BestChampagne had the pleasure of interviewing Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, President of the historical Champagne House Taittinger.
Taittinger is one of the few large Champagne Houses to remain owned and actively managed by the family named on the label.
Pierre-Emanuel Taittinger joined the family business in 1976 and became President in 2006
It was founded in 1734 and became a House of world renown in the later half of the 20th century, under Claude Taittinger. Pierre-Emmanuel is the third-generation Taittinger of this thriving family House with their own vineyard, covering 288 hectares.
The hallmark of Taittinger Champagnes is the extraordinary percentage of Chardonnay used in their winemaking.
This Chardonnay dominance provides for a style of elegance and finesse which is recognized worldwide and has earned the House its prestige and several awards over the years.
Pierre-Emmanuel, a warm and charismatic gentleman, shares with passion his vision to and values, which result in his idea of champagne. Read on to understand the true spirit of this great family House.
Best Champagne: Taittinger is one of the greatest Houses in Champagne. What is the history behind it and how would you explain Taittinger champagne to those not familiar with it?
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger: Taittinger is one of the 10 great names in the champagne world and we are known for producing extremely consistent champagne based on the chardonnay philosophy.
We are the largest family-run company in Champagne. We carry the name of the wine and we sign all of our bottles with our family name.
Taittinger has real familial history. Monks began working here hundreds of years ago, producing modest wines and later, sparkling wine. There is a historical uniqueness here in Champagne and we want to maintain that.
We have kept in some way, the spirit of the monks: we maintain the philosophy of consistent, top quality work.
BC: How do you make consistent, high quality champagne?
PET: To make great champagne, you need three things: first, the will of the manager. If one decides to produce great champagnes, it is different from deciding to produce something of average quality.
At Taittinger, my grandfather, father, uncle, etc., a long time ago, had decided that we were to produce the best.
The second factor would be the quality of the grapes. We use grapes from different vineyards – all of excellent quality.
My uncle and grandfather realized that you need to own your own vineyards of the best grape quality and acquired one of the largest vineyards in Champagne.
The pressing of the grapes is also important: whether you produce champagne from mainly first pressing [cuvée] for all your cuvées or second, third pressing [taille].
At Taittinger, all of our premium cuvées are 100% first pressing and for the Taittinger Brut Réserve, it is 95% first pressing -which is unique in Champagne, especially for the amount of champagne that we produce.
The remaining 5% being “tailles” of Chardonnay that bring up fragrances we cannot get only with the “cuvée”.
Finally, a factor that is extremely important is the aging of champagne. By law, you can produce champagne in 15 months but at Taittinger, it is a minimum of 3 to 4 years for our non-vintage Brut Réserve.
It takes a lot of money to age champagne. For the Comtes de Champagne the aging is 8-10 years. That is it, there are no secrets in producing great champagne.
We became Taittinger because we have been producing top champagne for many decades.
For me, the honor of the company is not in producing a great special cuvée like Comtes de Champagne but in producing a great non-vintage like out Brut Réserve.
We became who we are because of the quality of our non-vintage.
BC: Your House has a strong relationship with chardonnay; can you explain how this grape came into play at Taittinger?
PET: We produce champagne at a location in the world where there have had many battles and crowned many kings and queens of France.
It’s a historical place. In the thirteenth century, Thibaud IV, Count of Champagne, member of the family running parts of France for nearly three centuries, was in love with the Queen, Blanche of Castile.
She was also his aunt and this caused quite a scandal at the time. Her son, King Louis IX, sent Thibaud to the crusades, hoping he would not return.
When Thibaud did return, he came back from the crusades with the ancestor of the chardonnay plant. We decided that since we owned the cellars and house of the family, that we would give the chardonnay style to our champagnes.
We gave the name of Comtes de Champagne to our premium cuvée, which is 100% chardonnay, from the five Grand Crus of Champagne with up to ten years of maturation and it is made in very small quantities.
So we were the first to focus on being a chardonnay Champagne House.
This is not to say we are better than a House producing champagne with more pinot noir, it is a style, and our style is more chardonnay.
In all our cuvées we use a large proportion of chardonnay. In our non-vintage Brut Réserve, we use 40% chardonnay, which is very rare and very expensive.
Normally, rosé is mostly made with pinot noir or pinot meunier but we use a lot of chardonnay in our Rosé too. Due to that, our champagnes are more feminine and delicate.
This is a very important vision with the link of history because of the increased role women have played at the turn of the 20th century.
Before it was mostly men buying whisky and cognac but today a lot has changed and women are making decisions just as much as men and our delicateness tends to be something many women prefer in a good champagne.
BC: Champagne is an expensive wine. How does Taittinger position itself to this regard?
PET: Champagne can be reasonably expensive because it is expensive to produce but it also needs to be attainable for people.
Today, it can be more expensive to go to someone’s house for dinner with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers then a bottle of champagne and I am pleased to see that.
Champagne remains an affordable luxury. Excellent wine and food is a luxury but at Taittinger we prefer to stay reasonable.
Taittinger is a consistent, top quality champagne but still affordable. Our Comtes de Champagne is expensive but it is also expensive to produce.
Still, I want it to be accessible. Our champagnes are not dictated by price, we produce for connoisseurs.
I want to be recognized by people who know good champagne based on quality, not by being the most expensive.
We increase the price of our champagnes only when the price of grapes increases. Our philosophy is for our champagne to remain well priced for the quality and value we deliver.
BC: Since you are price conscious, are you looking at increasing your volumes instead?
PET: We produce between five and six million bottles per year. If we wanted to multiply production, we would have to sacrifice quality and I would never do this.
This is because it is not easy to find the same quality of grapes. There is a French expression, to lose your soul, I would never sacrifice the soul of our champagnes. I want to keep a human aspect behind our name.
BC: There are many Houses in Champagne that have been bought out by large groups. Your story is quite unique because a group bought you out but then your family bought the House back.
PET: Yes, but we had been bought out for only one year, so it made absolutely no difference for our precious bottles.
A large American group bought our company for the real estate and hotel side of our business.
They were not champagne makers and knew they could not do it the same way so in one year, it was placed on auction and I bought back my name.
BC: Do you think there is a difference between champagnes produced from large groups and champagnes from family-run Houses?
PET: There is a unique style and personality to each Champagne House. Here at Taittinger, we have a lot of young blood. I have my son and daughter working with me and we maintain a very consistent management.
I am proud to say, when people come to Taittinger, they stay at Taittinger. We really take care to work together…whistle together, and this is important to me.
This is not to say I think I am better then Houses not run by families. I respect my peers and some of the big names have done a lot for the champagne image. If a name becomes big, it is because it is good and consistently good.
BC: Monsieur Taittinger, how would you define champagne?
PET: Champagne is for me an extraordinary beverage to enhance your life. With a bottle of champagne, life is slightly better. There is an added elegance and charm to life after a glass of champagne.
When we are tired, under stress, nothing is better than champagne. When my mood is not 100% perfect I drink some champagne and the world is better.
I mean it seriously, I drink champagne every day and that is why I like to produce a good champagne.
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