Interview with Dominique Demarville Chef de Caves of Veuve Clicquot

BEST CHAMPAGNE had the pleasure of interviewing Dominique Demarville, Chef de Caves of VEUVE CLICQUOT, the second largest Champagne House and probably the most recognizable champagne brand, thanks to its distinctive yellow (rather orange) identity.

Dominique Demarville Chef De Caves of Veuve Clicquot

Dominique Demarville became Veuve Clicquot’s 10th Chef de Caves in 2009

The House is among the oldest in Champagne, being founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron. But it was his daughter-in-law Madame Nicole-Barbe Ponsardin who expanded the House when she became a young widow at age 27.

Unexpectedly, she took over the Maison, which was something unheard of for a woman to do at that time. Through her innovative spirit and business acumen, she introduced some breakthrough technological advances in champagne making and significantly expanded the international reach and success of her House.

Today, VEUVE CLICQUOT is more than a wine house – it’s an icon that under the ownership of luxury group LVMH and the leadership of CEO Jean-Marc Gallot stands firmly as the second largest champagne producer.

It is also one of the most identifiable, with its distinctive orange label and its powerful yet elegant style, built on the dominance of Pinot Noir, carefully combined with Chardonnay and Meunier, from selected crus in line with the House’s style.

Demarville is the artist who every year creates Yellow Label by blending hundreds of young and old wines the same way a painter uses a broad palette of colors for its creation.

A warm man with great passion for his work, he servesVEUVE CLICQUOT with much pride and contagious enthusiasm.

He talks about his wine with such excitement and details that it’s impossible to resist the charm of this House and the urge to try any of its beautiful champagnes.

If seeing is believing and proof is in the pudding, in this case, reading is believing, and proof is in the champagne.

BEST CHAMPAGNE: You are from Champagne. How did you get in the champagne?

DOMINIQUE DEMARVILLE: I am from Ardennes (a French administrative department North of Reims) but my parents are not from the wine industry. The grandparents of a friend were winemakers in Charly sur Marne, and he invited me to do the harvest with them, and I loved it!

I hence decided to study for the national diploma of Viticulture and Oenology at the wine school of Avize. During my studies, I discovered Burgundy and Champagne, two extraordinary wine regions.

In 1990, when I obtained the Diploma, I went back to Champagne to work at Madame Gonet (a champagne producer), who entrusted me with the responsibility of her winery.

I then continued my career in other Champagne Houses to join VEUVE CLICQUOT in 2006 to succeed the previous Cellar Master, Jaques Peters. It was a big responsibility: I had to maintain the same quality of wines, and go even further, by continuing to innovate.

BC: Where does this quality of your wines rest?

DD: For champagne as for any other wine, quality begins with the grapes, so in the vineyard. Champagne is a patchwork of terroirs, which gives different wines from one village to another. All our winemaking work is to extract the best in these soils.

Our own vineyard provides 20% of our supplies, with 50% Chardonnay planted on the Côte des Blancs, 45% Pinot Noir on the Montagne de Reims and 5% Meunier on the Montagne Ouest (a sector of the Montagne de Reims) and in the Saint-Thierry basin northwest of Reims.

The vine-growers supply us the rest, some since four generations. Without quality in the supply of grapes, we cannot make great champagne.

BC: What role do grape varieties play in creating your style?

DD: The grape variety is the entry door, it already tells a lot, but then the construction of champagne begins with a terroir, the origin of the grapes. Then the winemaker gives the signature to the style of the House.

Pinot Noir dominates our supplies at around 50% of them, followed by Chardonnay at 28% and Meunier at 22%. 

Then the wines are worked to bring the style we want, with this generosity, power, and smell of the terroir of Champagne that I love.

BC: Tell us more about your winemaking.

DD: To make great champagne, you have to be very precise in the vinification, during the alcoholic fermentation, and adequately control the temperatures.

It is also necessary to avoid aromatic alterations and to use yeasts that respect the champagne so that it expresses its terroir.

