Wine Terroirs : Wine discovery, wine tasting and vineyards in France .
The Rebirth of an iconic Maison de Champagne
The Maison Leclerc-Briant has roots going as far as 1872 when Lucien Leclerc founded his business in the village of Cumières, even if it became formally a Champagne House in the mid 20th century when Louis-Bertrand Leclerc moved the company to Epernay and changed its status. The Maison was to become then a pioneer in the field of organic viticulture and even biodynamic farming under his guidance, something almost inexistent then in Champagne and which was looked upon in disdain. His son Pascal Leclerc-Briant took the relay, getting the organic and biodynamic certification in the late 1990s’ for most of the estate vineyards (a total surface of 30 hectares in 2010), the mere existence and perpetuation of the Maison Leclerc-Briant proving that you could farm organicly a respectable surface in Champagne, a region which is known as certainly the French wine region which is the most polluted with vineyard chemicals.
The unexpected death of Pascal Lecler-Briant in 2010 challenged the achievements of this small Maison de Champagne with as a consequence its partition and dismemberment a couple years later. What Pascal and his father had built patiently over the years, especially with the purchase of grouped parcels which made it easier to farm on biodynamics without interference of nearby chemical overflowings, was cut into pieces and sold, the facility being sold separately. 15 hectares went to the Maison Bruno Paillard and 15 hectares to Roederer. At this point it was almost hopeless, especially for those who like to see a commonsense organic viticulture take hold in Champagne, where short-sighted greed prevents any serious rethinking of disastrous practices.
Unexpectely, business angels turned this nightmare around, under the shape of American investor Mark Nunnelly and his wife Denise Dupré who decided in 2012 to purchase the facility with its sole remaining parcel of La Croisette and engage in the long task of buying back available parcels in order to revive the Maison Leclerc-Briant. Mark Nunelly, who until 2014 has been the managing director at Boston-based (and Mitt-Romney-founded) private-equity firm Bain Capital Partners LLC, wasn’t interested in short-time returns on this venture, he and his wife are said to be truly in love with the wine culture behind Leclerc-Briant as well as in the French lifestyle, and they were ready to do whatever it took to restore the Maison to its former glory and even beyond, which seems already well on its way.
Read also this 2016 article by %Missinwine about Bioenergetics in Champagne. For a change, Champagne could be at the vanguard for making healthy wines.
Part of the new facilityThe winery facility & cellars are located downtown, close to the city center and split in two blocks across the street. The new team briefly thought about selling these buildings and relocate outside town for an easier redesigning of the whole facility, but they decided to remain in the original, historic buildings and just renovate them the best way possible. I shot this picture from the roof of the main building with the offices (the one on left), and you can see here the facility itself, where the grapes arrive, are pressed, and vinified. It doesn’t look that big but it’s pretty roomy and deep with a basement. You can see the city of Epernay in the background. There’s another building in the back of the main, office building, (pictured on right), that’s were the large underground cellars are located.
When the new team took over the winery, there weren’t any vineyard left except with a small parcel located in the back of the facility (named La Croisette), and most of the staff was gone 30 people originally), the change of direction was also the opportunity to change the work culture, the Maison Leclerc-Brilliant was an old institution where things on the ground weren’t always done the best way, we use to say in French that old habits die hard… Plus, there’d be some time until some vineyards would be purchased in order to reconstitute the estate vineyards, and during that time almost no wine would be made, this time being used to rebuild the facility. It is sure that had the investors not be that resilient, determined and wealthy, the resurrection of Leclerc-Brilliant wouldn’t have been possible.
Frederic Zeimett who is the French partner in the team worked along his career for large companies of the wine industry, Moët & Chandon, Pommery, Chapoutier, Alliance Loire and Ackerman, not really the artisan-minded domaine next door, but he points to the fact that he was already initiated to the effectiveness of biodynamic farming during his time at Chapoutier and he now furthered his own converson and considers he couldn’t work the way he used to in the past, things that were alien to him then are evidence now. Zeimett says that the first years weren’t the easiest, there was the restructuration of the winery and he spent the first 3 years selling the wine stock of the defunct Maison, before any new wine was even vinified, and some of the last vintages (the Brut Reserve 2007, 2008 & 2009 in particular) weren’t the best of what the old Maison had been known for.
