VISIT AND TASTING AT CHAMPAGNE LECLERC BRIANT
Leclerc Briant is one of the historic estates in the region… pioneer for the organic and biodynamic approach in Champagne, fruit of a strict, rigorous and methodic work in the vines… This estate of 9 hectares located in the heart of Epernay is also resolutely innovative breaking away from the classicism with their R&D team. Frédéric Zeimett, in charge since 2013 of Champagne Leclerc Briant, has only one objective : to beautify the lieux and to produce the best wines possible under the baton of the winemaker, Hervé Jestin, who moulds with passion great wines of Champagne ; a new chapter for this more than 140 year-old property. It is in Epernay, capital of Champagne, that we met with Pierre Bettinger – in charge of the sales department of the House – but also Ségolène Leclerc, eldest daughter of the family at the origin of the estate. A unique opportunity to enter in the Leclerc Briant world and to discover their authentic and elegant cuvées.
The House is separated in two parts : one part on a side of the street with the vat-room and the wine barrel storehouse and the other with the offices and the aging cellar on the other side. First, the visit starts at the cellar where Pierre and Ségolène go through the ages of the estate…
Between inheritance and innovation
Leclerc Briant exists since 1872, with a beginning of activity in Cumières – right next to the present location Epernay. At that time, the Leclerc family had only 3-4 hectares. They then moved to Epernay in the mid-1950’s at the same time as they started their activity as Négociant. The chalk cellars – on the office part of the property – were dug late 19th century, in 1893. Since then, the whole house has been renovated recently – except the chalk cellars of course. Only the exterior walls of the winery have been preserved in order to have buildings modelled on the image of the estate today. Hervé Jestin – cellar master of the House – has been involved in the reconstruction project to give his instructions so the buildings may be in line with the wine approach : biodynamics, research around wines, energy … In addition, the Leclerc Briant team continues to work closely with Ségolène Leclerc – inheritor with her sisters of the estate before the selling – in order to insure a certain continuity with the history and with the previous commitments of the House.
Indeed, at the death of their father, Pascal Leclerc – 5th generation -, Ségolène and her sisters decided to sell in 2011 to two famous Great Champagne Houses. Both interested by the 30 hectares of vines in biodynamic approach but not in developing the Leclerc Briant brand : they decided to keep only the vines ; the buildings going to be sold or reclassified, meaning the brand would disappear. It is early 2012, that Frédéric Zeimett bought out the property with a group of American – the same who bought the Royal Champagne – in order to preserve this historic estate. A purchase including the building, the brand and the stock with the will to revive the House. They also immediately bought vines and today, it is ten hectares that the brand owns and completed with 7-8 hectares in supply. However, it was then necessary to convert these vines to organic and biodynamic approaches for those which were not already.
Since this beautiful estate from Champagne has been bought back, it challenges with the top of the appellation. It has as director, Frédéric, an highly qualified general manager in the wine and spirit industry, designed for this mission of trust. For him and all the Leclerc Briant new team, the link of the brand with the Leclerc family through Ségolène is essential. Indeed, there is the desire both to insure the inheritance and to revive the House with a new identity : wines of a different style from a new vineyard, a new cellar leader – Hervé Jestin, who already knew the House since he already consulted for the house at the time of Pascal Leclerc, but who today is 100% cellar master for Leclerc Briant. But it is also Hervé’s wine style, with new vineyards, a new winery, a new vinification process, a new visual identity, a much more premium positioning, … Both a lot of new things and a willingness to respect the organic and biodynamic legacy as well as what has been done by the family that have been precursors since Bertrand Leclerc – the grandfather of Ségolène – who started to apply the organic approach in the 60s. A very innovative decision for the time and – even though there is a real awareness today in Champagne at the time – was even seen as scatterbrained. Bertrand was also one of the first to create single plot and vintage cuvées in the 70’s. As for Pascal – the father of Ségolène – he was the first to apply the biodynamic method in Champagne with Jean Pierre Fleury – a winemaker in Aube. Indeed, the two winegrowers were friends and started together in 88 to test the biodynamic method while certification dates from 93 : once again well ahead of their time. Today, the team of Frédéric Zeimett has the will to highlight, value and claim this legacy and working closely with Ségolène is creating this link with the history and the family. For that matter, Frédéric did not hesitate to consult her and to involve her at the time of the buying of the estate.
The brand has also kept the link with the previous generations through the cuvées and the approach : a few vintage cuvées that are from the old generations but also the organic and biodynamic method for the vineyard – the grand-father chose to move to organic because he was sick with pesticides and thought that if it hurt him, it would hurt others too.
