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Interview with a Vintner – Marine Zabarino

With International Women’s Day and Mother's Day on the horizon what better time to shine a light on one of the exceptional female winemakers we work with at Sip. 

Marine Zabarino is one half of the duo at Domaine Vincey. Their first vintage in 2014 blew us away, so with their second release on its way we sat down at our respective laptops to discuss how it all began and what she has planned for the future…

Sip: “Marine, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. Let me kick off by asking how you first got into making Champagne?”

Marine: “Long story! I grew up in Champagne but like many young people, I moved away to Paris where I worked for five years for some big groups such as L’Oreal And Publicis. Then I got sick of the big city and wanted to return to Champagne! When I returned I met Quentin [Quentin Vincey, Marine’s husband] and, at the same time, I began working for Charlotte Le Gallais from Champagne Le Gallais in Boursault. She offered me a position at the company to develop wine tourism, so this is how I entered back into the Champagne world and I was fortunate in that I was able to be involved in every part of the winemaking process, from the wine making through to the customer. Along the way I also started working casually with Quentin at Domaine Vincey, mostly handling communications and promotion, whilst he taught me more about wine making. We decided our combined skills made us a good team so I ‘officially’ joined him in 2019… even though we’d been working together long before that.”

Sip: “What does a typical day for you look like at the moment?”

Marine: “Right now it’s the main period for pruning the vines and tying the branches to the wires – we call it liage in French – which I really enjoy doing. We are also handling the orders as we’ve just sent out allocation, so we are currently somewhere between a grinding pruned wood with a tractor and building boxes. Voilà!”     

  

Sip: “We brought your first release ‘La Première’ to Sip because we felt you had captured something no one else in Oger had been able to. What’s your secret?”

Marine: “Thank you! I think probably it’s because Quentin is 8th generation so, historically, most of our vineyards are in Oger and across a range of different terroirs – from the top of Coteaux, in the main terroir in the village, to the lowlands. So, when we first started making wine we segregated these different plots – it’s a Burgundy way to work – to better taste the terroir and understand what each plot gave us. Also, we make only vintages, as the expression of the particular year expression is interesting for us. One day we would like to make a perpetual reserve cuvée.

Sip: “I know you have a big focus of biodynamics and sustainability at Domaine Vincey. How did that come about and why do you think it’s important for the environment and the wine?”

Marine: “When Quentin began working with his father in 2009 – before he even had any aspirations about making organic or biodynamic Champagne – he had concerns about the products he was using, not just on the soil but for his own health too. So he spoke with Laurent Vauversin, who is the only other organic grower in Oger and then later Jean Philippe Waris from Champagne Waris-Larmandier in Avize and Erick De Sousa to look at alternative methods.

“Both Quentin and I want to really understand what’s going on in the soil and the perpetual culture. As land owners I think we have more responsibility than the consumers who buy the product because we are the ones cultivating the earth. So if things are going to change it has to begin with the growers. We’ve only just begun though, and we are open-minded to change. Maybe in 10 or 20 years time I’ll be telling you the opposite of what I’ve told you today! We are still digging and looking for new approaches.

“From the perspective of the wine, we found that when we changed the viticulture we achieved more balance of fruit and minerality and acidity and salinity in the grapes. Also, I think for a long time, and even now, winemakers have looked for potential degree of alcohol as the sign of maturity of the grapes, but we’ve become increasingly attentive to the actual appearance of the grapes; the look of the skin, the seed, the texture of the flesh, they all give essential clues to maturity and help us harvest at the right time.”

Sip: “Notably, your new release is now being labelled as ‘Oger’. We don’t tend to see Oger on labels as often as Mesnil, Cramant and Avize. Why is that and what’s the significance of labelling this wine with the village?”

Marine: “Historically, Oger is a village of just 500 residents but 2 cooperatives, so the surrounding villages have typically always had more growers. As far as labelling, we decided to change the name because we changed so much since our first release. Since 2016 we settled in a new building and we began to find our style. With our first wine we were a little nervous of working solely with oak, so we used 50% stainless steel tanks and 50% oak barrels, whereas Oger is made solely with oak. It’s also aged under cork not cap. Finally, with the 2014/15 release we didn’t have our own press and now we do. So even though previously it was 100% Oger Champagne we wanted to change the name because the wine making process was different. It really tastes different too!

 

Sip: “Oh really? Are you happy with it?”

Marine: “Oh yeah, very much. 2016 was a difficult year; we had such a bad spring – very rainy so we were worried, but it’s a great surprise and we found what we wanted to express in this wine more than in La Première, which is that ‘body built’ fruit which typical in our village – very fruity, very rich! The wines in neighbouring Avize and Mesnil are considered more delicate and elegant but our wine has more body. It’s like a little short and strong man. A very funny little man!”

Sip: “Maybe you should have called it ‘The funny little man’”

Marine: [Laughs] "Maybe!”

Sip: “What else are you planning/working on at the moment?”

Marine: “This year, if everything goes well, we will be entering Chouilly and here we have one big plot (nearly 1ha) which we will divide in two. After this, one day maybe we will vinificate beyond the grand cru too. Also in terms of the Champagne making process we want to do more tests about our pure juices – to make the second fermentation instead of from basic sugar we want to instead use natural juices. Plus, we are using some wine in fermentation to create natural spontaneous yeast. For the moment we only do this with one cuvée which is still aging – it will be called Modum Q.V but, if it goes well, we will look to implement this technique for other cuvées. 

“On a purely personal note I have my own tiny plot in Mardeuil, where my family are from. It’s a different terroir and old 1957 Meunier vines – which makes a change from Chardonnay! I’ve also changed the viticulture and gone organic. It’s interesting. I’d like to produce a red wine some day but I don’t know. We will see!”

Sip: “Aside from your own Champagnes, are there any other wines you really enjoy, or other producers you admire?

Marine: “I have a non-exhaustive list of maybe 100 names! Aube was, for years, under-rated; the Marne Valley and the Meunier power; and, of course, the well-established names – Selosse, Bérèche, Lassaigne and others who paved the way for grower Champagne – they had a lot of courage when they began so many years ago. As we are talking about female producers though, I will list some of my favourites… Aurore Casanova, Mélanie Tarlant, Charlotte Legallais, Benedicte Leroy, Élise Bougy, Justine Petit Boxler, Heloïse Gautherot, Mathilde Margaine and Helene Beaugrand. Apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten!


If you want to be among the first to sample Domaine Vincey ‘Oger’ pre-order by emailing info@sipchampagnes.com

In the meantime, you can pick up a beautiful bottle of La Première or the exquisite Le Grand Jardin in time for Mother’s Day.

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