There is a biodynamic revolution happening in Champagne and Leclerc Briant are one of the producers leading the charge. Having undergone their own rebirth and renovation since being bought by American investors in 2012, Leclerc Briant are now a prominent and utterly unique force in the region.
Thanks in part due to the unconventional belief system of renowned winemaker Hervé Jestin – who advocates a bioenergetic approach to winemaking (transferring natural energy through living systems into the wine) – Leclerc Briant are known for doing things a little differently. During a recent trip to Champagne with Jancis Robinson MW, we visited Hervé Jestin and general manager Frédéric Zeimett at the house in Épernay to learn more about their current practices and their distinct range of champagnes.
Walking through the cellars, one can’t help but spot the many different types of vessel that Leclerc Briant use to ferment their wines – most notably a gold-lined barrel which “allows more connection with cosmic activity”. Concrete eggs however, which have become popular for fermentation in Champagne of late and which Leclerc Briant store horizontally as there is “too much lees movement in the vertical position”, will be phased out. The transfer of potassium is apparently too high when using the eggs, thus Jestin and his team are looking at experimenting with other materials, such as sandstone, glass and porcelain.
Another technique set to change is the use of taille in their blend. The taille de cuvée is the 500 litres of juice pressed after the coeur de cuvée (the first 2,050 litres of juice) and was previously fermented and discarded by Leclerc Briant. Going forward however, Jestin has decided to use 10% of the taille in the blend, as it adds favourable characteristics.
Currently, Leclerc Briant own 14 hectares of vineyard, which supply 50% of their production needs. The other 50% is bought from 12 grape suppliers, all of which farm organically, some of which farm biodynamically. When spraying their own vineyards, Leclerc Briant use a small amount of wine from the previous harvest, to “introduce last season’s wine to this season’s vine”.
Our tasting began with Brut Rosé, which although not labelled as a vintage champagne, is produced entirely from a single harvest. Alongside the current 2016 release, we tasted the completed 2018 blend, which has 10% Pinot Noir red wine from Les Riceys. It has many years of ageing to undergo before release, but showcased wonderful hints of red wine tannins and looked very promising at this early pre-bottling stage.
The grapes used in the Blanc de Meuniers blend, a rare 100% Pinot Meunier champagne, hail from the Premier Cru village of Chamery in the Montagne de Reims. While it is a zero dosage champagne, it has some natural residual sugar and a really meaty, smoky character; a result of its 100% oak fermentation.
Le Clos des Trois Clochers 2014, also 100% oak vinified, is a north-facing 0.3 hectare plot in Premier Cru rated Villers-Allerand. This single vineyard creation is also a zero dosage and produced in tiny quantities; just 2,500 bottles were made in 2014.
The second edition of much talked-about underwater-aged champagne Abyss 2013 will be based on the 2018 vintage and produced slightly differently than the first. Though other champagne producers are experimenting with underwater ageing, Jestin believes the difference with Abyss lies in its blend, which has been perfected for the second release. “The idea is to choose vineyards sitting on pure chalk… Abyss 2018 has Pinot Noir from Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Chardonnay from Montgueux, and Pinot Meunier from Chamery.” Jestin also mentioned they have done analysis to ensure that “zero seawater” is coming into the bottles.
Millésime 2014, another zero dosage but one that will have “2-3 grams of residual sugar”; La Croisette 2014, their local single vineyard from Épernay; Grand Blanc Millésime 2013, containing fruit primarily from Avize and Cramant; and Les Basses Prières 2014, a tiny single vineyard in Premier Cru village Hautvillers, are all powerful examples of different champagne styles produced in connection with nature, with little or no dosage added.
We concluded our visit with a top-secret project, declassified for our lucky palates. A personal project of Jestin’s, the champagne is a Vintage 2008 made entirely from biodynamic fruit, with zero sulphur and zero dosage added. The blend is 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, and 25% Pinot Meunier. It was vinified in both barrel and stainless steel, before being bottled in June 2009. Only 2,800 bottles were made and the one we tasted was disgorged the morning of our visit.
Despite there being zero sulphur dioxide, Jestin believes it will age for “several years”. The bottle we tasted certainly had no sign of oxidation and was fresh and ripe, with all the finesse and texture of the vintage. A very interesting project to watch out for in the future.
|Leclerc Briant Brut Rosé | 17/20
95% CH, 5% PN Red Wine | Vintage: 2016 | | Lees Ageing: 2 Years | Disgorged: April 2019 | Dosage: 4.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Months
Very light hint of pink, lots of rich and forward ripe fruits. Initially you get the red berry fruits and then some tropical notes emerge like peaches. That creamy texture on the palate from the lees makes it not seem extra brut as it has the richness of fruit.
|Leclerc Briant Blanc de Meuniers | 17.5/20
100% PM | Vintage: 2015 | | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: June 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 0 Months
Ripe peaches and apricots and some of the red fruits on the palate like raspberry and plum. Has a red meaty character to the red fruits with lots of freshness to finish.
|Leclerc Briant Le Clos des Trois Clochers 2014 | 17.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: August 2018 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 10 Months
This is a powerful champagne with plenty of tropical fruits like pineapple, yellow plum and really ripe red apples and a strong oak flavour. Going back a few minutes later the peaches and pineapple have really come forward. A champagne with a great bold structure yet maintains balance.
|Leclerc Briant Abyss 2013 | 17.5+/20
34% PN, 33% PM, 33% CH | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: March 2017 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Underwater Ageing: 12 Months | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
The initial aromatics are floral like honeysuckle, then you see some of the red fruits like cherry, blackcurrant and plum. Has a soft, creamy texture with plenty of ripe red fruits and pineapple with good freshness coming from the acidity. Has a strong finish with that mix of minerality and hint of salinity. This is very good and a very interesting way that Hervé is playing with texture.
|Leclerc Briant Millésime 2013 | 18/20
40% PN, 40% PM, 20% CH | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: April 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Months
Lots of juicy apples and pineapple and great texture on the palate with a nice lift of freshness on the finish.
|Leclerc Briant La Croisette 2014 | 17.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: January 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Months
Lots of fruit character with ripeness and freshness with a round texture and fruits like apple with hints of spice from the oak. Underlying yellow fruits like plums and pineapple.
|Leclerc Briant Grand Blanc Millésime 2013 | 18/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: June 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 0 Months
Lots of really ripe fruits mainly from Cramant and Avize. There is a rich creamy texture with a lot of apple, lemon richness and pineapple hints all wrapping round a spicy texture. Very good.
|Leclerc Briant Les Basses Prières 2014 | 17.5+/20
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: August 2018 | Dosage: 2 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 10 Months
Beautiful nose, some grapefruit and topical notes and really ripe apples. The long ageing on the lees has contributed great texture. Hautvillers as a village is what it shows well – Pinot Noir spice and red fruits.
|Jestin 2008 | 17.5+/20
50% CH, 25% PN, 25% PM | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: June 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 0 Months
Has the texture of the vintage, with purity of fruit and freshness. Bundles of rich ripe apple and ripe lemon with some finesse to the fine chalky texture. Great finish and sits well with no dosage. Shows no sign of oxidation.