Wines from the Côte de Sézanne are mentioned as early as the Middle Ages, and until the phylloxera crisis they went into many cuvées of the big brand Champagnes. After that, viticulture in the 12 communes in the south of the appellation ceased and was only resumed in the 1960s. One of the pioneers was the Bethon cooperative called “La Crayère”, founded in 1963 by 27 winegrowers from the region, including its first president André Vandier and the Comtesse de Reviers, heiress to the houses of Le Brun de Neuville and the castle of Bethon. The cooperative thrived and sold its base wines to Maisons such as Charles Heidsieck, Veuve Clicquot and Bollinger for their Blanc de Blancs. From 1972, its own Champagnes were marketed under the name Le Brun de Neuville. Today, the approximately 300,000 bottles labelled under this name account for about a third of production.
2008 then marked a change when Damien Champy (since 2020 also secretary general of the Champagne winegrowers’ association, SGV) replaced Dominique Barrat as president. Under Champy, the volume was reduced, the private label business was terminated and they withdrew from the supermarkets. Instead, the cellar focused on quality and the distribution on restaurants, specialised trade and the export business. In 2010/11, the wine cellar and fermentation cellar were enlarged and a storage cellar for wines in barrels was established. Since 2019, the house has repositioned itself – not only visually, but also mentally. Thus, it is no longer the négociants but its own winemaking principles that are to serve as a model. The construction of a new pressing center planned for 2020, was postponed due to Corona, but is scheduled to be made up for in October 2023.
Style of the house
Since 2020, the cooperative has members in all 12 communes of the Sézannais, for Damien Champy a kind of “territorial grand slam”. In fact, geologically, the Sézannais is something like the extension of the Côte des Blancs, a fold of Campania chalk that is considered the ideal subsoil for Chardonnay. The grapes are correspondingly sought-after. But there are differences: the Côte des Blancs faces east, the Côte de Sézanne faces southeast. This means that the grapes are riper and fruitier, the wines creamier. The municipality of Villenauxe-la-Grande is already outside the Marne department in the Aube. But the wines from the Sézannais have nothing in common with these southernmost wines of Champagne, they are more like those from Montgeaux. In addition to 85 percent Chardonnay, the main plantings are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (13 and 2 percent). The vineyards are increasingly cultivated without herbicides, and some are VDC-certified.
Still under Chef de Cave Gilles Baltazart, a terroir strategy was launched at Le Brun de Neuville to emphasise the origin of the wines. Consistent characteristics are now the use of own yeasts, an ageing “sur lie” of at least four years, a pragmatic use of malolactic fermentation and reserve wine proportions between 25 and 40 percent. The wines are stored in cellars more than 15 metres deep and are not sold until six months after disgorgement and with a medium dosage addition.
Apart from that, the house uses very different tools depending on the product line. Intended as an aperitif, the Côte Champagnes mainly use temperature-controlled stainless steel. The Les Chemins range is more structured and geared more towards gastronomy. Here, wooden casks of different sizes, natural corks for the second fermentation and sometimes a solera are also used. The autolysis series then relies on very long yeast aging and predominantly abandonment of the malo. Cyril Delannoy, the new Chef de Cave since March 2023, hopes to be able to switch to smaller presses in the new cellar in order to be able to work with even more different base wines from smaller parcels in the assemblage.
The range has changed significantly in recent years: Initially characterised by a classic division of Brut, Rosé, Blanc de Blancs, Brut millésimé and the prestige cuvées “Lady de N” modelled on the Grandes Marques, the two vintageless ranges Tradition and Authentique were introduced in 2008. In 2020, Tradition became the Côte line. It is intended to reflect the terroir of the Sézannais. As Extra Blanc made from 100% Chardonnay, 5 years of yeast ageing and with 4 grams of dosage, the classic Côte Blanche, also a Blanc de Blancs, Côte Rosée (48% Ch, 32% PN, 20% PN as red wine), Côte Brute (68% Ch, 32% PN) as well as Douce Côte with 35 grams of dosage.
The Authentique line is now called Les Chemins. It is characterised by traditional production methods such as fermentation with autochthonous yeasts, addition of the reserve from a solera and maturation under natural corks. The trio consists of Le Chemin Empreinté as Blanc de Blancs, La Croisée des Chemins (75% Ch, 25% PN) as well as the Rosé Au Bout du Chemin (60% Ch, 25% PN, 15% PN as red wine). Above this is the Autolyse range, which has taken over from Lady de N. These Champagnes age for a very long time and are characterised by the yeast aromas that develop in the process. This also forms a trio. It consists of Autolyse Noirs & Blancs (86% PN, 14% Ch with currently 13 years ageing on the lees), the somewhat younger Autolyse Rosée (56% Ch, 26% PN, 20% PN still wine) as well as the Blanc de Blanc Double Autolyse, whose base wines had already been aged on the lees.
Finally, the Millésime is available as a Blanc with a very high Chardonnay content and as a Rosé (78% Ch, 2% PN, 20% PN as still wine). Most recently, the experimental cuvées Côte à Côte (as mono-crus from Bethon and Villenauxe-la-Grande and their assemblage in magnum) were added. A Rosé de saignée as well as Champagnes from Pinot Blanc and Arbane are in preparation.
I first became aware of Champagne Le Brun de Neuville in 2017, I have been really impressed by their champagnes since 2021. In the form in which I tasted them from 2022, I would have already included them in my book. I tasted the new line several times. For this article and the tasting, the house sent me a Champagne for each line. The first is Côte Blanche Brut from the base year 2018 with 25 per cent reserve wines, aged both in wood and stainless steel with partially expired malo. Floral and citrusy on the nose, the hot 2018 vintage only shows through on the palate. Rich, almost opulent and with a very creamy mouthfeel, this is a champagne for hedonists (89 p.).
This is followed by Le Chemin Empreinté Extra Brut, one year older, also made of steel and wood with partial malo. 2017 is a more difficult year, and the Champagne is much more austere. But also more acidic, chalky, salty and transparent. Clearly stronger (92 p.). The Autolyse Noirs & Blanc Brut is 88 percent from the exceptional year 2008 (complete malo). Here, the Pinot reveals its fleshy nature and dark characteristics. At the same time, the champagne seems closed and almost inaccessible. On the other hand, the colour already plays into dark gold and notes of maturation can be tasted. This makes the prognosis difficult (91 p.) The Millésime 2012 Extra Brut, on the other hand, shines in full development. It consists of 97 per cent Chardonnay and 3 per cent Pinot Noir, here, too, the malo was not blocked. Very classic and rich, but in a pure, fine way. A wonderful ambassador of the Sézannais (93 p.). Disgorgement dates: IV, VI and II/2022, the Vintage III/2021.
Featured image: [César-François Cassini de Thury]: General map of France. N°45, Flle 4 [Meaux]. Bibliothèque nationale de France
All other photos: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images
More on the topic and introductory information:
240 pages, numerous illustrations.
Wiesbaden: Tre Torri Verlag, 2001.
Awarded the German Cookbook Prize in Gold as the best wine book of the year 2021.