Leclerc Briant have a history of pioneering unique winemaking techniques. Originally named Leclerc Estate, the house was founded by Lucien Leclerc in 1872, in the village of Cumières. However, it was fourth generation family member Bertrand Leclerc who began steering the house in a new direction, undertaking organic winemaking practices as early as 1947. By 1955, Bertrand and his wife Jacqueline Briant had expanded the business considerably, moving the winery to its current premises in Épernay and renaming it Leclerc Briant.
Bertrand continued forging an independent path, becoming one of the first winemakers to stop using chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and even experimenting with biodynamic farming – which was almost non-existent in Champagne at the time. In 1999, by which time his son Pascal Leclerc Briant had taken over the business, the bold decision to gradually convert the entire estate to biodynamic farming was made.
This was a considerable undertaking; biodynamic farming is a significant extension on organics. Biodynamics incorporates all the principals of organic farming, such as not using synthetic chemicals, but goes further by incorporating ideas about a vineyard as an entire ecosystem. Biodynamic practices harness cosmic forces, derived from planetary and moon configurations, to strengthen the fertility of the soil and its resistance to disease, in accordance with the belief that everything, the crops, soil, farmer and universe, is interconnected.
Over the next decade, Pascal patiently built upon the biodynamic foundations his father had laid, carefully purchasing grouped parcels, thereby limiting the interference of nearby chemicals and making biodynamic farming easier. By 2010, Leclerc Briant owned around 30 hectares of vineyards, largely in the villages of Cumières, Hautvillers, Damery and Verneuil, making them the largest biodynamic champagne producer in the region.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck in late 2010 with the untimely death of Pascal Leclerc Briant, a true Champagne pioneer. His four daughters briefly took over management of the estate but, after disagreeing on how it should be operated, ended up selling more than 50% of the vineyards – primarily to the Lanson BCC group and Louis Roederer (the latter of which became the biggest organic and biodynamic producer in the region as a result, and famously lead the field today).
With their holdings reduced to some 13 hectares, the future for Leclerc Briant looked bleak. However, salvation came in the form of American investor Mark Nunnelly and his wife Denise Dupré, who fell in love with the nonconformist history of the house and bought the brand, its winery and cellars in 2012. (The couple didn’t stop there, also purchasing the luxury hotel Royal Champagne in 2014, which was completely rebuilt and refurbished, before re-opening in 2018).
“Wine must always be in connection with the cycle of nature” – Hervé Jestin
One of their first appointments was the hugely experienced biodynamic winemaker Hervé Jestin. Having served as Chef de Cave of Duval Leroy for more than 20 years, and as a consultant all over the world including in Russia and England (with the venerable Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire), there aren’t many with as much knowledge of organic and biodynamic practices as Jestin. He also worked alongside Pascal from 1999, so was already familiar with the Leclerc Briant wines.
Soon after, Frédéric Zeimett was appointed General Manager, a man with 20 years experience at Moët & Chandon. The duo spent the following years overseeing the renovation of the winery, cellars and offices, which are located on opposite sides of Rue de la Chaude Ruelle in Épernay (in April 2017, the team added a wine shop to their proprietary, located on the famous Avenue de Champagne).
Nowadays, not only has cellar master Jestin proved a great custodian of the unique Leclerc Briant winemaking style, he has taken the approach a step further. Jestin is an advocate of bioenergetics: the study of energy flow through living systems. During the development of the new winery in Épernay, Leclerc Briant had a geobiologist measure the energy fields in the facility to ensure they were operating at optimum energy levels. This involved checking the placement and alignment of the stainless steel tanks, which are each individually connected to the earth via a cable – a way of transmitting energy from the soil into the wine.
Jestin’s appreciation for the influence that exposure to strong energy fields during the winemaking process can have on the resulting champagne led to perhaps their most famous experiment yet: Cuvée Abyss, the champagne stored 60m under the Atlantic Ocean for 12 months post-disgorgement. The constantly undulating movements of the sea, which Jestin describes as “a permanent state of dynamic energy”, is an extension of biodynamic philosophy and lends Cuvée Abyss a unique maritime quality.