In the courtyard of the wine press, there used to be a water treatment plant – an ecological system to reject only clean water. Today, it is the harvest unloading platform : grape pallets are carried up by a forklift truck at the level of the protection system made by a local ironworker. The press – a Coquart – carries out a very delicate, silent and very natural press – no retrousse* : the grapes are pressed against a slanted wall, once the first press is finished it is enough to simply move back the removable panel and the press cake falls on its own. A refrigerated chest has been added so that the juices are not too hot and does not start too quickly the fermentation. The juices are then collected inside in a brand new room in a set of open-vats – called belons – for the taille and seconde taille.
The estate owns a certain number of barrels and this number will increase as production does. Today, Leclerc Briant produces around 130 000 bottles – against 20 000 in 2012 at the buying – and the House will continue to grow little by little to come around 180 000 and 200 000 bottles in few years : the right number to remain precise in the wine making process and corresponding to the cellar capacity of 600 000 bottles with 3 years of stock. However, no new barrels are used : some are purchased new but aged at the property before the being used for the cuvées Leclerc Briant. They come mainly from Bordeaux – most from a well known estate in Sauterne – and the few new barrels, marked with the LB logo, drink wine by fermentation of the tailles that are then sold. A process repeated 2 to 3 times before the barrels can be used the following year for the cuvées of the House, which means that no “new wood” is used for the aging process.
Last harvest (2015), the estate also tried out for the first time 4 terracotta eggs used for four different plots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. Usually standing up and pierced on the top, these eggs coming from Tuscan are laid and for the first time the Tuscan craftsman has been asked to pierce his eggs on the side : with the standing egg, the wine is constantly moving and Hervé finds it a bit tiring for the wine. However, with an egg lying down, the wine follows the same rhythm as if it was in barrel. Moreover, an egg in nature is of course not standing but lying : this position is more normal and therefore it is more natural to put this ovoid form lying down. Hervé Jestin chose to use the eggs because they give very pure and quite fat wines but also because it is really interesting in blending. However, no cuvée vinified 100% in terracotta is planned at the moment.
Frédéric and Hervé are always looking to create new things. Indeed, the House can exist only if the wines are impeccable but also if it offers something different : through a non-conformist communication but also in innovation in the wine making process – innovate, surprise, suggest different things. A budget is allocated to R & D – the team is therefore trying terracotta, ceramic containers to test the ceramic vinification, bottles maturing for one year at the bottom of the ocean …. Leclerc Briant is for sure breaking the codes. The novelty of last year was the terracotta eggs, this year it was Goldoraque : a stainless steel barrel outside and covered in gold inside – developed for 3 years with a manufacturer in Bordeaux and with a registered patent. Hervé Jestin is considered one of the references in Champagne when it comes to the organic and Biodynamics approach – he consulted for most of the estates that are using biodynamic method today in Champagne and he worked with Pascal Leclerc – but he is also a winemaker who is constantly in search of energy. Indeed, he is a radiesthesist and owns a Lecher antenna – a scientific instrument that detects vibratory energy. He measures energy between things and is always seeking to transmit as much energy as possible to the wines. Hervé explains that in terms of energy and transmission of energy there is no equivalent in the world to gold. This is why Leclerc Briant developed a barrel that is covered in gold inside – not a gold leaf placed inside the barrel, it is built in the barrel by electrolysis and stainless steel is actually gold-plated. There is a coat of 2 gold microns – the equivalent of a gold bullion – scattering the inside of the barrel. Received this year just a week before the harvest, the team could not talk about it and had to find a codename which became Goldoraque, a name that has remained since.
Right now, the one of a kind barrel contains a single plot – La Croisette – waiting to see what it will come to. La Croisette is a small plot located above the House in Epernay and which – as Ségolène explains – remained and was already in the estate for years. A plot therefore very important for brand. It was part of the purchase of the House, part of Leclerc Briant historically and was already put in the spotlight thanks to a single plot cuvee. If we go back to the link between the “old version” and the “new version” of Leclerc Briant, this plot called La Croisette is an other good example of this link. A lieux-dit also very interesting as it was planted in the 60’s at the time when Bertrand Leclerc was trying the organic method. This is the reason why this plot never knew any chemicals – which is in Champagne rare enough to be noted and highlighted. In fact, this part of the vineyard is a bit the favorite of the House. Therefore, Hervé Jestin tested for the 2016 harvest to vinified partly in terracotta, partly in barrels and partly in gold – in gold barrel.
As for the vat-room, it is both functional and aesthetic – no pipes and cables are visible, hidden behind black panels. The stainless steel tanks are thermo – regulated with a capacity of 25 hecto each which is the equivalent of a press of 4000kg for a marc of 25 hecto. Therefore, it is possible to vinify each marc, each press separately. One specificity of the Leclerc Briant vat-room is the fact that each tank is connected to the earth by a kind of ‘earth plug’ so that the energies can be exchanged, navigating between earth and wine. In the neighboring room, two smaller tanks serve to blend the wines before the bottling.
