BestChampagne had the pleasure of interviewing Jean-Hervé Chiquet, President of the Champagne House Jacquesson. Founded in 1798 the House in one of the smallest in Champagne, sitting nevertheless with few other top houses for its champagne quality.
Jean Hervé Chiquet joined Jacquesson family business in 1978
BestChampagne: Jacquesson is often referred to as a boutique Champagne House, with small volumes and high quality champagne production. What is the story behind this approach?
JHC: My brother Laurent and I were frustrated champagne growers and so we have more of a grower’s mentality.
That is why I think our House appears as more like a grower’s House then a classic Champagne House.
We wanted to have control of the grapes as we were convinced that wine is really made in the vineyard. If a winemaker has the best fruits, chances are he will make the best wines.
In 1978, I joined the business with my father. I was 21 and began what I call “the 10 year negotiation period”. We worked differently; my father was a great professional but had no patience.
I have always been a wine lover and have continuously tried to understand the product. I have always found it a privilege to work in the Champagne region, my place of birth.
If I was born 20km from here, I would be producing corn or wheat so when you are born into a particular privilege, it is of utmost importance to create the best.
When my brother, Laurent, joined us my father gave us the green light to make changes.
We wanted to make good wines, have control of the fruit and improve the viticulture.
We have transformed Jacquesson from classic to something much closer to a grower’s operation. Between 2000 and 2003, we decided to focus on only producing top quality and in effect, this decreased the quantity we were producing.
The idea is that you have to create a balance when growing. You need to create a bridge between the ripened fruit and the minerality of the soil. If you produce too much for example, you will dilute the fruit.
The soil is a gift of Mother Nature; if you are lucky enough to grow in areas of Grand Crus and Premier Crus it is much easier to produce the highest quality because you are working with the highest quality of soil in the Champagne region.
There are 28 hectares farmed by Jacquesson: 3 hectares in Grand Cru areas and 2 hectares in Premier Cru areas. Our grapes are 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Neunier. We even supply a large amount of grapes to others.
We try our best, and we do it our way. We don’t have a huge production but we stand proudly behind our product.
BC: What makes Jacquesson stand out?
JHC: We have a unique range of wines; we have 1 blend and 4 single vineyard wines…that’s it.
We also have a unique style of production that is against the norm for most Champagne Houses. My brother and I decided 14 years ago that we would make the best blend possible each year.
The problem with this however, is that the taste of our champagne would change slightly each year, so we decided to go with a cuvée number system. The first was 729 and we continued from there.
You have to gamble with consistency but two things never change for us: the quality fruit supply and a great taste. For us, a great wine is an expression of terroir complexity, vintage character and ageing potential.
We are proud to show the customer the strength of our wines. We provide a specific back label to create understanding of this and we also give you the best kept secret in Champagne… the age of the non-vintage wine used in the cuvee, in addition to where it comes from, the blend, the disgorgement date, the dosage and the number of bottles produced.
BC: With half a million bottles per year, Jacquesson remains a connoisseur’s House. How do you compete with more renowned brands?
JHC: Visibility is clearly important. One needs to be visible in wine shops and restaurants and I think our unique way of presenting our non-vintage wines has helped because no one else has done this in Champagne.
We are completely transparent to our customers and I believe they appreciate the lack of obscurity.
BC: In which markets are Jacquesson champagnes most appreciated?
JHC: 45% of sales are in France and the rest are exports within Europe and foreign markets such as Japan, Australia and the USA. We also have some presence in markets like China, Russia, and Indonesia, where we are experiencing growth.
BC: Jacquesson champagnes can be considered pricy…
JHC: Our production expenses are always increasing in order for us to always produce high quality, so our prices reflect our costs.
For example, our first vintage 2002 that was released in 2011 costs a fortune to produce so we have to sell it at a higher price, which is expensive but not crazy.
When we make better quality, we can demand a better price. This is true for all luxury goods and the entire Champagne region.
BC: What do you think about less expensive sparkling wines from other regions and countries?
JHC: I am convinced you can make wines of similar quality to that of champagne, but our terroir is what makes our style, and this cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
BC: In conclusion, what is champagne to you?
JHC: Champagne is something that makes your life a little less boring. For me, it is one of the two best wines in the world, the other being Burgundy.