BEST CHAMPAGNE had the pleasure of interviewing Didier Mariotti, Chef de Caves of Mumm, one of the most successful and popular champagne Houses, named after the German brothers who founded it in 1827.
Didier Mariotti became Chef de Caves of Mumm in 2006
Their father Peter Arnold Mumm was a winemaker from the Rhine valley who have been trading under the name “P.A.Mumm” in Germany since 1761.
His three sons, Gottlieb, Jacobus and Philipp, recognized the business potential of the superior sparkling wines produced in Champagne and took the bold decision to establish a new Maison in Reims.
For them quality was essential, and it has remained so for all of their successors. This approach would be encapsulated in the motto penned by Georges Hermann Mumm, grandson of Peter Arnold: “Only the best”.
Today Mumm is the 3rd largest champagne producers and is one of the most iconic champagne brands with its distinctive red ribbon.
Mumm’s vineyard is dominated by Pinot Noir, which participates in creating fine champagnes characterized by a fresh and intense fruity style.
The man behind this precision work is Didier Mariotti, a gentleman of Corsican origins with a natural aplomb and a captivating charm.
He explains in details how he carefully blends together different crus, grapes varieties, and reserve wines in accordance with the cycles of nature, to create a consistent, yet distinctive, Mumm style.
Read on and put a bottle in the fridge cause you’ll want one when you are done.
BEST CHAMPAGNE: What is Mumm’s style all about?
DIDIER MARIOTTI: There is not a single expression of our style because we have different wines within our range of champagnes, but the overall idea is to find an expression of intensity, different according to the cuvées, with a certain elegance given by the freshness.
Through our champagnes, we express the different intensities of Pinot Noir, the emblematic grape variety of our House, revealing its multiple facets within a very fruity universe.
In Mumm Cordon Rouge (Brut non-vintage champagne), the emblem of the House, you always find this idea of biting into the fruit, with the richness of ripe fruits combined with a subtle acidity. It is a fairly specific style in a dimension of fresh fruits.
BC: How grape variety and terroir participate in the making of Mumm’s style?
DM: Mumm is based on Pinot Noir but Chardonnay and Meunier are also present in Cordon Rouge and each year the proportions of each variety vary depending on the harvest.
There are a hundred or so historic villages (crus) that have defined the style of our House but many more villages are included in our blends, from terroirs that are more or less impacted by the weather and the quality of each harvest.
What matters is to produce a champagne that is consistent over time, so that the consumer finds the style of our House when enjoying a bottle of Mumm.
So the only question I ask myself is how, each year, to recreate the same Cordon Rouge with what nature gives us in each harvest, and with the reserve wines from previous harvests.
Everything comes from nature; she is stronger than us, she decides. We have to be humble, adapt, understand the wines and make choices, to get to the result we aim at. There are no recipes for that, it’s purely a matter of feelings and making the right choices.
We begin by tasting the still wines of a given harvest and decide how to use them. Some wines will show a greater aging potential and can be used for vintage champagnes or as reserve wines to be used in other blends, and some will be used as a base for the Cordon Rouge of the year and other non-vintage cuvées.
But the villages of origin of the grapes don’t dictate our blends. In our tasting committee, we make choices based on the personality of each wine, regardless of its origin, except for our mono-cru champagnes (RSRV range) that deliberately express the great historical crus of our House.
These mono-cru cuvées, of Cramant and Verzenay, prove that champagne is a wine that expresses itself differently depending on the winemaking philosophy of each House.
The terroir, of course, has an impact on the wines but it is mostly revealed by the House and its way of expressing it: its ability to vinify and blend wines to express its style.
So for me, a terroir is an expression through the style of a House and accordingly, there are different expressions of the same cru.
Consequently, these champagnes are not THE expression of Cramant and Verzenay but OUR vision of these terroirs.
Today the trend is to talk about wines in term of their terroirs but a champagne House is above all the expression and perpetuation of a style, through the assemblage of different crus.
Grape varieties and crus are a component of the style. These components vary each year, sometimes quite strongly, hence the need of blending them to express the style of the House every year, but not through a particular cru but through the terroir of Champagne as a whole.
This is also why it is not possible to make the very same wines in Champagne, England or Australia: it’s a matter of terroir.
BC: What role does dosage play in your champagnes?
DM: Dosage is a very important part of our work; it’s like salt or spices for a chef, it makes a big difference. I do not adhere to the widespread fashion of making champagnes without dosage.
Today we have set the optimum dosage in our champagnes and therefore we focus more on the reserve wines that we use.
BC: What role do these reserve wines play in the making of your champagnes?
DM: Reserve wines bring consistency and complexity to the blend.
We are including more reserve wines in Mumm Cordon Rouge than in the past, making the continuity of our House’s style easier to obtain in the face of the ever-occurring climatic hazards.
Beyond the quantity used, the impact of reserve wines in champagnes depends mainly on the age of these wines and how they are aged.
Each House has its own approach to that. At Mumm, we make Cordon Rouge using reserve wines of 2 to 6 years of age, with percentages in the blends that differ from one year to another (30% to 35%).
BC: Competition from sparkling wines of other wine regions is increasing. How is this impacting the future of Mumm and the champagne industry? Where is the demarcation between perpetuating a style and becoming obsolete?
DM: Tastes change, habits change; champagne is not consumed in the same way today as it was 50 years ago.
It’s impossible to predict exactly what will the champagne markets want, but we must try to anticipate what are the future expectations of the consumers.
The idea is to evolve, with our wines, at the same speed at which the world evolves, because being still means going backward.
So we use the House’s past to create its future because what we create today will be enjoyed in 4, 5, 10 years. The idea is to evolve, slowly and discreetly.
We try to adapt the style of Cordon Rouge, the champagne that better incarnate our style and history, to the evolution of the world, to remain contemporary.
We also create, less frequently, brand new champagnes that are pure innovation.
Indeed, the sparkling wine segment continues to grow, globally, with the increasing reach of other regions and producers, but champagne remains a luxury product at the very top.
I think everyone has found its place and we all work together for the growing success of quality sparkling wines.