VISIT AND TASTING AT CHAMPAGNE MOUZON LEROUX
On the North-East hillside of the Montagne de Reims, there is a unique place where you can find a number of tortuous dwarf beech trees called Les Faux but out of the forest, the village of Verzy reveals other treasures…
Some of them are crafted by a discreet and committed winegrower with a sincere humility and touching humanity who reestablishes the biodiversity, sowing plants, birdhouses and insect hotels in the vineyard. In the finesse of his great wines, Sébastien Mouzon-Leroux illustrates the magic individuality of the terroir of Verzy and reveals the essence of his soils through his champagnes. The cuvées of his estate offer a certain rusticity with great modernity which makes it eternal, and out of time. Located in the heart of the village of Verzy, we met with this winegrower who watches over his vineyard inheritance letting the soil slip into his grapes and brings his wines to a high degree of emotion. The opportunity for us to understand the quest and the philosophy of this sincere winegrower.
An estate with positive energy from generation to generation
It has been nine generations that the Mouzon-Leroux family has been growing grapes in Verzy – since 1776 exactly – and four that they have been producing wines. Winegrowers from father to son, the passion of the work has been transmitted from generation to generation…
Originally, the family does not have vineyards on its own : all the ancestors of Sébastien always had an hectare of vineyard but had to work on the side. His great-grandfather was a carter for Vve Clicquot and took care of the horses. With Sébastien’s great-grandmother, he decided to leave the brand and to begin to produce the first bottles of the Domain under the name Mouzon-Juillet and under the independent winegrower status from the beginning. Today, the family cultivates 8 hectares in Verzy, including 1 hectare in their own right and 7 hectares on lease with 25 different owners, all tenant-farming to the third. This was done gradually with the years : the family was one of the first to vinify and produce their own champagnes and the elders of the village approved their approach in the vineyard and independence to produced their own wines so they decided to give their vines for rent to Sébastien’s grand-father, then to his father and today to Sébastien himself.
Brought up to the wine growing accents of his childhood, he naturally trained his palate with time and went through 6 years of an oenological viticulture school. He then completed his training with a one-year-experience in Burgundy – 6 months in Pernand-Vergelesses and 6 months in Volnay – before returning in 2002 to the family estate. The Domain has been using a sustainable approach since 1997, so between 2002 and 2008 when Sébastien gradually took over the vineyard, he logically continued to do what his father did – i.e to work in a rather traditional way the vines and the wines with eco-ware methods. However, from 2008 he decided to turn the estate to a biodynamic viticulture for various reasons…
Unlike what we could think, the first reason is not the ecology. As the thirties approached, Sébastien began to have another vision of life, watching less and less television – a lesser lobotomization – reading more and more books on geopolitics. His readings included a work called “Dessous des cartes” explaining how the economic system works today, and how it enriches large petrochemical firms, and large firms in general ; how they capitalize, play with the stock market and create economic instability. For the winegrower, it was a change of economic vision, an awareness about the bought chemicals and the ones that winegrowers pay for today – Bayer, Syngenta, BASF. It became clear for him that he no longer wanted to take part in this system. So, the first reason was economic : a “boycott” of the economic system and of the operation in its entirety with the will to change the system and to no longer buy products to petrochemical companies.
Naturally, the second reason is ecological : by choosing another approach, Sébastien avoids to pollute soils and water. Today, the new generations are all well aware of the contemporary problems for the environment and it is vital to reduce the impact on nature.
Moreover, the winegrower noticed through his experience that a respectful method increases the quality as well. Indeed, he acknowledged that all organic wines he was able to taste since 2008 brought different emotions than 100% chemical wines. However, he is not an Ayatollah of the organic approaches. In fact, he strongly respects the work of others and shows a great humility, open-mindedness on the subject. He willingly admits that there are very good winemakers using non-organic methods, but working their soils, paying great attention to the products they use and create excellent champagnes. Nevertheless, the winegrower takes the greatest pleasure with organic wines crafted with a minimum of sulfur. This is also why he works to reach this quality too : to make the most of a less compact and breathing soil thanks to the biodynamic viticulture. Therefore, the winegrower turned to an organic approach for its economic, ecological and qualitative sides.
