This is the English version of an article published for my wine column at Forbes Japan. The Japanese version is found here.
A special Champagne aged in the sea
Story behind the birth of "Abyss" and Hervé Jestin
You probably heard the news about the wine that was recovered from a sunken ship after resting on the seabed for over a hundred years. This story shows the aging potential of wine. The condition of some of the wines were good, even though they were 'stored' in the sea.
In fact, some Champagne Maisons intentionally carry out such in-sea aging. The conditions that affect the bottle - such as pressure, temperature and humidity - are different in the sea, so the aging process is different to that of wines that are kept in a cellar.
Leclerc Briant's “Abyss” is one such of these special Champagnes. After disgorgement, the bottles are placed in cages and submerged in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of northern France to age for 1-1.5 years.
Leclerc Briant, a pioneer in biodynamic viticulture in Champagne
Founded in 1872, Leclerc Briant started as a family-owned Maison. It started organic farming in the 1950s and has been a pioneer in the shift toward biodynamic viticulture ever since. After Pascal Leclerc, its fifth-generation owner, passed away in 2010, there were difficulties in running the business and most of the vineyards were sold to other Maisons. It was then saved when an American couple bought up the brand and business in 2012 and resumed the Maison’s business.
Hervé Jestin, a well-known Champagne maestro, was taken on as winemaker and Frederic Zeimett, who had been engaged in business development for the LVMH group for 25 years, joined as general manager. With that, the brand was renewed and restarted.
Talented winemaker, Hervé Jestin, and the birth of Abyss
Jestin, from Brittany, grew up in a family of a wine merchant. In his childhood, he joined his grandfather for the family business' wine tastings, and says, "I have a strong connection with wine. Winemaking is my mission".
After years of experience as Chief Winemaker, or Chef de Caves at a Champagne Maison, Jestin went independent and created his own brand, Champagne Jestin. He also works as a winemaking consultant and advises not only Champagne but also in many wineries in France and abroad, including those in Italy, England and Spain.
He has been focusing on organic and biodynamic farming for a long time, so was already acquainted with Mr. Leclerc.
Bottles of Abyss recovered from the sea after aging
Abyss is matured in the sea near a small island called “Ouessant”, which lies off the coast of Brittany where Jestin was raised. The bottles are kept at a depth of 60 meters and subjected to six atmospheres of pressure.
According to Jestin, this is a place that "generates high energy" because the tides collide and create a permanent vortex. Thinking this would increase the energy of the wine, 48 bottles of the 2012 vintage were aged on the seabed here as an initial experiment. The results were as he had expected – the amount of energy was 30% higher than that of those aged in the cellars, according to his measurements.
Jestin is an intelligent winemaker, with high-level winemaking skills, who makes wine according to his own philosophy. I always enjoy listening to his unique ideas and stories. His Champagne certainly has energy and vibrancy. Abyss, too, has power inside with rich and complex flavors of dried apricot, apple, brioche and hazelnut.
He believes that it is essential to respect nature and the environment, respect the individuality of the land and grapes, and practice winemaking accordingly. At the Maison, for example, alcohol fermentation is carried out slowly using wild yeast. Bottling for the secondary fermentation to create bubbles is then performed in late July, which is later than in most producers, in order to bring out the individuality of the wine. The winery also uses a variety of vessels for the winemaking, including stainless steel tanks, oak barrels, amphorae (clay) and tanks lined with gold.
Since its restart, Leclerc Briant has been gradually buying more vineyards with plans to increase its lineup and production volume. Because Jestin has hardcore fans all over the world and Leclerc Briant is a wine that is sought after by Champagne lovers, its popularity is growing.
This stainless barrel is lined with gold
A new tourist attraction in the Champagne region
The Champagne region is a popular tourist destination close to Paris that attracts many visitors from home and abroad. Leclerc Briant is also involved in wine tourism and has opened Le 25bis, a wine shop and hotel on the main street of its base town, Epernay. Tastings are also on offer here.
On the outskirts of Epernay, Royal Champagne, a 5-star hotel with a spa and restaurant, has also been completely renovated and is attracting attention as a new luxury spot in the Champagne region. It stocks 260 varieties of Champagne. Located on a small hill with a terrace that overlooks the village and vineyards, it is a perfect place to stop at for an apéritif or meal.
Stunning views from the terrace of Royal Champagne
Mr. Hervé Jestin (left) and Mr. Frederic Zeimett (right)