Another distinctive characteristic of the House is the rather late bottling for a quite long maturation. Indeed, most of the Houses do the bottling in March/April, April/May or February for the biggest brands. However, Leclerc Briant is doing the bottling in July/August for longer maturation partly in barrels, partly in stainless steel. The single plot cuvées are almost all integrally vinified in barrels. The reason for this long maturation is that Leclerc Briant considers in the Biodynamic logic that a very strong link between the vines and the wine exists and when the wine is in maturation it keeps this strong connection with the vines of which it comes from and so follows the same cycles as them. Therefore, not to shock the wine and break the connection, Leclerc Briant waits for the flower before bottling. Indeed, when the flower blooms, it is a new cycle that begins, the vine goes on its side and the wine on his: the connection stops naturally.
After the vinification, the wines are left to age in cellars deep underground for a long time before being disgorged. The different cuvées are kept in the 3 floors of cellar, dug in 1893. The 1st one – in concrete – and the largest stocks the cuvées that have the fastest rotation – Brut Réserve, Rosé that stay 2 to 3 years sur lattes – as well as the 5 gyropalettes of the House. The two other floors – one in brick and the other in chalk – are for the wines who aged a little bit longer sur lattes and notably the future stars of Leclerc Briant including Pure Cramant – a 2012 Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru without added sulfure which will be released on the market probably in spring 2017 with less than 3000 bottles and without any dosage.
Among those future gems of the House, there are also the cuvées that aged under water. Indeed, last year the brand sent 48 bottles of Brut Reserve 2012 to the bottom of the ocean off the island of Ouessant in Brittany – the westernmost point of the continent – immersed at 65m profundity. The idea is once again a search for innovation and looking at the behavior of wine when it is aged for a year in an environment not only alive as the bottom of the ocean there is a lot of life and movement (tired and flow) -, without any light and with the same pressure inside the bottle and outside (about 6 bar) but especially because there is absolutely no artificial magnetic field at the bottom of the ocean at 65m – only the natural magnetic field of the earth and that is it. While even in chalk cellars, there are still electric generators, or cellphones of the workers and visitors. The first try with 48 bottles brought back in June 2016 was very convincing. Indeed, at the blind tasting between the Brut Reserve 2012 aged in the cellar and the one aged in the ocean, Jamesse, Essi Avellan, a journalist from Singapour and the commercial of Leclerc Briant for Paris, everyone was won over by the wine aged in the bottom of the ocean without knowing what is was. As for the energy test, it shows that there was 3 times more energy in the bottles aged under water than the ones aged in Epernay. A rare and precious cuvée that will bear the name of Abyss.
At Leclerc Briant the dosage is kept to a minimum to avoid masking any nuance of the wines’ character and to keep a perfect balance that the consumer can appreciate. A way to reveal the ‘vertical thread’ that links the vine to the wine. And in order to be even more precise for dosage, the House invested in a dosing device for extremely accurate dosage when the old machine dosed within 1 gr.
A tasting around originality
After the visit, heading towards the rooftop for a tasting with an impressive view of Epernay, the capital of Champagne. The opportunity for Ségolène to explain why the cuvées Leclerc Briant contain so few sulfites – not more than 40mgr – as her grandmother had a stomach ache with too many sulfites.
BRUT RESERVE – 2013
«Minerality and character»
Sourced from the crus of Hautvilliers, Avenay, Epernay, Verneuil, Cramant and Montgueux, this Brut Reserve is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. This cuvée aged and vinified in oak barrels is a non-vintage champagne with 2013 as principal harvest. A quite low dosage (4gr/L) has been added to highlight the pure salinity of this cuvée bottled in 2014 and disgorged in October 2016.
The color is a pale straw-yellow and sharply effervescent. The nose is fresh and fruity with warm apple, pear and quince notes but also hints of pepper and sweet almond. The palate is well-balanced between vinosity and freshness with a delicate acidity. The finish is clean, fruity and mineral. A non-vintage champagne of great style, quality and complexity.
Before continuing the tasting with the rosé, we tasted a bottle opened the 9th December, being 4 days before our visit. The effervescence is still very present and the wine has evolved pretty well thanks to biodynamic approach and the energy. The nose and the palate are buttered, more mature and complex. The impression of tasting an old vintage and a feeling of two distinct wines.
«Freshness and complexity»
The Brut Rosé is a blend of 95% Chardonnay from the villages of Chouilly, Montgueux, Essoyes and 5% Pinot Noirs. This cuvée is a combination of different vintages but the principal harvest is 2013. The dosage is a crisp 3 grams per liter. A wine bottled in 2014 and disgorged in May 2016.