Sébastien immediately chose a biodynamic philosophy without going through organic viticulture first, as biodynamic methods look at life with a different eye. It brings back a little to the quantum physics – a science completely forgotten and one that attention has been paid until the chemistry arrived and swept it. The winegrower refers to studies of Luc Montagnier – Nobel Prize in science and medicine who discovered the AIDS virus – who took over the work of Benveniste showing that when living things are analyzed – animal or vegetable – at the smallest micron, there is electricity ; The livings are made of nuclear, protons, neutrons : everything vibrates, everything is electric. Biodynamic viticulture starts from this principle that everything vibrates, everything is alive, electric and the growth, the quality of vine, the soil can be influenced by homeopathy. Therefore, it is possible to act by energizing things and so affect life in-depth by vitalization : turning the water on one side and then the other, breaks out the oxygen molecules. and when silica or a plant is added in this energized water, it manages to capture the electricity of what was put in there, and can return it to the vines afterward. This approach allows to deeply influence the living things. The winemaker explains : “Take for image when you shake hands with someone, in french the expression “le courant passe , ou ne passe pas” is used which means literally “the power passes, or do not pass”, which clearly means that it is possible to feel immediately if the relationship “passes”, or not. “
Sébastien applies this biodynamic vision in his everyday life as well : via what he eats but also benevolence in everything he does – no hierarchy with the employees of the House – allowing to give back the good energy and vibration created to much more sensitive things – plants and animals. For the winemaker working with joy and heart is important as vines and grapes – and wine once vinified – can feel the effects and in the end the consumer will feel this love. Sébastien believes in this philosophy and living this way also makes things a lot simpler and more natural : to take a course of action and to take decisions is much easier as he knows where he wants to go with this philosophy of benevolence.
In 2008, with this understanding he almost quitted the winegrower profession. Indeed, he did not see the need to make wine which was now for him conspicuous consumption. Instead, Sébastien was heading towards truck farming : owning land to feed the population spoke to him much more than to create wines. Also, truck farming was consistent with his vision of life and allowed him to go further in his reflection. So, he went to work with Pierre Rabbi from Terre et Humanisme in Africa during few months several years in a row to do truck farming : a great experience of life for the winegrower who questioned himself during this period about well-being, poverty, joy as he was able observe that in Africa, people are not necessarily internally unhappy although they have no material.
However, after a time of thinking, he reached a new consumption and wine awareness… Concerning the choice of consumption, if the society stopped every beautiful thing, perfume or wine just because it is pollution and joy, life would be boring ! So, he then becomes fully aware that everything around him is a chance, and that it is important to go on to produce champagnes but in the best possible way to continue to bring joy. He also realized the importance going non-pollution and non-consumption extremist is another dictatorship, politics : with this philosophy, we no longer listen to others since everything they do is wrong – buy a car, change tapestry … So avoiding consumption and being always in a dictatorship of idea is not necessarily more positive: it is essential to respect what the others do and find your own balance. Today, Sébastien has find the right balance for him through a biodynamic approach which respect his philosophy of life and respect the identity of his terroir. A real success as 80% of his production is exported distributing to 25 countries around the world.
A natural process to respect the terroir individuality
Verzy is one of the 17 Grand Cru of the Champagne area, and the only one of the Montagne de Reims where the Pinot Noir is not predominant. Located in the village, the estate Mouzon-Leroux is set on 8 hectares on 60 different plots. The vines are 100% in Verzy, spread between two villages – Villers-Marmery and Verzenay – with grape variety plantings completely different than Verzy. Indeed, the terroir of the village is divided between 3 small valleys. Westernmost, Verzenay is planted mainly with Pinot Noir in soils with little chalk as well as heavy and dark clays. Easternmost, Villers-Marmery is predominantly planted with Chardonnay on chalk with light clays while both grape varieties are present in the middle. Thanks to this breakdown, Sébastien creates balanced and harmonious blends from the two varietals – 59% Pinot Noir for roundness and 40% Chardonnay for finesse. However, he also have 1% of his vineyard planted with Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. In a general way, the estate is set on clayey and limestone soils with a lot of silex – among the villages where there is the most flint of the Marne : Verzy was the largest open clearing of flint 200 years ago – crafting precise wines with smoky, metallic and vigorous character. Sébastien has at heart to understand his terroir and each of his plots, this is the reason why he has in his red binder all the cross-sections of his parcels. A deep understanding allowing the winemaker to express all the minerality of his vineyard through his cuvées and so it is easy to feel the energy side of the biodynamic approach with the flint of the terroir as this method brings out the vigor of this sedimentary rock. In fact, the biodynamic approach brings out the best of each terroir…
Something really important for the winemaker to create diversity is to make his own massale selection on every replanted vines : while clonal selection only replicates clones in respect with a vegetative growth quality and grapes quantity but raising the question of taste, the massale selection uses roots that have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years so there is a true diversity of taste as well as an adaptation to its terroir. The winegrower takes care of vines with an average age of 35 years – against 25 to 30 on average in Champagne -, an age chosen for the balance between quality and quantity it provides.
