The ‘Christian Louboutin’ of Champagne

The boutique Cotes des Blanc producer, R&L Legras, has released new bottles for its Brut and Extra Brut with distinctive “red bottoms” as an eye-catching way to increase brand awareness in restaurants.

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Julien Barbier is the sixth generation owner and winemaker at R&L Legras, one of the most renowned estates in the Cotes des Blancs which produces grand cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne sourced from its 15 hectares in Chouilly.

While rarely known in the commercial market, R&L Legras is famed for producing private label cuvées for some of Europe’s best restaurants, including La Tour d’Argent, Le Doyen, Guy Savoy, Bernard Loiseau’s three-star eponymous Relais in Saulieu, Burgundy, as well as initiating a new partnership with Singaporean chef, Justin Quek of Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands.

“My father was instrumental in setting these long-term partnerships up,” said Barbier at a meeting at Berry Bros & Rudd’s office in Hong Kong, his new importer.

“He drew the first private label for La Tour in the 1970s and in the cellars, they still stock our very first vintage of 1959 of only six bottles.”

R&L Legras uses no oak, but allows full MLF and ages its cuvées extensively on the lees. For its 2007 vintage, Barbier uses a tiny one-hectare parcel with true vignes veilles of approximately 45 years old with seven years in the cellar prior to disgorgement and then another year of further ageing – and even its NV Brut has 36 months in the cellars prior to release.

The Champagnes receive low dosages at disgorgement – 5g for the 2007 vintage for example, and as little as 3g for prestige cuvée, Saint Vincent.

“We tried oak but it wasn’t our style,” he said. “Chouilly has this bright minerality which we let shine through. Oak just made everything over complicated and added extra layers which didn’t need to have been there.”

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Owner and winemaker, Julien Barbier

Despite holding onto traditions extending back to his grandfather’s time, Barbier has introduced a thoroughly modern element to his Brut and Extra Brut ranges, in the form of bottling them in distinctive red-bottomed bottles, akin to the iconic shoe designer, Christian Louboutin.

“We made sure first of all that it was okay [to do this] in regards to patents,” Barbier said quickly.

“In a restaurant, it’s difficult to see the label when the sommelier is pouring because it’s only shown to the customer who ordered it but for those sitting elsewhere, they’ll see it and ask questions. It’s my hope that Legras will be known for this – in Japan they already love it.”

While Hong Kong has slowly cottoned on to smaller Champagne producers, Japan has gone through a big “Champagne revolution” over the last five or so years, said Barbier.

“Japan for a long time was dominated by large labels but now the market has really opened for smaller brands like me – and Agrapart for example. We even get whole pages in wine lists!”

With 140,000 bottles produced, Barbier exports 60% internationally with Asia “a big focus”.

The range available in Hong Kong via BB&R from January includes the Brut Rosé (HK$380), Brut Blanc de Blancs (HK$320), St Vincent 2008 (HK$608), Cuvée Presidence Vielles Vignes 2007 ($488) and the Cuvée Hommage (in honour of Barbier’s father) for (HK$508), with John Chan, the sommelier at the Mandarin Oriental already listing R&L Legras by glass and bottle.

“We’re a sommelier-driven wine,” said Barbier.  “We need someone to tell the story and explain why we are different. While not knowing Hong Kong extremely well just yet, it looks like there are more sommeliers here than ever before, and this could make Hong Kong a whole new chapter for us.”

 

 

 

 

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