We were lucky enough to visit Ayala on our Champagne Tour in July 2019. It's a truly beautiful estate with so much history. We were hosted by the lovely Laurence Alamanos, Export Director for the house. We had a chance to enjoy their stunning rooftop terrace to enjoy an apéritif there, then lunch at the vineyard. An extremely special experience we hope to be able to enjoy again! We've shared a few photos below.
Caroline Latrive wasn't there on the day we visited, unfortunately, but we wanted to introduce her in this blog post as she has not only be pivotal in the re-imagining of this house, she is also one of the rare female Chef de Caves in Champagne.
Caroline has been with Champagne Ayala since 2007, and assumed the title of Cellar Master from her predecessor in 2014. Today, she carefully ensures that the House style is maintained by focusing on quality rather than quantity.
Prior to her time at Ayala, she honed her skills at Champagne Bollinger (which purchased Ayala in 2005). Though Bollinger is known for its emphasis on Pinot Noir, she found herself focusing on Chardonnay fruit at the iconic House and was internally recommended for a role with Ayala soon after. Before her time working at Bollinger and Ayala, Latrive spent four years at Oeno Champagne. She studied at Reims University Champagne-Ardenne, then obtained a Masters degree in Oenology at the university.
She harmoniously produces fresh, elegant wines that are unbelievably balanced with Ayala's trademark low dosage. Possessing a particular affinity for Chardonnay, she ensures the grape is significantly present - never less than 40% - in all of Ayala's emblematic cuvées.
Caroline says that AYALA is about "freshness, elegance, purity, precision, it’s pleasure at its pure state. Every cuvée is characterised by a silky texture, which also participates in this purity."
The wines are all fermented using malolactic fermentation. She explains this choice as adding "complexity to the wines and makes them less austere. It allows the wines to express a wider range of aromas, especially in Chardonnay. We perform slow MLF at 18°C that lasts up to a month not to “tire” our wines and give them slightly more body."
Caroline's first vintage at Ayala was 2012. "It was far from being an easy year. The winter was dry and very cold. We had winter frosts, hale storms in spring, frosts in spring as well… it was really not an easy win." she explains. "The Summer was relatively cold and rainy. But then, starting in mid-July, we did get a warm dry spell, that allowed us to overcome all the problems and arrive at perfect maturity. It was almost a blessing that we were eventually able to harvest under extraordinary conditions: maturity was perfect; the grapes were healthy, free from all diseases, botrytis, free of everything… so were able to make magnificent wines."
In Champagne the focus in often on terroir. Caroline shares that she uses "terroir expression[s] as a king of aromatic palette. I am very lucky, at Ayala, to be able to work and vinify each Cru, each grape variety and each vintage very differently and therefore to have a very diverse and extraordinary palette of aromas from which I can make my blends. I don’t really seek an expression of terroir in the final wine, but having this [underlying] identity is absolutely essential."
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Image of Caroline courtesy of Ayala