Frédéric Zeimett in La CroisetteWhen the investors bought back the Maison, it was an empty shell with only the facility and no other vineyard left from the original 30 hectares but this small parcel of La Croisette, which was attached to the town mansion. They began to buy back available parcels in 2013, one by one, and considering the current prices (a couple years ago one hectare of Grand Cru cost was between 1,6 and 1,8 million euros) that was quite an effort financially. In between they bought grapes to start making wine again, some from parcels that belonged to the Leclerc-Briant family before. They reached today an estate surface of 8 hectares.
You can reach this small parcel through a grass lane passing along the property, it’s a stone through from the office building, right along the old family house behind high walls which is till the property of the Leclerc-Briant heirs. You walked just a hundred meters and you’re already in the countryside with the hilltop covered with vines in the far, something you can’t guess when you came straight from downtown
In this parcel there’s Pinot Meunier (15 ares) and also Chardonnay for the rest, which makes a selection parcellaire. The vines here were planted by Bertrand Leclerc about 45 years ago and never got any conventional/chemical sprays. Bertrand Leclerc farmed organic before there were any organic certification around, before the hype that sticks to this word, he had discovered that conventional sprays made him sick and caused him itching after work, so he had stopped using these things. Bertrand Leclerc who was previously making Champagne in Cumières lacked room over there and he bought this mansion along the vineyard with enough grounds to build the facility and big cellar. that’s when the new Maison was named Leclerc-briant, incorporating the maiden name of his wife, who had brought a few hectares of vineyards in marriage. in the 1950s’ he also added a négoce wing to his Maison so that he could get purchased grapes. Bertrand Leclerc who really gave the iconic imprint to this Maison de Champagne (particularly through the organic farming that started in the 1960s’) gave the reins to his son Pascal in the mid 1980s’.
A vine (La Croisette)This year (2016) has been a difficult one, there’s been mildew, you got everything, in the Aube some growers have nothing left, Hailstorm, frost, coulure, lots of rain and mildew with the huimidity and warm temperatures. Here there was no frost but they suffered a lot, plus the harvest is later than usual, starting something like sept 20 or 25 (15 days or 3 weeks late) which adds another risk regarding rot and botrytis. the only thing that works for mildew is copper and they had to spray, adding organic things that help dry the leaves, like silica signal-sprays, but it’s tricky to do, they do it with small crawler tractors. There’s only 1 merter between the rows, so the crawler tractor is pertinernt, and they have some work done with a draft horse on several parcels including this one, it’s a service company with a horse for hire (name of the horse : Bijou).
The interesting thing here is that when you compare with the conventional neighbor, there seems to me more fruit on Leclerc-Briant’s parcel, proving that there’s no point dumping these chemicals anyway.
Frederic Zeimett admits that with his time at Moët & Chandon he was light years away from the philosophy he’s following today and now he doesn’t understand why organic farming in Champagne is only 450 hectares versus 35 000 or a bit more than 1 %. Champagne has similar conditions with Alsace where its 10 %, not to speak about Burgubdy where virtually all the major high-end domaines are organic even if they don’t brag about it on their labels. He says there’s no political will from the part of the Champagne players to go in this direction. I suggest that the reason could be that organic farming would force them to renounce the chemical fertilizers and this would hurst the yields and as the consequence the profit. He says yes, that’s it, Champagne is home to industrial viticulture, that’s what brought the economic boom of this region after WW2 (there was only 6000 hectares before WW2), when the country went through the petrochimichal-industry expansion, with all the farmers getting access to a new range of fertilizers and other agro-chemical products. He says an interesting thing, it’s that the Champenois is not a vigneron originally, he’s foremost a farmer who turned from wheat or other crops to one that brought astronomical profits. I think that’s what I intuitively felt while wandering in several villages of Champagne, they’re often bland and lack the little something typical of a country with deep winemaking traditions, think about Alsace, it’s so different, here. Most of the growers here sell to the négoce and he says he’s convinced that if they were offered to grow grapes soilless in greehouses, they’d be OK… In short, if organic farming doesnt progress significantly here it’s not because of peculiar weather conditions but because of greed and an agro-chemical philosophy started after WW2.