A salmon pink color and a very expressive, rich and complex nose with spicy red fruits aromas. The palate expresses also an elegant complexity with a clay minerality and some woody notes. A balanced palate with subtle red fruits aromas – raspberry and cherry – followed by rhubarb, oven-baked apples and white butter notes. The finish brings a lot of freshness. A vinous and aromatic wine with a very nicely balanced style.
«Salinity and vinosity»
This La Croisette cuvée of Maison Leclerc Briant stemming from the 2013 harvest is a 100% Chardonnay vinified and matured 9 months in barrels, without any dosage. This brut nature Blanc de Blancs is originated from a 0,6 ha plot located in Epernay, planted in the mid-60s – old vines – and which has never been sprayed with phytosanitary products. A single plot cuvée aged a minimum of 2 years, bottled the 5th of July 2014 and disgorged in August 2016.
A straw-colored wine with pale yellow and bright silver glints. The first nose expresses frankly tender notes of acacia flowers, hazelnut, underwood and creamy limestone with a iodine touch. After a certain time of aeration, the palette is enriched with some greengage plum, candied pear, quince and mimosa notes but also licorice, tobacco and star anise on the finish. The palate offers a broad expression of Chardonnay with refined woody and vinous notes but also a good balance between tension and salinity. The wine develops suavely white fruits and citrus fruits aromas, sustained by a lemony acidity. marked by a mineral coating of fatty limestone that confers elegance and carries the aromas. The whole wins a round, saline and candied finish, endowed with an aromatic return marked by limestone, ripe fruits, brioche and lime. The palate is carried by the bitterness typical of the chalky soil. La Croisette is a round and fresh wine who seduce by its floral and candied fruit fragrances.
LES CHEVRES PIERREUSES
«Delicateness and fineness»
A cuvée made from a single harvest – 2009 -, a single plot from Cumières of 2.8 hectares, 3 grapes varieties – 40% Chardonnay, 40% of Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier. Hervé Jestin chose a light dosage – 4 grams per liter – allowing the minerality to express itself generously. A wine disgorged in February 2016 with almost 6 years sur lattes.
The color is a brilliant deep gold. The nose is complex and chalky with some iodine, brioche, toast and vanilla notes. The palate is vinous, rich and opulent with generous but delicate citrus aromas – pomelos, lemon and kumquat – and notes that remind of childhood cake. The finish offers an agreeable salinity contrasting the generosity of the mineral texture – limestone and clay. An elegant and refined cuvée, perfect expression of its terroir.
BONUS – 2 singular newbies
BLANC DE MEUNIERS – A pure Meunier from Chamery
A 100% Meunier champagne from Chamery 1er Cru. Exclusively made from the harvest 2013 and vinified in barrels, this vintage is a non-dosé. A single cru cuvée bottled in 2014 and disgorged in September 2016.
A straw-color wine animated by thin bubbles that flow into a tenacious collar. The nose caressing is opulent, vinous and complex. It evokes at the outset a marl-limestone minerality with an iodized shade reinforcing the plumb sensation, accompanied by smells of white flowers, apple and fresh grape but also lemongrass, peppermint and quince. With the aeration, it evolves with aeration to a scent of orange blossom and honeysuckle, notes of sweet spices, peach, orange, roast and almond. The palate – tight and sharp with beautiful texture – offers mineral and fruity notes. The finish develops candied aromas. A delicate and generous cuvée.
PURE CRAMANT – A brut zero vintage without added sulfure
A 100% Chardonnay from a number of plots from Cramant, this 2012 vintage Blanc de Blancs is vinified and matured in barrels. Cramant in his most beautiful expression. Bottled in 2013 and disgorged in September 2016 without any dosage. A brut zero with no added sulfure and opened the 25th of November (J-19) and still with a lively effervescence. Only 3000 bottles for this vintage that should be available in spring 2017.
The color is goldenrod with some green and silver glints. The nose – discreet but expressive and complex at the same time – offers buttered, creamy and chalky notes combined with a great energy. It develops also floral, white fruits and caramel aromas. The generous palate brings vinous notes and a supple velvet texture. It brings vanilla aromas and woody notes going along with an elegant tension and length accompany with a superb energy feel. The long and intense finish helps realize that this champagne is a “zero” by its real explosion of chalk on the palate. A refined and delicate cuvée.
Responsable : Frédéric Zeimett and Hervé Jestin
Location : Epernay (Vallée de la Marne)
Majority grape variety : Chardonnay
Other grape varieties : Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier,
Vineyard surface : 9 ha
Viticulture : Organic and biodynamic
CHAMPAGNE LECLERC BRIANT
67 Rue de la Chaude Ruelle,
*Retrousse : A manual operation consisting in broken-up the press cake between each pressing in order to bring the more lightly-pressed edges of the cake back into the middle of the press.