At Champagne Mouzon-Leroux, the land is farmed with love, passion and common sense. Sustainable viticulture techniques are used since 1997 so in 2008, the logical development was to move to a biodynamic approach. The estate obtained the organic certification in 2011 for its environmental involvement but for Sébastien what matters most is to let the terroirs and grape varieties regain their right to express themselves harmoniously and with great finesse.
Through his approach Sébastien uses a lot of plants for “treatments” : Achillea, Camomile, Symphytum, Burdock, Nettles, Horsetail, Wicker … a dozen of different plants – including some of them that he picks himself – he applies depending on the year: some 3-4, other years almost the 10. He adapts to climatology ; the weather makes him use this or that plant – the Achillea can be used when the temperature is high, wicker when the season is wet – but also the vegetative advance of the vine. The winegrower listens to his vines in order to know what they need. The nettle manure increases the amount of nitrogen in the soil and is also an elicitor preparing the vine against diseases whereas wood chips help to absorb moisture and limit water-related diseases and St. John’s wort is an excellent “vine antidepressant”. Sébastien also applies pure silica in order to energize his vineyard adapting quantity to each plots. Bouse de corne 500 (Cow Horn Manure) – which enriches the soil with bacteria (100 million bacteria per gram) -and horn silica – which increases photosynthesis and promote vegetative vigor – are the basis of biodynamic viticulture.
As for the soils, each plot is tilled individually: he adapts to each terroir. Some parcels are completely grassed 100%, some plowed completely and some one road out of two. Sébastien goes even further by putting sheep in his plots which graze and then return what they ate to the ground. As the winegrower explains :”There is no better as compost”. Moreover, the first three years of the life of a vine he uses exclusively a horse and a small crawler – which is very light – to keep the land from compacting so no tractor at the beginning of the vine’s life. He also did a lot of inter-planting and shrub complantation – male and female wild cherry, cherry tree, hazel bush, dogwood, … – in order to bring life in the vineyard. An approach in the direction of agroforestry, that is, filling the hole of the monoculture created by the man, breaking the cycle of it because monoculture implies mono-insect which explains the Flavescence dorée arrival and the green leafhopper.
Inter-vine hoes, garden claws, manual tillers, ploughs herbal teas, manure and decoctions, not to mention the use of rainwater… he applies a real life viticulture to help the vines flourish. Sébastien uses no more chemicals but mineral, vegetable and organic products instead. For the winegrower, the biodynamic approach creates dynamism, life, balance.
The vineyard of the estate is really pampered thanks to the presence of one worker for a little less than one hectare. And when Sébastien looks to the future, he wishes to work more and more with the animals: an approach that pleases him well. He already installed insect hostels and bird houses around his plots and this year, he got sheep for 3 months. For that, he had to make long researches about what kind of fences to install, what height, what length, what battery and energizer to put, what ewe breed to choose, which breeders to contact for the right ewe in addition to the negotiation and finally the transfer of the sheep from one plot to an other… A long work but a direction the winegrower wishes to look deeper into as it contributes to the biodiversity by enriching the soil – the winegrower never had as many birds around its vines as when there were the sheep – and it allows to create more dynamism within his vineyard.
During the harvest season, the grapes are picked fully ripe to be then sorted grape-by-grape to draw out the best juice. Once the grapes are harvested and sorted, they are press in the membrane press of the estate. For the vinification, the family owns a barrel fleet of a hundred pieces : 75% of the vinification is done in burgundy barrels of 228 L and demi-muid of 650L. A significant use of wood as the winemaker especially likes it as there is no compromise with barrel vinification.
The house works following a natural winemaking process which means that nothing external enters the wines : it’s all about balance. A quarter of the winery is vinified without sulfur, three quarters with only a very low amount – the bare minimum at the exit of the press. In fact, Sebastien is one of the winemakers who use the least : between 15 and 20 mg of total sulfur at the wine analysis. He does not use it at all during the vinification as he prefers to works with bâtonnage (stirring) instead – according to the years, to avoid the oxidation – and racking if the wines go towards the reduction. Once again, an approach completely adapted to the wine as Sébastien explains “wine are like children, each evolving differently”.
For the vinification, Sébastien chose simple and natural methods : indigenous yeasts – i.e yeasts made from the grapes – for alcoholic fermentation and not blocked malolactic fermentation to avoid an unnecessary addition of sulfur, no filtration nor fining… If the soils are healthy, the vines will be and the grapes will be filled with energy so Sébastien “just” need to take care of the wines. It explains why he is very little interventionist on the wines. The winemaker preserves the true identity of his terroir and his grapes as the less he intervene the more the earth expresses itself : soils, vines and grapes are the priority, the wine follows if everything went well before.