The press, view on the topThe movement of the grower Champagne is largely opposed to this conventional facet of Champagne : when you work organic and biodynamic, you’re beginning to make terroir wines because the roots are going deeper and the grapes aren’t on IV and life support, and you’ll then make lieu-dit Champagne wines, cuvées parcellaires and single-vintage Champagne, things that are anathema to Champagne where you’re supposed to have blends only : blends of villages, blends of varieties and blends of vintages. That’s also why organic/biodynamic growers are considered as destabilizing Champagne and threatening its assets. Some big Maisons are beginning to change though, like Roederer whose cuvée Cristal is made from organic grapes even if they don’t communicate about it, also Taitinger which is going in the same direction. The question, I’d ask, is wether these moves are authentic or just market-oriented, like a cautionary move designed to anticipate a possible turnaround of the high-end markets.
The yields explain also the difference between a grower Champagne and a conventional one, here at Leclerc-Briant, Fréderic Zeimett says they make 7000/8000 kg per hectare while the conventional grower will make sometimes 12 000 to 14 000 including the authorized overrun, that’s a big difference, condidering their philosophy I understand they don’t view positively these missing revenues.
The rws here are trimmed for the ventilation of the vines and the grapes in order to keep humidity away. There were a few missing vines that have been replanted with massal selections made from the vines of a fellow grower who farms organic.
Speaking of the reconstitution of the estate vineyards, Fréderic Zeimett says that he tried to purchase parcels in the same historic areas where the former Maison had its surface. They now have pârcels in Cumières, Hautvillers, Rilly la Montagne, Mareuil sur Aÿ and Bisseuil. They had this opportunity to buy in 2014 1,5 hectare in one block (which is rare in Champagne) on the other side of the Montagne de Reims between Villers-Allerand and Rilly-la-Montagne. There’s a house dating from the 1920s’ in the middle of the block and they plan to renovate it this winter and turn it into a bed & breakfast with tasting room next year. There’s even a small clos in this parcel and they’ll make a selection parcellaire from it in the near future (Clos des Trois Clochers).
The inside of the new PAI Coquard pressSpeaking of investments, the American couple also purchased the Royal Champagne in 2014, a luxury hotel on the Reims road which belonged to Moët & Chandon, they’re having it rebuilt right now (Street view), it overlooks the valley and Epernay and it will be a prime venue again when it’ll open its doors one year from now. The 5-star hotel will be managed by the Sources de Caudalie.
Leclerc-Briant also will have soon a shopwindow on the prestigious Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, alongside the major Maisons de champagne, thanks to the purchase of a large town house with garden, there will be tasting rooms as well as suites for visitors. It’s right in Front of Pol Roger, I think this is this house on this Street View page. This should be a major change for the visibility of the Maison.
The first time they used their reconstructed facility was at the harvest 2015, a year ago. The grapes arrive at the winery in 40-kg boxes, they’ll see in the future if they switch to smaller boxes.. You can see here and above the central tool of Champagne winemaking, the press, which has always unique requirements in Champagne. Here they chose this new model of Coquard, a Pressoir à Plateau Incliné with a revolutionary system, the grapes are pushed with this oblique wall (drilled with thousands of tiny holes to let the juice pass) against the other wall. The new design makes the work very easy, no need to move the pomace with shovels, forks or anything like that, you just move the press open and back to press again. The classical Coquard press, a vertical basket press, makes also a great job except that it’s very time-consuming, every 15 minutes you have to open it, use the forks to do the retrousse (move the grapes and pomace around) in order to homogenize the cake and the pressing. Here you just spread the pressing walls open and the pomace/grapes fall under their own weight and rearranges themselves together so that you have just to switch the press back and press again (see this page for a visual demonstration). It’s also cleaner, you don’t have to stirr the grapes like you do it with forks. Fréderc Zeimett says that’s it is also silent, which is an advantage when you work late in the evening in a residential neighborhood like here. This is also very easy to clean, the down thing is that this innovative press is very expensive.
