Interview With Michel Davesne Chef de Cave At DEUTZ

BestChampagne had the pleasure of interviewing Michel Davesne, Chef de Cave at the iconic Champagne house DEUTZ. BestChampagne and Davesne talk extensively about DEUTZ distinctive style and why its complex and elegant champagnes make great companions for gastronomic pairings, above everything else.

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Before joining DEUTZ in 2003 Davesne was Cellar Master at PALMER

BestChampagne: DEUTZ style and champagnes are characterised by a distinctive vinosity, with elegance and finesse. Yet these two elements are nearly opposite, don’t you think?

Michel Davesne: Yes, they are indeed. Finesse, elegance and power brought in by vinosoty are antagonistic, but the very art of assemblage [assembling base wines together] is precisely about harmoniously bringing these elements together. I do consider elegance, finesse and purity to be the underlying thread of all DEUTZ wines and cuvées.

Champagne must be a wine which is fresh, easy to drink, and very elegant. However, it must also possess an exquisite mouth feel. Therein originates the vinosity that characterises DEUTZ.

BC: Where does this vinosity distinctive to DEUTZ’s style stem from?

MD : The distinctiveness of DEUTZ style occurs upstream, with supplies and with the origin of our grapes, since our wine making process is fairly traditional. We vinify in stainless steel tanks, in small vats ; we ferment wines at low temperatures, between 16 and 17 degrees, in order to preserve the aromas, and we carry out malolactic fermentation.

The vinosity that characterises DEUTZ issues from the black pinot grape variety, but also from the crus used. This finesse, this elegance stems from a truly admirable supply of pinot noirs from Aÿ, which are certainly powerful, but are also extremely, eminently fine, much finer than those of Verzenay or Mailly, which are even stronger. Aÿ is, always, synonymous with finesse and elegance.

BC: So, consequently, the very identity and style of DEUTZ emanate from that of Aÿ?

MD : We use wines issued of Aÿ grapes in all our cuvées. Therefore Aÿ is probably well represented at DEUTZ’s, more so than in other Champagne houses. Even within our Brut Classic, Aÿ (and Mareuil-sur-Ay) has a significant presence. On the other hand, in the high-end cuvées be they the Brut Millésimé (Brut Vintage), the Rosé or the William Deutz, Aÿ is always present at a higher extent, with 20-25 % of the total blend, sometimes even more. However, there is obviously none in our Blanc de Blancs [100% chardonnay].

BC: So nobody in Champagne cultivates chardonnay in Aÿ?

MD: Well, only growers who produce their own champagne do. The winegrowers who supply the Champagne houses don’t really have any interest in growing chardonnay in Aÿ, as this cru does not, in my opinion, give the best chardonnays.

That’s the reason why DEUTZ Blanc de Blancs mainly consists of crus from the Côte des Blancs : Avize and le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a touch of Chouilly and a bit of Oger.

BC: Though a house of pinot noir, DEUTZ does include two blanc de blancs in its champagne range. [Blanc De Blancs Millésime and Amour De Deutz]. How do you succeed in achieving the signature DEUTZ vinosity without using any pinot noir?

MD : We tend to use a touch of chardonnay from Villers-Marmery, in the Montagne de Reims, which is primarily planted with pinot noir. The Villers-Marmery chardonnays do go a bit « the pinot way », as we say around here, given that they have a bit more structure, a bit more vinosity than the chardonnays of Avize or those of the Mesnil-sur-Oger. This produces blanc de blancs aligned with DEUTZ distinctive vinosity.

BC : In your experience, does the grape variety or the terroir on which they are planted have the greater impact on a champagne’s aromas?

MD: The grape variety does have a somewhat greater impact, although both do have their importance: a pinot noir of Aÿ bears little resemblance to a pinot noir of Verzenay or from the Aube. Nonetheless the grape variety does impact somewhat more the aromas than the cru.

BC : Can one say, on account of its signature vinosity, that DEUTZ is mostly a “food champagne”?

MD : Indeed. I tend to consider our champagnes rather as gastronomic wines. We are not necessarily known by the wider public ; we are rather a Champagne house for connoisseurs, for enlightened amateurs.

BC : What role do reserve wines play in the vinosity of your wines and in your style?

MD: The purpose of reserve wines is to somewhat homogenize, smooth, the climatic vagaries. Consequently, the amount of reserve wine we use in our non-vintage cuvées will vary from one year to the next. For instance, during the 2003 harvest, with very small yields, we used 40 % of reserve wines [in our Brut Non-Vintage]. On the other hand, during the 2004 harvest, we only used 10 % or 15 % of reserve wines.

The necessity of using much reserve wine in our cuvées, because of climatic vagaries, could make our champagnes a bit more vinous, a bit less fresh, or less sophisticated. On the other hand, by using very little reserve wine, the champagne needs a bit longer to reach its full maturity. At DEUTZ’s, we always look for this freshness, this finesse and elegance I mentioned earlier.

BC : What about dosage?

MD : Dosage is paramount and extremely technical. Before adding the dosage liquor to a new cuvée, we always carry out several tests with different amounts of sugar. Then we let the champagne rest before tasting. At DEUTZ we have adopted a rule: to always let champagne rest between 4 and 6 months between disgorgement and commercialisation.

BC : DEUTZ also boasts three rosés in its champagne range [Rosé, Rosé Millésime, Amour De Deutz Rosé], made with the assemblage method. Why do you favour this method to the saigné method?

MD: I find that a champagne made with the saigné method often lacks finesse and elegance, with somewhat excessive aromas and an explosion of red fruit aromas in the nose and mouth. It is also more difficult to manage the colour, with some rosés de saigné being very red, too red for my taste. This may no longer be a champagne, and a rosé champagne is first and foremost, a champagne. So a rosé champagne must remain sophisticated, in the image of a white champagne. At DEUTZ, we know how to create and vastly infuse our rosé champagne with finesse.

BC: Before joining DEUTZ, you were cellar master for the Champagne cooperative PALMER. How did your experience there influence the DEUTZ style?

MD: When I arrived at DEUTZ, I completely forgot PALMER style; I really set aside what I had done at PALMER, which has a very different style.

I’ve always loved the DEUTZ wines, and I would never have joined a house whose wines I did not appreciate. We spend 10 hours per day in this job, so one must find pleasure.

I arrived at DEUTZ just before the 2003 harvest, and there was no overlap with my predecessors. 2003 was a small and very healthy harvest, so it was easy to organise and set in motion. I had ample time, from September to January 2004, to taste all the reserve wines, and then the whole range, several times, to properly soak in and understand the DEUTZ style.

Since then, I have corrected a few minor things, and I refined the DEUTZ style a little bit. I also benefitted from a more efficient and modern vinification tool, which enabled me to better master oxydation, for instance, but without modifying the style – definitely not. One must absolutely maintain DEUTZ unique style.

BC: How can you sustain the style, year after year, with all the climatic vagaries and all the available wines?

MD: It’s a memory and memorisation work. When you taste the wines, you remember what you’re doing. I remember perfectly well the assemblages of the previous years.

BC : Mr Davesne, you are from the Champagne region, you make champagne. What is champagne for you? What would life be like without champagne?

MD: For me, champagne is a truly beautiful wine. Champagne symbolises friendship, friendliness between good mates or among family members. I always enjoy opening a good bottle with friends or siblings. Champagne is the art of living the French way. Life becomes sad without champagne. Champagne is always about beautiful moments, wonderful moments of great pleasure.

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