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  • Writer's picture5 Senses CulinaryTours

Passion and Perseverance

Updated: Jun 23



My tipple of choice is always bubbles..I never feel it’s a ‘time and place’ choice. Life needs to be celebrated always and bubbles seems to be my metaphor for happiness.  Now there are so many choices, not just from Champagne, but each wine producing regions around the world are producing a sparkling version. That being said, I never give up a chance to visit the Champagne region of France where the chalky, limestone vineyards offer a little more magic to the bottles.


It is so special to drive the rolling hills blanketed in vines from Bizy, Bouzy, Ay to Epernay with its grand boulevard of exquisite fancy champagne houses like Moet & Chandon, Perrier-Jouet and Mercier.


When we pulled up at the Champagne House on rue Chaude Ruelle it wasn’t one of these grand mansions, but the former family home from 1933 which actually has the cellars below and behind the house a small plot of vines, called La Croistte. The House of Leclerc Briant is one that makes you appreciate the love and passion that goes into making a very fine champagne. Just taking a sip makes you close your eyes to get all the senses involved.


This Champagne house has always been “different” by striving for perfection. As early as the late 1950s Bertrand Leclerc was spreading the word and practices of biodynamics. Biodynamics is a philosophy of farming that was the brainchild of Austrian-born philosopher, spiritualist and intellectual Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). At the core of his beliefs was that optimal plant health is achieved through minimal chemical intervention – especially zero pesticides and fertilizers. This was the fourth generation where there was no compromise on quality. He was again, one of the firsts to produce single-vineyard cuvees in Champagne.


I remember reading when in the 1980s Lalou Bizy-Leroy was extolling these beliefs with the moon calendar cultivation as well as, not using chemicals and Wine Spectator stories of her fellow Burgundian wine makers calling her too hippy or worse. Just as a little aside: in Burgundy, Lalou is the undisputed Queen, her Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru holds the title of the world’s most expensive wine. And her Richebourg typically is selling for more than $2,500 a bottle.


The House of Leclerc Briant is totally committed to the practices of biodynamics. And now even more. When the family sold (to another family, though American) the new owners wanted to live up to the family’s legacy. They hired Herve Jestin, an oenologist specializing in applying biodynamic not only in the vineyards, but in making the wine and coaxing even more nuances. He has been working for 25 years with biodynamic principles in the winery and he is considered to be a leading expert when it comes to using bioenergy.


Down in the cellars this all becomes clear. You see there are multiple “cask containers” from different earthenware amphora, concrete eggs, glass demijohns and even a titanium cask lined with pure gold. Fascinating experiments are being researched. Each are being examined from its history to detecting the current benefits. He is testing Georgian Qvevi verses Spanish Tinaja to age. The porosity of the clay increases the oxygen exposure to wines while they age. Oxygen accelerates the tertiary flavor development which includes softening tannins and increasing aromas. The egg-shaped vats are old school not a sort of futuristic spacecraft, he feels the concrete preserves the purity of aromas and flavors. Plus the convex shape of the concrete eggs also encourages natural lees suspension to fill out the body of the wine and soften the acidity. And Jestin has gone even further to have the eggs made with the local limestone. I think this man is a wizard!


He is serious about his bioenergetic wines. But one of his experiments – just blew me out of the water, it is just that, aging Champagne Leclerc Briant bottles under the sea! Abyss cuvee has been aged for 15 months at 200 feet off the coast of Ile d’Quessant, a small, captivating island off Brittany. Though it has been a long significant landmark for sailors nicknamed, “Sentinel of the Atlantic”. The reasoning is at that depth the pressure of the sea is the same as the pressure measurement inside the champagne bottles…that is science. Ageing wine underwater maybe the way of the future. Herve Jestin is working with nature to have the perfect ageing conditions, constant temperatures, guaranteed darkness and tidal movements. A clear correlation between the ambient pressures enjoyed during élevage, underwater or otherwise, and the putative longevity of a sparkling wine. At around 200 feet deep, and since there is “a permanent water dynamization,” he claims, the energy in the bottle is 30% more than the same bottle that has been aging in their cellar.


The process of ageing wine underwater was discovered by accident. In 2010, a trove of 168 bottles of Champagne, including a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, was found in a 170-year-old shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. A panel of wine experts sampled the Champagne and, after swirling the liquid around their glasses to infuse it with some much-needed oxygen, they agreed that the wine tasted sublime. Somehow, it was still fresh and vibrant.

 

Several bubbly producers have jumped at the potential, but none as scientifically as at Leclerc Briant. Bottom-line, I don’t understand all the concepts, theories, and mysterious alchemy, but the experts recognize the brilliance in those special bottles. Somehow, I see we’ll be reading about many experiments and many more to come from the champagne on rue, Chaude Ruelle. Treat yourself to a bottle if you can find it!

 

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