This press has a capacity of 4000 kg grapes, yielding 25 hectoliters of juice, which can be refrigerated as the receiving container underneath is temerature controlled, so whatever the outside temperature, the juice arrive in the vats at 18 ° C (64 F). The pomace or solid part goes to the distillery.
The vat for the splitting of the juiceThe rules in Champagne (summed up here) say that from a 4000-kg batch you’ll make 25,5 hectoliters of juice, which must be split in two separate volumes : the first 20,5 hectoliters, of better quality will constitute the «cuvée» and the last 5 hectoliters the «taille» (which is usually i 2 parts). At Leclerc-Briant they even created more spliting, thus making an even more rigorous selection of the press juice (see the respective volumes on the picture on left) :__There’s a first, tiny part making 2 hectoliters (the container at the far left) where they put aside the «dirtiest» part of the pressing, considering that at the beginning of the press you may get undesired residues, even if we’re dealing with an organic farming, there may be dust, copper or sulfur for example. They won’t use this juice, they sell it to the négoce.
__Then you get the larger container making the «cuvée» (the one on the right side), as said the really qualitative part of the batch. This volume will be about 18 hectoliters because what they decided to take out voluntarilly at the beginning of the pressing is substracted from the «cuvée«. They may use this part depending of what it’ll yield, it’ll be vinified separately with their equivalents in the different batches, it’s more acidic but there’s often an interesting substance with the seeds that are crushed at this stage. Tastings later in the season will decide of the fate of this juice, if they use it in blends or if they end up selling it to the négoce.
__ Then you have the «première taille» which makes 2,5 hectoliters (the 2nd from the left on the picture), it begins to be less qualitative because this is the end of the pressing.
__ The last juice fills the 3rd container from the left, it’s really the end of the pressing and it’s the «seconde taille«. They also don’t keep this 2nd taille«, they sell it to the négoce.
Although there may be already a few gross lees settling at the bottom of the 4-compartment vat (it stays 2 hours in there), the real débourbage or settling of the lees takes place in vats like this one on the right (there’s no temperature control in these) for 24 hours. Fréderic Zeimett shows how you can choose the tap to draw the juice or the lees.
the new barrel cellarOnce the juice had its gross lees settled for a day, it is pump to the upper level into the barrels or into the stainless-steel vats, it’ll be the only time pump will be ever used, after then the later stages will be by gravity.
The barrel cellar seems dry to me but Fréderic Zeimett says this cellar is half burried and there’s dirt ground under the gravel, so the humidity level should be fine. they have two such cask cellars and they’ll fill gradually as vintages add up. there’s a tasting room at the end behind a glass wall for future events with visitors.
You climb a metal spiral staircase to reach the vat room with lines of high stainless-steet tanks. They’re made in bordeaux by GD Industries, each being composed actually of two tanks above each other (25 hectoliters each, or about the volume of a belon, of a press batch which makes 20 hectoliters for the qualitative part), this way they can vinify smaller batches separately and it gains room.
This vatroom is roughly where the former vat room stood. This vatroom also began to be used in 2015. Before that (in 2012, 2013 & 2014) they rent a vatroom elsewhere in the region, the time to restructurate all the facility.
They used an architect in addition to a specialized company dealing with Ingénierie Vinicole because they didn’t want to see all the tubing and gangways above the vats.
Another thing also, they had a bioenergetics expert, a geobiologist make sure that the energy fields in the facility were fine, he checked things from the start using his pendulum, saying yes for this, or no for that. And each vat is connected to the ground in this regard, and one by one, not in line.
At one point Fréderic Jestin told me how Hervé Jestin understood the importance of bioenergetics and energy fields in the winemaking : there was a vat in his vatroom where the wine was never good, year after year, and by chance one day he had a visitor who had skills in bioenergetics and the guy told him there was no way it would work at this place, but he just moved the vat 3 meters it would be fine. He followed his advice and the result was stunning, the wine made in this same vat the following vintages went the right way. From that time on he searched in this direction, learning about the underground water/energy fields and using pendulums to gauge them.
On the right you can see other vats in a separate vatroom, they’re used only for the blending. You may have noticed that the ground and walls are black, it’s a choice, they wanted the barrels, stainless-steel vats to stand out when you walk in.