After the juices underwent the first fermentation plot by plot, Sébastien creates his blends according to the feeling : thanks to years of tastings and training his palate – like when he tasted old Bordeaux wines with his grandparents -, his experience allows him to perfectly understand and know what to blend with what just like a musician with his music notes composing a piece. He proceed methodically on his own, tasting all the wines, writing the blends, seing what happens, blending and then modifying to reach the result he is looking for. Finally, there is always consultation before he makes the final decision : he makes systematic tasting with his family – grandfather, father and mother – as well as an outside oenologist.
Thanks to the aging on lees, in barrels or in vats, the winemaker creates complex and full-bodied wines enhanced by a low-dosage shipping liqueur to respect the initial balance born from the terroir that characterizes the identity of the cuvées. The aromas are highly developed as Sébastien does not chaptalized – chaptalization dilutes the aromas whereas the natural sugar used by the estate is easily assimilated by the champagne. The entry-level cuvée ages a minimum 3 years in cellar and up to 6 years for the top of the range : 2010 vintage is currently on sale for Opiniâtre, the without sulfur cuvée of the estate. With the success of his wines, Sébastien chose to work with allocations in order to be able to keep the same quality: he refuses to produce more with shorter aging times. He manages as well to keep the bottles 6 months after disgorgement. The winemaker reveals that the old grape varieties of the estate are set aside to be used for a single plot cuvée blending the 7 varietals – a plot with every 5 roads = 1 grape variety, therefore 1/7 of each varietal in the plot.
Sébastien crafts atypical champagnes with a lot finesse and roundness expressing the original balance of the terroir with a beautiful density and tautness. He explains himself that : “The taste of the estate is the taste of our terroir”. The wines are pure, complex and taut with assumed and authentic distinctiveness that take you by the hand and show the way to the terroir of Verzy. Emotions, pleasure, frankness but also precision, elegance and delicate energy for those connoisseur cuvées. The winegrower composes melodies through his wines…
The involvement of Sébastien goes event further as 1% of the sales of the premium champagnes is donated to an association whose values are close his. www.terre-humanisme.org.
A tasting of terroir-driven cuvées with frank, precise and sharp style
At Champagne Mouzon-Leroux, the tasting takes place in the reception room formerly an old barn and recently renovated with a view of the village and the vineyard. All the champagnes from the range of the house are 100% Verzy Grand Cru. The opportunity to discover through the cuvées the terroir of this village of the Grande Montagne de Reims.
« A energetic balance between Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Verzy »
This champagne is a blend of grapes – 65% of Pinot Noir and 35% of Chardonnay -, harvests – a base 2013 (80%) with 20% of 2012 and 2011 harvests – and vinifications – 25% in oak barrels and 75% in small vats on lees. Sébastien uses natural yeasts for a natural alcoholic fermentation and let the wines undergo the malolactic fermentation to limit the addition of sulphur. Neither filtered nor fined, the wine aged on racks in the cellar until the extra-brut dosage of 3gr/L is added to put the final touch to this cuvée.
The color is a pale lemon yellow, the wine is almost colorless. The nose is frank, fresh and mineral with elegant apple and quince aromas. First, the palate starts with red fruit notes from the Pinot Noirs and then brings citrus aromas from the Chardonnays with a light bitterness. Brisk and vibrant, it offers freshness, salinity and a pleasant sharpness from the flint on the finish nuanced with brioche and lemon zest notes. An open, pure and energetic champagne offering a wide variety of aromas.
« A vibrant and mineral Rosé de Saignée »
This Rosé de Saignée is made 100% of Pinot Noir from the 2014 harvest and from the free-run wine of a 15-hour maceration – each year the maceration is different from 8 to 36 hours : Sébastien tastes the wine from the tank every two hours and clarifies it when it’s good, even if there is not the color. Hence the name Incandescent in reference to the sun giving the color to things. It is vinified 25% in oak barrels and 75% in small vats with natural yeasts for a natural alcoholic fermentation. It undergoes the malolactic fermentation but is neither filtered nor fined. Once it aged on racks in the cellar for an average of 28 months, the winegrower chose an extra-brut dosage of 1gr/L.
The color is a deep salmon pink, almost pinky red. The nose is generous and elegant with steeped red fruit and vanilla aromas as well as light saffron notes. The palate is fresh, fruity and saline developing succulent dried berries, citrus peel and crunchy fruit flavors. The finish is vinous and persistent with light vegetal – cardamom and rose – and smoky notes.
