Chatillons-sur-Marne a few kilometres away.
Many years ago there were two brick and tile factories in the village which gives a clue as to the nature of the soil. Underneath a covering of top soil is a layer of sand and clay and at about 75cm down there’s a layer that is predominantly argilo-calcaire: a mixture of clay and limestone that drains well but which, unlike the purer chalk soils of many other areas of Champagne, retains very little water underground.
This can be a problem especially when combined with the mysteries of micro-climate. The Vallée de La Marne is not generally thought of as an area lacking in rain. Typically you can see clouds blowing in from the west bringing rain and sometimes spectacular storms rolling down the valley and drenching the vineyards. Strangely enough though Cuisles, tucked away in its little vale perpendicular to the Marne, gets 25% less annual rainfall than the villages actually on the river. To make matters more complicated the rainfall in Cuisles has fallen another 25% since the construction of the Paris- Reims motorway some 20 kilometres away to the north.
All in all the quality of the soil in Cuisles is poor but vines do well on poor soil and Meunier seems to thrive in this little enclave and there’s a finesse and purity to the wines that compensates for the generally low yields.
However, what’s unusual about Cuisles and the two or three neighbouring villages is that between the layer of sandy soil near the surface and the chalky-clay lower down there’s a layer of green clay called Illite. This is the same type of clay that is used extensively as a natural ingredient in cosmetics and in beauty treatments.
The Illite clay retains water better than the chalky-clay and is rich in nutrients. If you were to cut a cross section through the vineyard you’d find that most of the roots of the vines are concentrated in this layer of green clay.
Thanks to this unusual combination of soil and micro-climate, Meunier wines from Cuisles can truly be said to be ‘champagnes de terroir’. They have a mineral quality that is rare in other Meunier wines and, contrary to what is sometimes said about Meunier, they have good ageing potential.
Champagnes from Cuisles that are eminently worthy of note are Champagne Moussé Fils, a member of the prestigious Club Trésors de Champagne and the maker of the first 100% Meunier to receive the Club’s seal of approval and Champagne Huecq, situated just a stone’s throw away in rue Eugène Moussé.
In case you are wondering, Yes, the two families are related. After all, there are only 150 inhabitants in Cuisles