The cellarFréderic Zeimett says that they made trials last year with vinifying in clay eggs but they weren’t convinced by the resulting wines, This year they try to vinify in ceramic-tiled vats and they talked to Riedel (the tasting glass company) about having them make a vat made of glass, they were a bit taken aback by this idea but they may try to build them a prototype. There’s a lot of energy and tension in ceramics and glass, and at Leclerc-Briant they’d like to check if that goes into the wine. He says you can really measure the energy of wine, using the Bovis biometer, and they do it regularly for their wines. Hervé Jestin is familiar with checking the energy levels of wine and they found sometimes energy levels way above the norms, even by biodynamic-wine standards. Energy measurements with the wine made in clay eggs were very high, the thing was that they didn’t like the wine, it was kind of tired. He says they would have liked to «inform» the clay at the making of the egg, ideally with using water coming from the vineyard or something like that, but they hadn’t time to do that. They might try again in the future. Speaking of the ceramic, they’ll test the fabric with using 50-liter ceramic (or china) containers cooked at 900°C (1650 F).
We reach the cellars in the 3rd building, the one that stands in the back of the office building, further in the street. The street level is where the labelling is done, it’s the least changed of the buildings, there’s still a feel of the former self of the Maison. There are are also wide, cool rooms where they store bottles, it’s naturally cool because it’s backed to the hill. That’s where the giropallets are stored too, with the special bottle cages. Speaking of the production, in 2012 they sold 20 000 bottles at 14 € without tax, mostly from the existing stock. This year the sales are predicted to be more than 80 000 bottles at more than 20 € without tax, considering that the quality improved a lot lately. During the peak of the former Maison Fréderic Zeimett says that the sales were 120 000 to 130 000 bottles, bur not all under the name of Leclerc-Briant, some of the production being labelled under other, cheaper brands (especially for the UK), something the new team doesn’t do. they target sales of 200 000 bottles in another 3 years. Right now they have 8 or 9 hectares in production, plus 14 hectares of contracted vineyards for purchased grapes (already since the harvest 2013 they had 7 or 8 hectares of contracted vineyards and they kept growing this surface). Altogether they have 22 hectares to work with, enough to make 200 000 bottles. But you have to count with the 3-year élevage, that’s why he says it’ll take another 3 years to reach this 200 000 bottle target.
The Solera 2014 (on the shelves in 2018)On the street level there is a labelling line if I remember, then you walk down a ramp and reach the disgorment unit, which will be moved elsewhere to make room for another cellar storage. We go down further to the cellars using a large, slow elevator, which is obviously used to bring down or up pallets of bottles. The cellar is lovingly untouched, even the lighting system dates back from the 1930s’, maybe even older. The switches (pic on right above) are like you see in history books and the bulbs hanging over our heads can be pulled along to where you need light. I guess back then light bulbs were a precious thing and you’d move them along the wires rather than having one every few meters….
There are several galleries in this cellar, it’s pretty big, you turn here and there and find bottles stacked along their cuvée or vintage. You certainly feel better vibes here than you would in a brand new cement cellar. Fréderic Zeimett says that they have more than 500 000 bottles in the cellar right now, in the midst or beginning of their élevage, they’ll be fueling the sales in the future, inbetween the bank (the Crédit Agricole) helps pay the bills.
Cramant sans soufreWe pass this wall of bottles, this is the first cuvée made without any SO2, anywhere during the vinification including of course the bottling. This is the Cramant Sans Soufre 2012, which spends its long laying time sur lattes. These bottles have yet to get their disgorgment done, and possibly some further élevage after that.
This cuvée is about to reach the market and should be a highly-demanded Champagne, because if Champagne made from organic grapes begins to appear here and there, the ones vinified totally without any sulfites or SO2 addings are pretty rare.
