Ruppert-Leroy Delivers Sparkling Gems From Southern Champagne
6th April 2023
The quiet French village of Essoyes seems an unlikely place to discover some of Champagne’s most intriguing and delicious wines. After all Essoyes is over 100 miles from the epicenter of Reims, Champagne’s unofficial capital. And with just over 700 inhabitants, Essoyes is best known as Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s summer home. He painted memorable scenes on the banks of the Ource River which flows through the village.
Even so, Essoyes lies in Champagne’s southernmost region of the Côte des Bar. And it’s here that spouses Bénédicte Ruppert-Leroy and Emmanuel Leroy are carving out a reputation for producing coveted and delightful sparkling wines.
A visit to Champagne Ruppert-Leroy’s homestead means slipping into a rural world unto itself. The farm lies well off the main road. Driving up to the winery, you discover a farm devoid of the fancy buildings encountered on many famous northern Champagne estates. The couple’s 10-acre farm includes sheep, cows, chickens and horses.
Bénédicte and Emmanuel cultivate grains to feed the animals while also growing their own grapes to make wines. This contrasts with northern Champagne growers who traditionally farm only grapes which are then sold to large négociant Champagne houses which make the wines.
“We campaign for the peasant farm model with mixed farming and the presence of animals,” Bénédicte says. “We must reconnect to this link to animals whether horses, sheep or cows. It’s important to us to return to human-sized models, instead of large, hyper-specialized farming structures.”
The couple lives on the farm in a log house which they designed and built themselves. In the grassy yard, chickens cluck happily away, foraging for lunch. As with any small, working farm, this is very much a team effort and partnership.
“We both work with the animals. It is the same in the vineyards and in the cellar, too,” she notes. “We share the same logic of work, and we like working together. It gives us a lot of confidence and strength to dare to do differently. It allows us to go further together.”
An important facet of their work involves using horse drawn plows in the vineyards. This prevents compacted soils to conserve vibrant microbial life which nourishes the vines. It’s time-consuming, difficult work, but the plowing also offers a source of pleasure and satisfaction.
“Working with the horses allows us to take the time to work without haste,” she says. “What a pleasure to be in the middle of our vineyards with our two horses under the sun and to feel the ground in our hands through our plows.”
In this sense, the Ruppert-Leroy approach embodies Rudolph Steiner’s concept of biodynamic farming. Each component of the farm—including Bénédicte and Emmanuel themselves—is viewed as an interrelated and co-dependent part of a living agricultural organism rather than just another piece of a solely economic enterprise.
Maintaining vibrant, living soils plays a fundamental role. Instead of relying on chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers which maximize grape yields at the expense of healthy soils, Bénédicte and Emmanuel use natural composts and “herbal” sprays. This promotes both naturally hearty, disease resistant vines and the overall health of the farm as a whole.
“It is beneficial for the biodiversity of the fauna and flora,“ Bénédicte notes “Having autonomy in the production of composts offers the possibility to recreate balances on our farm.”
As for Champagne Ruppert-Leroy’s winemaking, the goal is straightforward: to bring the farm’s living terroirs to life in the bottle. Instead of northern Champagne’s white, purely chalky subsoils, Essoyes features terroirs resembling those of Chablis, a Bourgogne appellation a little over 40 miles to the southwest. It comprises a combination of Kimmeridgian marl—a mix of hard white limestone and clay—and brown Portlandian limestone.
“We don’t do complicated things. We want to produce wines that explain our terroirs,” Bénédicte says. “We therefore generally produce one wine per plot per year without mixing of any kind.”
After harvesting the grapes by hand, no sulfites are added to the press wine. This permits initial fermentation with indigenous yeasts. The wines then age on the lees for nine months in previously used oak barrels and larger demi-muids. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally.
Typically, Bénédicte and Emmanuel do not blend in réserve still wines from prior vintages before transferring the wines to bottles for secondary fermentation. The bottles then rest on lattes for eighteen to twenty-two months. After disgorging, the sparkling wines are corked in the dry Brut Nature style. Again the goal is to capture an authenticate reflection the personality and integrity of each terroir, rather than to create a “house” style.
“We make wines of terroir that happen to have bubbles,” Bénédicte observes.
And what delicious and impressive wines they are. Enjoy the following bottles now available and highly recommended:
Champagne Ruppert-Leroy, “Les Cognaux,” Pinot Noir Brut Nature (2019): Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, the yellow robe has just a faint blush of pink, accented with a persistent bead of fine bubbles. On the nose, aromas of strawberries, currants and nectarines mix with subtle yeasty notes. On the palate, a wonderful tension of ripe, juicy fruit and superb, frothy freshness leads to a silky, dry finish that lingers delightfully.
Champagne Ruppert-Leroy, “Martin Fontaine,” Chardonnay Brut Nature (2019): Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in clay and mainly white limestone. The light yellow robe with persistent bubbles offers aromas of bergamot, ripe pears and white flowers. On the palate, direct, fresh acidity and lovely, subtle creaminess frames ripe citrus flavors. The elegant, ethereal finish lingers deliciously with enticing frothiness and minerality.
Champagne Ruppert-Leroy, “Fosse Grely,” Brut Nature (2019): Made from 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay grapes grown on limestone and red clay. The light gold robe has subtle, but persistent bubbles while offering aromas of ripe citrus, peaches and subtle notes of mint and liquorice. On the palate, flavors of peaches and lemon balance with frothy freshness through a generous, fruity dry finish with plenty of minerality.
The Paris Wine Company imports Champagne Ruppert-Leroy wines to the United States.
Dave DeSimone FWS
Veteran wine and travel writer and member of the Circle of Wine Writers and a French Wine Scholar. His current articles appear on 'In The Wine Cellar' at www.daveswinecellar.com