Meet the Winemaker: Delphine Brulez – Vigneronne at Champagne Louise Brison
Hello Delphine, where are you from? From Champagne, I was born in Troyes and grew up in a wine village in Côte des Bar, in Noé les Mallets.
What do you enjoy in life? Biology has always fascinated me. Understanding how nature creates a living being from a few small cells. This interest naturally led me to look around me and pay attention to the living world.
With a father who was passionate about civilizations, I was intrigued by stories of origin. Today, I am very interested in geopolitics. Understanding the state of the world today by going back to the origins of the Territories. It also helps me to take a step back from the analysis of my immediate environment.
I like traveling, discovering cultures, lifestyle and above all I love diving. A diver is fully integrated underwater. Like a new species of fish…it’s a calm and soothing universe.
The “dinner-table” moments occupy a large part of my life! Sunday lunch is a must. We take the time to cook together, to choose the wines. We also take the time to appreciate. I don’t have any favourite dishes, it depends on the season. Wines are the same. As long as they go well with what we eat and give pleasure, it’s fine with me!
What don’t you like? In my daily life I have a tendency to procrastinate…I put off office tasks in particular! I hate injustice, whether it is minimal (in my microcosm) or on a global scale. As for what I don’t like to listen to, it’s simple: political speeches
DELPHINE, HER WINES, HER WORK
Which vintage did you like to vinify?
The vintage that I like a lot more, and not only for the vinification, is 2015. It was a very beautiful, “restful” and well-balanced season that allowed us to work serenely. This dynamic continued right up to the harvest, with the ability to harvest at the best time, and to have wines that made themselves…
When did you decide to settle down on your own estate?
I came back to the winery for the 2006 harvest. I passed my thesis defense in September and hop… straight in the juice!
Why did you decide to make organic wines? Does the climate of the Champagne region make organic viticulture complicated? Since when did you make the first trials?
Organic practices didn’t come along right away. I already had the great chance to start with a healthy base and working habits (no herbicides, no anti-botrytis, sulphur against oidium…), but when I left school I wasn’t yet a master of my work. It took me 10 years to become more comfortable and really know where I wanted to go. From then on, organics came on its own, like a ball that you unravel. I started by training, then experimenting, and then I generalized on the field from the 2012 season. We applied for certification in 2017. We have the great chance to work over a long period of time, and therefore to be able to observe, and learn from mistakes sometimes!
Depending on the vintage, we see notable differences in the “management” of our technical itinerary. Let me explain: we put all our practices on the vine’s ability to cope with disease. The stronger the disease, the more important the response will be. To do this, we work a lot on the health of the soil, so that the vine plants have the capacity to feed themselves easily and to store reserves to defend themselves. Some years, usually with rainy springs, we have a lot of difficulty in containing mildew. Especially if the peak of the attack occurs before/during flowering, when the vine is emptied of its defences. So yes, the climate can complicate organic practices, especially as we do not apply any systematic approach, which forces us to be out in the field a lot and observe.
HER VINES, HER DOMAINE
What do you like in the Champagne region and in this particular region of Champagne, the Côte des Bar?
I love being in the most Burgundian region of Champagne! I have always admired the Burgundians for their extreme knowledge of different climates. I would like us to get there one day…As far as the landscape is concerned, our region of the Côte des Bar is very diverse. The vineyards are on the hillsides along the valleys, but there are also a lot of large forests and crops.
What are the traditional grape varieties in Côte des Bar?
The traditional grape variety of the Côte des Bar favours Pinot Noir. However, we have 30% Chardonnay. After all, we have the same terroir as Chablis…
Our chardonnays are planted on hillsides. Indeed, it is an earlier grape variety than the Pinot, so it is not planted in frosty areas (such as the bottom of valleys or lower slopes). On shallow soils (with the marls outcropping or very shallow), we often find lower yields but exceptional concentrations. So when we renew the vineyard little by little, we have chosen to focus on the chardonnays.
Are there different terroirs on your estate?
We are very fortunate to have 8 ha in one piece with a South-South East exposure and an altitude between 250 and 300 m. Our vines grow on clay-limestone soils with Kimmeridgian limestone marl as the mother rock (which sometimes outcrops). In short, depending on the slope, the depth of the soil will vary from 0-30 cm at the top of the hill, to 60cm-1m the further down the slope you go. We therefore find different proportions of clay, which modifies the profile of the wines.