Rosé d’assemblage 2014Sometimes the bottles fill en entire gallery. Here this is the rosé 2014 sur lattes. Fréderic Zeimett says that they signal the number of rows (14 in the matter) in case the Douannes (the French customs) come here for a check. The customs are the administration in charge of winr/alcohol issues and regulations in this country, wether you export your production or not, by the way. They want to know all the time how much wine you have in your cellar, be it in bottles or vats and barrels, and Fréderic Zeimett says that coincidently they often come around Christmas, maybe they’re used to get a couple of bottles during their visits…
The rosé 2014 here should reach the market early 2018. Some of these bottles were immersed on the seabed for a year recently, that was an experiment they did to learn about the added energy : The bottles have not been disgorged when they did it, the goal being to see the possible interaction with the sediments and the autolyse. They were immersed some 80 meters deep near the island of Ouessant, in a place devoid of electric wires or other energy-field perturbations. Also at this depth you have more or less the same pressure inside & outside the bottle, about 4 bars, it’s totally dark and the temperature is stable at 12 ° C (53 F). They haven’t checked the wine yet, it continues its élevage sur lattes. They kept bottles of the same batch, but which haven’t been immersed, somewhere so that they’ll be able to compare, including on the bioenergetics. They did the pendulum test already with side by side a non-immersed bottle but without opening the bottle and the data is very promising, it’s beaming with energy.
There’ll be a tasting this september, they invited several sommeliers from Paris to have their feeling. Hervé Jestin who conducted this experiment also had a batch of his own Champagne wine laid on the seabed.
Sample bottles for administrative checksLike elsewhere the Maison has all its cuvée checked by the wine administration through bottle samples that are sent to an independant lab to see that the wines fits in the Champagne Appellation requirements. For every sample sent to the lab there’s a twin bottle that remains here and if necessary it may be used for a double check.
At one point Fréderic Zeimett tells me that they’ll have soon an experiment with music made on a few pallets on a separate room in the cellar. Rather than music it’ll be something related to harmonious sounds which Spanish engineers will have directed at the bottles at regular intervals (for a few months I guess) with the aim of measuring the impact on the wines compared with control samples, I suppose they’ll theck the bioenergetics here too. This is actually a special order by a third party and they accepted these terms.
Tasting the new winesWe walked back to the main building with the offices and the tasting room. Fréderic Zeimett explains that this Maison de Champagne is renewing itself, the investors as well as himself want to capitalize on the deep roots of the Maison in the organic farming and biodynamics, because the family who has run this winery was genuinely faithful to this philosophy, but on the winemaking side they want to bring this Maison toward a new level, as there was room for improvement and more rigor. And in spite of the heavy investments they intend to get away from the productivist philosophy, opting instead to the take-your-time mindset where you don’t rush the wine; for example they don’t need any fining here because the wine (the still wine, that is) has time to sediment without needing to speed it. They do the tirage (or bottling with a crown cap) always the following year in june or july, no need to hurry then. Elsewhere it’s pretty common that the bottling takes place at the end of january because the négoces think already to the 15 months in bottle and want to hurry the whole thing as much as possible in order to reach the sales season faster. Fréderic Zeimett says that the Champagne authorities had to set strict new rules in the past because some négoce would already bottle in december and as the bottle time was 12 months they could sell their Champagne for the following Christmas, so it was decided that you couldn’t bottle the same year as the harvest and had to keep the wine 15 months in bottle. The power of greed…
Because here at L-B they do terroirs wines they need to let the wine express itself, and before reaching the Champagne (or bubbly) stage, the still wine must foremost be of high quality.
Plus, another interesting that dictates the length of the élevage is the biodynamic principle (according to winemaker Hervé Jestin) that says that a given wine even when in the cellar continues to somehow exchange information with the vines of its parcel until the following blossoming, and the flower comes in june, so it’s essential to wait after june. When a vine blossoms again it means that she kind of cut the umbilical cord and the wine from the previous year’s grapes can walk free.
Reserve Brut__ Reserve Brut, harvest 2013 (the 2012 is almost sold out). 40 % Pinot Noir, it’s a single vintage Champagne even if they don’t flash it on the front label. Nose gingerbread, the bubbles are very thin and refined, not forward at all. The Champagne has a nice vinous, gentle side, with nice apple aromas. Fréderic Zeimett says that the dosage is low or non-existent on most of their wines. They could print Extra Brut for this wine but they don’t, because the consumer often thinks the Extra Brut will be extremely sharp and acidic, which this one isn’t at all, its gentle mouthfeel makes it feel other than the usual Extra Brut, you need to try that.