At VEUVE CLICQUOT at the harvest, we vinify each cru separately without any filtration, centrifugation, or fining agents.

In this way, after the harvest, we have about 600 vats of different wines of the year and 400 vats of reserve wines that we keep on their lees (dead yeasts) that will bring interesting aromas to these wines.

We taste them all, at least twice a year, to decide which wines will be included in the current blends and which wines will be kept as reserve. Some wines will not be used because not good enough.

So, some wines will go in reserve and some not because they evolve too quickly. Some will stay in reserve 2-3 years, some 10-20 years. It depends on the quality of the year and its ability to age.

These older reserve wines are the “spices” in our blends; they are followed very meticulously because they must be used before they begin to decline.

It takes 10-15 years of work to build a collection of reserve wines. And it must be looked after permanently, to be transmitted from generation to generation.

BC: What role does assemblage play in creating your style?

DD: Assemblage is the core of our work. It allows us to create Yellow Label, our Brut non-vintage champagne, which incarnates the signature style of our House. For this, it must remain the same, year after year.

The style of VEUVE CLICQUOT is power, aromatic intensity, but without heaviness, with freshness and a silky texture.

The aromas of brioche, toasted notes, and this slight smokiness are also part of our style and result from the aging of our wines. The texture is smooth, silky, and brings a lot of pleasure.

This blend is made with 50-60% of wines of the year, with 400-450 different wines. Reserve wines are of 7-8 different years, some of which are over ten years old, from all over Champagne.

If the base year is rich, powerful and solar, I will use reserve wines with lightness, acidity, freshness. On the contrary, if the base year is somewhat tense, I will use more powerful reserve wines.

These reserve wines are our “spices,” which, with the diversity of our terroirs and the quality of our grapes, allow us to recreate Yellow Label every year.

BC: What role does this diversity of terroirs play? 

DD: This patchwork of different terroirs in Champagne finds its origin in different soils (chalk, marl or clay).

But the main differences between the crus that most impact their wines are the exposure of the vineyards and their microclimates. An east-facing cru does not give the same expression in its wines as a north or south-facing one, even if in the same sector of Champagne.

Depending on the year, specific sectors perform better than others, but not always the same ones. It depends on the microclimates, which can vary enormously in the same year in the sub-regions of Champagne.

So, the grapes will have different expressions and styles, with the signature of the year (of its climate) and that of the crus and the plots, with their own identity.

It is essential for us to have this diversity in the supplies to reproduce, year after year, the distinctive style of Yellow Label, through the art of assemblage.

The vine-growers also make a difference with their work. For this, we have a technical team that accompanies our suppliers in monitoring the grapes’ ripeness and towards sustainable viticulture.

BC: In 2017 you launched your first Extra Brut champagne “Extra Extra Old Brut”, made only with reserve wines. Why this choice?

DD: For me, the creativity and innovation of a House must come from its roots, so on our case from Madame Clicquot’s spirit.

If we decided to make this unusual champagne, it’s because we have this specific know-how on reserve wines. For the same reason, we do not make Blanc de Blancs (VEUVE CLICQUOT is a house dominated by Pinot Noir). 

This new champagne is an extraction of Yellow Label because the fundamental principle of this blend is similar except that in this cuvée we did not use wines of the year but only reserve wines, with aging on lees, in vats, for at least three years.

We wanted the texture and power of these reserve wines while keeping their purity. The Extra Brut aspect is a consequence of being Extra Old.

Through the aging on lees in vats, followed by the aging on lees in bottle, we obtain the characteristic VEUVE CLICQUOT style but in a purer version, with a distinctive freshness linked to its low dosage. This wine is excellent for food pairing.

BC: The spirit of VEUVE CLICQUOT is always focused on innovation. Are you going to create new champagnes?

DD: I have other projects in mind to exploit other treasures of VEUVE CLICQUOT while remaining true to our identity.

Our consumers have such a strong sense of belonging to our House and brand that we do not have the right to disappoint them. The quality of our wines must always be irreproachable.

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