HERVÉ JESTIN | The Human Effect

His warm, welcoming smile speaks for itself: Hervé Jestin just loves this world. A traveler and explorer at heart, he works all over the globe as a flying winemaker and oenological consultant. Dedicating a lot of his time to the wines of Champagne, he has built a reputation in the region, particularly for the project closest to his heart: making conscious wine and developing biodynamic viniculture.

Hervé Jestin’s journey into biodynamics began back in 1995 when he was chef de caves for Champagne Duval-Leroy. In those days, biodynamic winegrowing was little-known and even less accepted. In his role as head of production, he was involved in developing and applying unconventional methods of elaborating wine that were far removed from the classic oenological approach.

“I had to forget everything I had been taught in my oenology studies in order to discover a new way of doing things.”

At Duval-Leroy, he rapidly began purchasing organic grapes for a number of the house cuvées but very soon realized he wanted to take things a step further, following his instinct for the possibilities of biodynamics. His passion for alternative thinking wasn’t embraced or supported by everyone, however. His co-worker, responsible for the vineyards owned by the champagne house, declined to make the move to biodynamic viticulture and put the house with its 6 million bottles per year turn-over at risk.

Instead of sourcing the grapes for the chosen cuvées from house-owned vineyards, Jestin had to turn to skilled wine growers, some of the early few who had determinedly made the move from organic production to a more wholesome approach. In 1997, he produced the first biodynamic vintage with grapes from David Leclapart, a big name in the field of grower champagnes today, as are Benoît Lahaye and Bertrand Gautherot who also supplied him in the following years.

It took a while for his biodynamic efforts to win over others, but ground-breaking success was to follow.
Ten years down the track, much to everyone’s surprise, the Duval-Leroy non-vintage champagne made it into the top 100 wines of the world listed in a high-profile wine magazine. It was a large-scale production champagne of around 2,5 million bottles, made from conventionally grown house grapes, but vinified according to the biodynamic method Hervé Jestin had developed. 

With recognition of his convictions filling his pockets, he moved on from Champagne Duvol-Leroy soon after this success with a vision of dedicating even more of his time to biodynamics and other projects. Besides consulting numerous wine producers from Champagne to England, Russia and Canada since then – most of them sparkling wine producers – he has also teamed up with a range of like-minded innovators over the years. […]

With his loving perception of life and his trust in a higher intelligence in nature, Hervé Jestin has become one of the most renowned oenologists in the world of bioenergetic viniculture. Gifted tasters can identify the champagnes exhibiting his viticultural skillset amongst those of a wide range of producers – their finesse, sensitivity, liveliness and almost intellectual definition make them a stand-out amongst other champagnes, even though they are never alike, or in any way similar in expression to, others of his creations.

“My wines are precise and joyful, with ample tenderness. I want them to convey happiness.”

To find out more about Hervé’s relationship with his wines and nature, we took the opportunity to meet up with him in the heart of his Clos de Cumières, planted 50/50 with chardonnay and pinot noir, which he purchased in 2010 from the Champagne Leclerc-Briant family for whom he also works today as chef de caves.

His champagnes, made from his first Clos de Cumières harvest in 2012, are currently on hold in the cellars, to be released in 2017.
While the champagnes await the opportunity to please discerning palates, and Hervé Jestin travels the world consulting his clients, he is also enjoying the support of Vincent Laval, another acclaimed biodynamic grower living right next to the clos.

Laval and his team take care of the regular maintenance of the vines and also allow Hervé to use their 2000 kg press – the perfect size for his small plot – during the harvest. While the buildings of the neglected property are being demolished or transformed into a new laboratory plus cellars and other necessary facilities, Jestin tries to spend every available moment in his clos. We sat down next to him and allowed our curiosity about his views on life and the human element in biodynamic winemaking to unfold amidst the activity of the clos.

“The Clos de Cumières has a unique and distinct energy. I just had to purchase it because I felt so intensely connected to its vibe.”

Hervé, we can see strong vines and healthy soils all around us. What makes this terroir so special?

“Soil is a vibrant organism, with its own intelligence and consciousness like every other element in nature, from human beings to plants to animals. We all have an 
infinite intelligence and this is the energy I work with. For me, life is universal, not connected to any particular place. Each terroir has something different to offer but what it is showcasing, ultimately, is life. It is life that transforms a patch of earth into something that a human being can relate to – because it corresponds with our own experience of life and the business of being human.

There’s nothing complicated about this; you don’t need to be a doctor in physics or chemistry to understand it. The more simply we approach things in our heads, the more receptive we become to the life around us. The essence of it is the connection between a human being and the vines. We can sense it when we’re working with them. Here in the sheltered calm of the Clos de Cumières, it’s much easier to tune into this connection than in most other places. The energies here are very focused.”

When you speak of the innate intelligence of the vines, does this mean you adhere to the principle of “laissez-faire”?

“No, I don’t believe in “laissez-faire”. For me, that expression implies leaving things alone and letting them handle everything on their own. But that’s not our approach. In biodynamics, we’re highly attentive to what matter is trying to tell us, what it is trying to produce for us.

We are here to perceive and understand what’s unfolding, to provide the missing elements that life needs grow. This can be very simple in some cases, for example providing more light, or air. Light is charged with impulses and the solar energy that the vines need, and so is air, which brings impulses to bear on wines before, during and after the fermentation process. Other times it’s a plant, a stone or a mineral that we need to add to prompt matter in a certain direction. It’s never much, always very small doses, usually just a few grains, crumbs, or a touch of powder.

Our role is just to be there in order to assist the various elements to achieve their maximum potential. We need to be present, attentive to requirements, among the vines as well as in our cellars.” 


Read the full story in CUVÉE Magazine No. 1 | Champagne.

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Written by

Stefanie is the founder and chief editor of CUVÉE Magazine. Epicurean at heart and wine professional in life, she writes about all things wine and food that pamper her palate. Living in Champagne and holding the Champagne Master Level Certificate as well as WSET certificates, she can't stop discovering new bottles and the stories behind the labels.

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