« A joyful ascent to the terroir of Verzy »
A Solera wine from the Atavique cuvée since 2010 – 50% of 2012/2011/2010 Atavique – renewed at 50% with Atavique from 2013 harvest. Sébastien chose a representative blend of Verzy terroir with 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. The vinification is entirely made in oak barrels, the alcoholic fermentation uses natural yeasts and the malolactic fermentation is done to limit the addition of sulphur. The wine is neither filtered nor fined and aged on racks in the cellar before the dosage with 3gr/L.
The wine is straw-colored. The nose is nuanced and mineral with a great freshness from the chalky terroir. It develops yellow fruit, brioche and yeasty bread aromas with stone fruit notes in support. The palate is lively but dry, complex and ample with a strong consistency. It offers a silky, velvet structure with power, roundness and sharpness. The finish is bright and brings minerality, energy, a tautness almost strict, austere in a elegant way, as well as green apple and nuts notes. The stone and flint are more present thanks to Solera which smooths the vintage effect compared to the Atavique cuvée which has 80% of a vintage, so the terroir expresses itself even more.
« The purity and energy of the Chardonnay from Verzy »
This 2011 vintage is a 100% Chardonnay vinified 50% vinified in oak barrels and 50% in small vats. 2011 was a complicated year in Champagne and Sébastien had to harvest 10 days after the other winegrowers. Like the other cuvées from the estate, the alcoholic fermentation is done naturally thanks to natural yeasts, the malolactic fermentation is done to limit the addition of sulphur and the wine is neither filtered nor fined. 2,5 g/L are added after the aging on racks for an extra-brut champagne.
The color is a pale yellow. The nose is pure and delicate expressing the vegetal character of the harvest 2011 almost Chenin with quince and apples notes. The palate is elegantly different than the nose offering first roundness, suavity with ample lemon blossom and light smoky notes whereas the finish reveals finesse as well as minerality and freshness. A wine with subtle delicateness.
«The finesse of the Pinots Noirs from Verzy melted with the character of 2012 »
A 100% Pinot Noirs vintage from the harvest 2012 vinified entirely in oak barrels.
The wine undergoes a natural alcoholic fermentation thanks to the use of natural yeast and the malolactic fermentation is done so the addition of sulphur is limited. With the purpose to keep the process natural, the wine is neither filtered or fined. Finally, it is a cuvée brut-nature cuvée as no dosage is added. This wine was no longer available for 1 year for a question of quality and aging time: it was too tense and needed more time to age, therefore Sébastien waited 1 year for the wines to be ready.
The color is a light gold. The nose is taut, fresh and frank offering ample aromas of candied citrus marmalade with delicate spices and floral notes. The palate is intense and expresses aromas red fruits as well as grilled, buttered and delicate woody notes. It offers the finesse of the Pinots Noirs from Verzy with a delicate roundness, before revealing a beautiful uprightness and minerality on the finish. The terroir touch is well present and harmonious on this gastronomic cuvée.
BONUS : L’EXALTANT – Ratafia de Saignée
Sébastien also produces a Ratafia de Champagne but not just any ratafia : a Ratafia de Saignée.
L’Exaltant is made 100% of Verzy Pinot Noir from the pressed juice of a 24h-maceration, vinified 100% in oak barrels during a period of 24 months. The process is all natural : no alcoholic nor malolactic fermentation, no filtration, no collage, no chaptalisation, no ullage. The mutage of the grape juice is done with alcohol using the Fine i.e organic wine of the estate distilled and brandy. Sébastien does not add any sugar which means that the sweetness comes only from the natural sugar of grapes, Available in bottles of 50 cl.
The color is an intense, bright and deep ruby red with copper-colored hints. The nose is generous, round and fruity with vinous and expressive candied notes as well as ripe fruit aromas. The palate is harmonious and vibrant on grape juice notes with a perfect balance between finesse and power as well as sweetness and lively acidity. It reveals generous, joyful and elegant honey and fresh grapes aromas. The finish is subtle and ethereal with great finesse thanks to flint and a lush texture. An aromatic ratafia with an impressing balance and a great digestibility.
Responsable : Sébastien Mouzon
Location : Verzy (Montagne de Reims)
Majority grape variety : Pinot Noir
Other grape varieties : Chardonnay, Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier
Vineyard surface : 8 ha
Viticulture : Biodynamic culture
CHAMPAGNE MOUZON LEROUX
16 rue Basse Carrières