The label style changed with the rebirth of the Maison, certainly for the better, if I remember (although I liked the sun logo). This cuvée will be priced 35 to 40 € tax included in the cavistes in Paris.
Asked about the SO2 adding (except for the Cramant Sans Soufre which didn’t see any sulfites), Fréderic Zeimett says that there’s some added on the incoming grapes at a minimal doses, when at least the temperature or time between picking and pressing ask for it, and that’s much less than the usual sulfur sprays done elsewhere on a regular basis. For the anecdote they were until recently selling their conversion-grapes juice to the négoce (this is over now, all their vineyards are fully certified), and the guy from the négoce called back when he received the delivered juice (the batch was pressed at Leclerc-Briant) saying he didn’t want it because it was oxidized, to which Hervé Jestin replied that no way, it wasn’t oxidized at all, it was just darker than usual because the grapes hadn’t been hammered with SO2 like elsewhere, he comforted him, saying that the color would lighten back to normal after a while, which it did of course. The SO2, you may know, has also the property to bleach the juice, to take off its color and even someone in the trade like this man had probably only seen all his worklife juices that had been soaked with SO2 as early as the press stage, so he thought there was something wrong with this dark juice…
Later there isn’t anymore adding of SO2 except a drop at the disgorgement. Spealing in free SO2 there maybe at 20 or 15, much below the 100 found commonly in many Champagne wines.
Asked if there is additional difficulty to make a sulfur-free wine in Champagne, Fréderic Zeimett says no, on the contrary, the CO2 of the bubbly helps protect the wine against oxidation in the bottle. And for the still wine in the barrels it’s possible whatever many people think. They’ve begun with the Cramant and will gradually extend the experiment on other cuvées when conditions allow it.
Blanc de Meuniers__ Blanc de Meuniers, 100 % Pinot Meunier, harvest 2013 (single vintage) from vines (aged 30, purchased grapes, farmed by a very talented grower) located on Chamery, on 1er Cru. No dosage here. Disgorged last june (2016) Not yet on the market (will be this october or november), the final label is not yet designed. With this cuvée they wanted to rehabilitate this variety that was mistreated by the Champenois, given an inferior status, in a region where the two «noble» varieties are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They wanted to show the world the beautiful things they could do wit this grape. The former Maison had also a 100 % Pinot Meunier, a cuvée named La Ravine, but sometimes there was also Pinot Noir blended.
Nose : white flowers. Mouth : delicious, again with these thin, etheral bubbles which reveal the wine at its best. The substance is very beautiful in the mouth, no spitting. I guess the quality of the still wine winemaking stage plays a good part in the resulting quality here, long élevage et al (first press put aside and sold). Fréderic Zeimett says that tasted blind it’s extremely difficult to say that it’s a 100 % Pinot Meunier. They made 3000 bottles of this, will cost 100/110 € tax included in wine shops.
La Croisette__ La Croisette, 100 % Chardonnay 2013 (from the historic parcel pictured above), 2500 bottles/year, 100 % élevage in casks (old casks, 3-year-olds minimum), no dosage at all. THe casks come from Sauternes, which may have realeased on homeopathic doses some of the sugar present in Sautenes wines. Of course the wine remains dosage free and got no chaptalization like all the wines here, but there’s an echo from the Sauternes barrels. Very refined, also with these thin, discreet bottles, just enough to enjoy the wine side. again, the mouth is round and not at all what you expect from an Extra Brut. 2nd nose on citrus and fresh notes, the mouth is luscious, refined, aerial. We’re tasting at a temperature of 12 ° C (53,6 F), says Fréderic Zeimett (the empty glasses being at 20 ° C), a contrast with the often 7 ° C or 8 ° C (44-46 F) of the common serving temperature for Champagne, with which you don’t feel the vinous qualities of the wine. Here they don’t want to hide the wine behind a curtain of cold, you really enjoy its qualities.
Fréderic Zeimett says that on several occasions, sommeilers who tasted La Croisette found a Burgundy character, here remembers at Millésimme Bio two tasters arguing, one having found a definitive Puligny-Montrachet tuch while the other said it was Chassagne-Montrachet, and this type of comment by people who didn’t know each other happened several times.