When the soils are superficial, the hydric constraint is real in the summer and forces the vine to favour its perenniality and therefore their bunches (very good for our wines!). When the soils are deeper, the vine is less constrained and will favour its vegetative apparatus (leaves, wood, etc…). So in general the bunches are bigger but less concentrated. This is why the whole plot is managed on a plot by plot basis. Monitoring of maturity, evolution of the sanitary state, which helps us in the picking circuit.
If I compare us to our neighbours…(and that’s not good!), our maturities are generally higher: our yields are lower and we wait longer to harvest so that the potential degree is around 11% vol, which avoids chaptalizing. So we very rarely have problems with ripening.
HER WINES TODAY & TOMORROW
You only work with Vintage Champagne, what are the current vintages at the estate?
2011 and 2014 which are at the antipodes!
2011 was a rather intense and agonizing vintage since the conditions weren’t favourable from May to September, leading to serious mildew pressure in June, but especially an appearance of rot just after August 15th. In these conditions, we did not have many weapons to fight against it at the time. We started harvesting on August 29th, not because the crop was ripe, but because the levels of rot were becoming difficult to manage. So we pulled out all the gear of a “good” technician, sorting in the vines, sorting in the press, rigour in the management of the juices, spacing out the first 200 litres of press, and above all controlling the vinification so as not to have any deviation. In this kind of vintage, what counts is the work at the beginning of the chain. If we haven’t done everything possible to extract the best from the juices, it won’t be on the wines and the maturing process that we will improve! In the end, I am very happy with the work of the teams and the results of this 2011 vintage, which is now in its fullness.
2014 is one of the last “normal” vintages. The season has been linear and simple to manage. This was the case until the harvest. They took place normally between the 15th and the 25th of September. We like these September harvests because the harvesting temperature is more moderate than in August, and therefore the quality of the juices is well preserved. The result is a superb freshness with citrus and lemon notes: a tension that makes you salivate and makes you want to start the meal. Contrary to 2011, the ageing potential is there. To be aged and drunk in 10 years!
Why do you vinify all your wines in barrels?
The barrel is the essential tool for the vinification and maturing of our wines. It is not a magic wand but there is no material similar to wood that can live in osmosis with the wines. It is also extremely important to pay attention to the quality of the grain (fine, extra-fine), as well as the type of toasting of the barrel, as this can have a real impact on the taste qualities and the longevity of the wine.
We therefore proceed with the alcoholic fermentation in cask because it has been studied time and again and proved that wines accept wood much better when it undergoes a transformation. The oval shape and size are also of great importance. We use 228l Burgundy barrels, which allows us to separate all our plots properly. As for the shape, it allows a very good clarification of the wines during the maturing process, while leaving a large contact surface with the lees. Since yes, we leave the lees to ferment in the barrels. They will greatly aide in the process of complexification of the wines, which is carried out in particular thanks to the internal and external exchange.
At the estate, you practice a 5-year maturing on slats, is this a recent choice?
A minimum of 5 years maturing on slats has been a golden rule at Louise Brison since the beginning of the vinification process, i.e. the 1991 vintage!
The law of Champagne imposes a minimum of three years for some vintages, but our wines are still only babies at this age! We have therefore chosen to wait another 2 years in order to have more mature wines, whose potential is really starting to be shown at that time. Very often we would have to wait even longer, hence the birth of our wine library and our Legendary range. This range is made up of vintages that have spent a minimum of 10 years on laths, the evolution of which we will follow through the years.
What do you expect from a wine?
What I like in a wine is that we respect it and that we taste it at its “correct” potential. If it has to be drunk young to be pleasurable, I don’t mind it at all. I’m thinking in particular of certain Côtes de Provence wines that are extraordinarily young. If you have to wait for it, no problem, you have to be patient and rotate through your cellar!
The Legend collection is really the DNA of Louise Brison. It is the work of almost 30 years of building up our wine library in order to have a real photograph of our terroirs through time. The ageing capacity is specific to each vintage. What is certain is that if a vintage has given very complex and rich wines with a lot of freshness, it is the winning trio for a long ageing. But again, if you can’t keep them for 25 years, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to give it a chance to exist and give us pleasure.
Which regional dishes do you recommend with your wines?
The local speciality is the andouillette de Troyes cooked at the Chaource (yum!). Very tasty dish, and rich in flavour. Our 2005 vintage (a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) goes very well with this dish. It brings to it the aromatic complement which will make them live in osmosis.
Another local speciality is the tête de veau (sauce gribiche), the rich (not to say fat) side of this dish will call for a wine that will not weigh it down. So for example a 2004 or 2000 blend.