Ch. Belle-Brise is a rather inconspicuous Bordeaux property with a “garden” vineyard of just two hectares and an annual production of just 800 cases. With such small quantities produced and a legion of loyal followers, the wine is little known outside of an exclusive list of top restaurateurs, a few lucky distributors and their clients.
Henri-Bruno is the 20th generation of the de Coincy family, famous for their Armagnac production that dates back an incredible 700 years. Despite this impressive lineage, Henri-Bruno's winemaking skills are a much more recent labour of love. Similarly, Ch. Belle-Brise was late to commercial winemaking – an enterprise started by Henri-Bruno when he bought the property in 1991 – despite producing wine since the 18th century.
Ch. Belle-Brise is often compared to the Grand Crus of Burgundy and has been referred to as the "Musigny of Pomerol", such is the elegance and weightless power this wine consistently seems to possess. Theories abound about why this is the case. Perhaps it is Henri-Bruno's Burgundian wife's influence, or the pre-1956 vines, or small-scale operation? For De Coincy, it is all of the above that makes this little wine of Pomerol so unique.
The foundations of Ch. Belle-Brise
What is really special about the Belle-Brise vineyard is the age of the vines, more than 100 vines are a staggering 120 years old and the average vine age is around 70 years old.
It is rare to find any Pomerol vines that pre-date 1956, as devastating frosts that year destroyed virtually all the region's vineyards. Many vines planted in Pomerol post-1956 were reliable clones but not as good in terms of wine quality. This is not the case at Belle-Brise, where vines either pre-date 1956 or were propagated from the surviving old vines.
Outside of Belle-Brise, there are just a few pre-1956 vines dotted around Pomerol and Saint-Emilion – most noticeably at Ch. Lafleur and Ch. Ausone. Old Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines, De Coincy believes, create an overall elegance, finesse and depth of flavour on the palate that is something really special.
The Belle-Brise vineyard contains a split of around 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The soil has gravel on the surface and beneath, a layer of clay, chalk and crasse de fer (iron rich bands of sand that play an important role in the flavour characteristics of many top Pomerol wines). Many believe this is responsible for the truffle aromas commonly found in Pomerol wines. Others believe it provides viticultural benefits, limiting vigour and excessive leaf growth, in turn producing smaller concentrated berries.
Natural winemaking at Ch. Belle-Brise
Despite being an experienced Brandy producer, De Coincy's project in Pomerol required considerable learning on the job and was faced with a challenging start. His first crop in the 1991 vintage was largely decimated by frost, meaning he had very small quantities to work with and likely not enough to sell.
This did, however, mean he was able to experiment with the vintage and trial different approaches. Three very challenging Bordeaux vintages followed as Mother Nature threw everything at De Coincy. It was a steep learning curve. When the more successful 1995 and 1996 vintages arrived, the winemaker was ready to produce Belle-Brise in his style, with confidence.
The approach is artisan and natural. There is no electricity on site and everything is made much as it would have been centuries prior. The grapes are grown using biodynamic and organic principles, and De Coincy employs horses to work the vines. The grapes are all harvested within one day allowing pin-point accuracy on picking dates. They are then hand-sorted exclusively by women – something de Coincy is insistent upon.
Once picked and sorted, the grapes are then left uncrushed in concrete vats in the winery. De Coincy then closes up the cellar and leaves the grapes for five days, so the natural coolness of the cellar retards the fermentation process.
After five days, De Coincy returns to open up the cellar. As the heat of the day enters the cellar, the grapes naturally begin to ferment from natural yeasts. De Coincy tends to pump over the juice twice a day over six to 10 days depending on the vintage and then leaves the wine to settle in-tank prior to the pressing of the skins. This traditional method is not very common in modern winemaking as it can run the risk of contamination. De Coincy, however, believes this method helps extract the delicate aromatics from the wine.
After this stage, De Coincy carries out a very slow pressing of the skins using an old manual vertical process, which he believes is another vital element in the process that retains a delicate finesse typically found in Belle-Brise. Many of these methods are not possible in larger estates as they are laborious and manual.
The Belle-Brise wines are then matured in large 400-litre barrels (one-third new, one-third one-year-old, one-third two-year-old), eschewing smaller barriques which De Coincy feels has too strong an affectation on the wine.
The Ch. Belle-Brise drinking window
Ch. Belle-Brise has always been a fairly accessible wine in its youth with its compact but soft tannins already beautifully integrated. For De Coincy, Belle-Brise needs five years maturation in bottle before you can really benefit from the full impact of the wine and then, depending on your tastes, it drinks beautifully over the next decade.
De Coincy has often served his wine blind to his restaurateur clients and found it has been mistaken for premium Burgundy. The similarity with Grand Cru Burgundy is difficult to fathom, considering the completely different varieties and different climates, yet Belle-Brise does boast the silkiness, finesse and almost weightless power of Grand Cru Burgundy, with a touch more opulence you expect from Pomerol.
Ch. Belle-Brise's rarity
With a mere two-hectare walled -garden vineyard, production at Belle-Brise is minuscule, making it one of the rarest wines on today's marketplace. The vast majority of liquid never reaches private clients as it is snapped up by some of France's finest three-Michelin-starred restaurants. In fact, 80% of three-star-Michelin restaurants in France (and 25 other countries) list the wine, including Georges Blanc and Alain Ducasse: Le Louis XV. Beyond these locations, private clients can only source Belle-Brise through FINE+RARE and Vinfolio.
Browse all currently available Ch. Belle-Brise vintages, exclusively available through FINE+RARE & Vinfolio, or read more Editorial