Speaking of the glasses, they’re all made by Lehmann near here (Reims based company), they didn’t want to use the ubiquitous Champagne/bubly coupes or flûtes but a real wine glass, and the choice for this make was not done for regional chauvinism but by bioenergetics selection : They had all the major wine glasses tested one by one with the Lecher antenna, the glasses positioned along the Maison Brut Reserve 2012, that all, and no prejudice, the clear-cut result was the Lehmann glass, at the top of all the energy charts… Hervé Jestin didn’t even have to look at the glass, the Lecher system just said yes or no, and after repeated tries it was obvious. After that they had everyone in the room taste the two opposite glasses, the one that won the experiment, sort of, and the one that faired the worst, and for everyone it was obvious indeed that the quality of the tasting changed drastically from the Lehmann to the other [not named], it looked like a different wine. A few weeks ago by the way, Riedel people visited Leclerc-Briant and they asked Hervé Jestin to have him come test their own glasses (the ones that are in the research/development stage) in Paris, which proves that they also may be interested in exploring this new direction. The bottle design of Leclerc-Briant has also been selected through this method, and I’m confident the wine will age well in there…
Cramant So2-Free 2012__ Cramant Sans Soufre Harvest 2012 (single vintage), this was the 1st year, they made 3000 bottles. This cuvée will be on the market next spring (2017). Fréderic Zeimett Considers it to be one the best cuvée in Champagne, so refined and delicate. All with élavage in Sauternes barrels, with the wood harmoniously matured and fondu in the wine, there’s some vanilla but it’s subtle. Nice length and superb energy feel. Exceptional nature Champagne. No SO2 adding anytime and no dosage at all, again, what a surprise for an Extra Brut. Fréderic Zeimett says that the first time he tasted this wine with Hervé Jestin, that was in september 2014 at the first disgorgement, with Jacques Dupont (wine writer at Le Point), someone who wasn’t very positive on natural wines, and the wine critic was very impressed, in a turnaround in his opinion on sulfur-free wines. Will cost 130 € retail side.
Speaking of the sales, the wine can be found in a few prestigious (for their wine list also) restaurants like Can Roca in Catalonia or Etxebarri near San Sebastian. The wines are exported for about 50 % in about 20 countries and this will grow in the next years. Now the strongest markets are Germany (Riegel Bioweine) and the United States (N.Y. : Wine Source – California : Golden State), and Europe including Holland (Bosman Wijnkopers and Well of Wine) and Scandinavia (Norway : Autentico & Unico – Finland : Vinum). They’ve yet to go to key markets like Japan, the U.K. and Switzerland. They also sell in Canada (Quebec : Vins Libres – Ontario : Le Sommelier), in Australia (French Vines), in Eastern Europe. Leclerc-Briant is present on a few wine fairs like Millésime Bio, Prowein (on their German importer’s stand) and also Bulles Bio, the organic-Champagne fair that was precisely created by Leclerc-Briant 8 years ago in Reims.
Blend rosé 2013__ Rosé Brut, a Brut Rosé d’Assemblage or blend rosé [no pic of the bottle, I guess I was beginning to forget my job…]. Made from 95 % Chardonnay 2013 and 5 % Pinot Noir 2013. Fréderic Zeimett would like to have it named Blanc de Blanc rosé. The base wine here is a Chardonnay and for the bottling before the 2nd fermentation they added 5 % of Pinot Noir vinified as a red which was sourced in the Ricey area, a great place for Pinot, the nicest [and little-known] area to make red wines in Champagne. My host find a licorice taste which he did not spot the last time, menthol too. Like you can see the wine is almost white. The mouth touch is very soft with a gliding feel on the side of the mouth. Very saline also, you want some more. Easy drinking, but also a vinous Champagne because the bubbles are very discreet. Will cost between 35 € and 40 € in the wine shops. I don’t like to say it’s a rosé, it’s really a wine which you drink like another wine, not the sweet summer bubbly.
Street name near the facilityLeclerc-Briant67 Rue de la Chaude Ruelle51200 Épernayphone + 33 3 26 54 45 33www.leclercbriant.fr
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