“Absolute respect for the environment, for the vines, for the grapes, and for the wines has always been paramount at the House of Leclerc Briant; these are values that are deeply engrained in the DNA of the company” – Frédéric Zeimett
Other techniques include putting stones that have been exposed to moonlight (preferably at important times in the lunar cycle, such as during an equinox) into the stainless steel tanks, thus transmitting the lunar energy into the wine. The stainless steel vats have also been produced in accordance with the Divine Proportion, or ‘Golden Ratio’, a mathematical equation that is “consistent with the aesthetics of good composition” and seen throughout ancient architecture.
Another of Jestin’s more expensive bioenergetic undertakings was the specially-made production of a 228 litre stainless steel barrel lined with 24-carat gold. The barrel currently contains wine from the 2016 harvest of La Croissette, a prized 0.6 hectare Chardonnay plot located behind the winery in Épernay which has never been treated with synthetic chemicals.
The significance of gold is that it “makes a connection with cosmic activity”, which is a key principle of biodynamics. Jestin believes that there is a resonance between the solar energy and the wine, and that the gold-lined barrel increases the solar activity during first fermentation – as testified by his comparisons with the same wine aged in other materials. It is the world’s first ever champagne, or indeed drink, to be fermented and aged in a gold barrel and will be released in 2021.
There are 12 champagnes in the current range, including several single vineyard expressions – another field of champagne production which Leclerc Briant spearheaded. In 1994, they were one of the first producers to introduce single vineyard champagnes, a category which was largely disregarded for the next two decades, but has recently received a spate of renewed interest.
Leclerc Briant add very little dosage to their champagnes, typically between 2 and 4 g/l. Indeed, although not labelled as such, their entire range (aside from the Demi-Sec) are technically Extra Brut champagnes – a number of them are even zero dosage. During our visit to the house in Épernay, we tasted a broad sample: two non-vintages, a single vineyard and two specialties, including the mythical Abyss.
Jestin’s passion for bioenergetics is clear, although he does not proselytise or ask many questions of his beliefs. His faith is vindicated by the reality of the results: it is enough that he witnesses the outcome, understanding the mechanics of how it came to be is not required. It must be said, his philosophy is contagious. Whether it is the carefully curated energy field of the winery, or the unassuming confidence of the man in charge, one cannot help agreeing: the champagnes clearly have a high level of positive energy – does it matter why?
Bioenergetics has its disbelievers, but what cannot be disputed is the energy of Jestin, Zeimett and the Leclerc Briant team themselves. Every last detail has been considered, even down to ensuring there are no markings on the corks, in case they impart anything negative into the wines. If bioenergetics is concerned with the transfer of energy in living organisms, then how much is being transplanted from the palpably passionate individuals in charge? Whatever the source, there is an elegance to Leclerc Briant that seems to follow in the champagnes, and, really, that’s all that matters.
|Leclerc Briant Brut Réserve NV | 17/20
40% PN, 40% PM, 20% CH | Base Vintage: 2014 | Reserve Wine: 10% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: May 2018 | Dosage: 4 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Lots of ripe fruits on the nose, good balance of freshness and fruit density with lemon richness and hints of tropical notes, well balanced. Hervé mentions the importance of long lees ageing as a still wine in tank and that is seen as another key part of the recipe.
|Leclerc Briant Premier Cru Extra Brut NV | 17.5/20
70% PN, 15% PM, 15% CH | Base Vintage: 2014 | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: November 2018 | Dosage: 2 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Months
Really ripe fruit with hints of tropical fruit like pineapple and loads of ripe lemons. On the palate it is fresh, creamy and rounded; ripe apples and lemon dominant with a hint of spice. Good balance and doesn’t seem like 2g/l dosage, showing how much texture the lees ageing and oak have added to the mouthfeel.
|Leclerc Briant Les Basses Prières 2014 | 18/20
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: August 2018 | Dosage: 2 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 7 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.
|Leclerc Briant Abyss Brut Zero 2013 | 18+/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 Rosé Rubis de Noirs 2009 | 18/20
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: January 2018 | Dosage: 4 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
A ripe cherry and rich raspberry nose – shows some of that Chardonnay character, even though it shouldn’t! Has great texture and warmth to the fruit. This is really rather good, has great length and a lovely spice and freshness on the finish.