BEST CHAMPAGNE had the pleasure of interviewing Loïc Dupont, Chef de Cave of TAITTINGER, one of the most famous champagne brands, named after the family that owns and manages it with pride and passion.
Loïc Dupont has been at TAITTINGER for more than 30 years
TAITTINGER is also one of the largest Houses in Champagne and the largest family run, and yet it impeccably produces high-quality champagnes, consistently.
The hallmark of TAITTINGER champagnes is the high percentage of Chardonnay used in its blends, resulting in a style characterized by elegance and finesse and that has earned the House its prestige.
Behind this success, there is the clear vision and will of its President Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and its family who are passionate to produce the best.
The executor of this vision is enologist Dupont, an elegant man with a great smile and a very long experience in champagne making.
He joined TAITTINGER in 1984 to become its Chef de Cave in 2000, crafting since beautiful champagnes of which Comptes de Champagne prestige cuvée is the most acclaimed.
He explains the specificities in the making of TAITTINGER from the vineyard to the bottle with such humility that producing every year millions of bottles of great champagne sounds easy, which is definitely not.
Read on and enjoy, with a flute of TAITTINGER in your hand if you are lucky.
BEST CHAMPAGNE: You are originally from the Champagne region. How did you get into the champagne industry?
LOIC DUPONT: I was attracted to the product by a branch of my family (an uncle-in-law). He was a winegrower and small champagne producer in the Côte des Blancs in Vertus. As a child, I was often with him and my cousin with whom I was very close. That is how I got to know the vineyard and champagne.
Vertus is among the villages that we use at TAITTINGER, even today. I like these very particular wines (Chardonnays) from the Côte des Blancs that are very rich and have a beautiful range of aromas.
BC: What role do crus play in the creation of TAITTINGER champagnes’ style and quality?
LD: 80%, perhaps 90% of a wine’s quality comes from the vineyard if the wine is well worked. Our own vineyard covers 40 to 45% of our grape requirements, which mean that we are also partly winegrowers.
The parcels in our vineyard make up the backbone of our Brut Réserve cuvée and play a large part in our House’s style. In addition, this also allowsTAITTINGER’s style to remain constant over time.
We use 60 hectares of grands crus in our Brut Réserve so that our customers can be fully satisfied with the product.
The assemblage is also important, however: it builds a House’s reputation and distinctiveness.
40% of our Brut Réserve’s blend is Chardonnay, including grands and premiers crus, with 30% of reserve wines. The average crus rating in this cuvée is over 90%.
Therefore, it is a financial and quality effort that allows us to produce a champagne with a lot of finesse that matures in the cellar for three years.
BC: TAITTINGER is known for using a lot of Chardonnay in its blends. Why did you make that decision?
LD: Chardonnays bring delicate aromas of flowers, vanilla, and citruses. They bring lightness and elegance to the champagne.
These characteristics vary slightly from one cru to another though. For example, if we compare Avize and Vertus, the first one gives Chardonnays with great finesse, whereas the second gives more volume and fullness, and sometimes, small things that make the difference.
BC: When it comes to vinification, a part of your wines are vinified in oak casks. What made you go for that option?
LD: When I arrived at TAITTINGER as an oenologist under Claude Taittinger (President of the House at the time), we started to make the wines for our prestige Comptes de Champagne cuvée (100% Chardonnay) mature for five months in oak casks to make up 5% of the blend.
I, as a young oenologist, was a bit skeptical because no one in the Champagne region used this technique for white wines at the time, but we did it and realized that it brought something extra to the wine.
Chardonnay is a varietal with a lot of qualities but is lacking in structure, and by vinifying it in oak casks, we brought a bit of volume to those wines with a toastiness resulting from a positive oxidation. It is appropriate for this prestige cuvée.
BC: You have lowered the dosage of your champagne over time. Why?
LD: When I arrived at TAITTINGER, we used higher dosages, and that was in line with the trend at the time. Since then, the climate change means that we have champagnes that have evolved somewhat and need a slightly lower sugar dosage.
We were at 14 g/L for our Brut Réserve cuvée, we are now at 9 grams, which is a third lower. As a result, we have refined our wines with dosage.
That said, we have historical witnesses in the cellar (old champagnes), but when we let people taste them, no one found them particularly sweet, even at 17 grams of sugar per liter. Therefore, we do not focus on sugar anymore.
BC: Why does champagne, such a qualitative wine, need artificial sugar to be complete?
LD: Champagnes keep a lot of acidity which gives quite sharp sensations. Personally, I do not like a champagne that has just been disgorged; it is quite aggressive, and the wine isn’t balanced or suave.
Today, there is a somewhat of a trend for extra brut champagnes, but I find that not many customers necessarily adhere to that.
BC: You have been at TAITTINGER for over 30 years. You have seen different times in the House’s management. How do you look at your long experience in the House?
LD: I have always liked working at TAITTINGER, with a mutual respect between Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, the President, and myself. I have always felt good at the House, but today, I am shining more thanks to a great environment.
Before, we were more discreet, even though the quality has always been there. However, it was a more compartmentalized structure; today, it is easier to share opinions, I can meet the President and tell him what I honestly think, and he will listen to me.
BC: What is champagne to you?
LD: The first thing that we from the Champagne region make our children drink is a very small dose of champagne from our fingertip. Then as they get older, they can drink a small amount of champagne with a biscuit rose (a pink biscuit typical of Champagne). The first wine that I tasted was champagne.
I cannot get enough of it today. I never refuse a glass of champagne. It is a festive wine, it comes with every step of life: a marriage, a communion, and even funerals. We celebrate everything with champagne.
BC: What would life be like without champagne?
LD: It would be a bit dull and sad, a somber gray. Champagne brings joy and color to life.