INTERVIEW WITH DOMINIQUE PETIT CHEF DE CAVE OF POL ROGER

BEST CHAMPAGNE had the pleasure of interviewing Dominique Petit, the retiring Chef de Cave of POL ROGER, Winston Churchill’s favorite Champagne House and the most British of all.

Dominique Petit Chef de cave of Pol Roger

Dominique Petit was appointed Chef de cave of Pol Roger in 1999 and has retired in 2018.

The Maison was founded in 1849 by Mr. Pol Roger, a native of Aÿ, in the heart of Champagne. Being the son of a notary, he started in business as a wholesaler of wines.

As early as 1855, Pol began to favor the production of brut champagne, knowing that this was the type most preferred by the English, a major champagne market.

Over the next fifty years, until his death in 1899, he built his business into one of the most respected Champagne Houses.

Within this time frame, the brand acquired such an enviable amount of recognition that Paul’s sons asked the French government to change their family name to Pol Roger.

Under their leadership, exports progressed, and many crowned heads throughout Europe became customers of the brand.

After the hardships of WWI and WWII, the post-war period had a lasting impact on the destiny of POL ROGER when the emblematic figure of Winston Churchill left his mark on it.

This British statesman was an unwavering client of the firm, which he referred to as “the most delightful address in the world”, thereby placing the House’s reputation among the very best.

Today, POL ROGER is the most British of the champagnes with its distinctive dry and mature style, embedded in the so-called English taste. It is one of the very few Champagne Houses to hold the Royal Warrant purveyors of champagne to Queen Elizabeth II.

More recently, POL ROGER was the official champagne at the weddings of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, and of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.

POL ROGER is still owned by its founding family who sits on the company’s board. The Presidency of this glorious winemaking company has, since 2013, been in the safe hands of Laurent d’Harcourt whom with the precision work of Petit, has carried on the myth that surrounds POL ROGER with elegance and style, just like their wines.

Petit, Chef de Cave from 1999 to 2018, is a reserved man, of few, precise words, with a witty smile and inquisitive, yet friendly eyes, who with great modesty makes incredible champagnes.

In this interview, he shares some of his secrets of making wines that seduce anybody who has the chance to get just a taste of them, by their complexity and finesse. Try them, and you will understand…

BEST CHAMPAGNE: You refer to the style of POL ROGER as “plenitude with elegance”. What do you mean?

DP: What characterizes the wines of POL ROGER is elegance, a certain sobriety, a feeling of serenity, fullness without extravagance.

BC: Consumers familiar with POL ROGER identify you with the so-called “English taste” with a distinctive maturity. Is there a risk that this style is no longer relevant?

DP: There are several styles of wine but the preference for fresher wines is in general associated with slightly younger consumers.

As their tastes evolve, they will then shift to wines with more structure and maturity. At POL ROGER, we make champagnes for wine lovers.

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

DP: Our main asset is the total control of our vineyard of 92 hectares that is exploited by selected vine growers.

At POL ROGER, quality grapes and strict selection are paramount. Our keywords are uncompromising selection.

We own vineyards in the Marne Valley, on the Montagne de Reims, in the Côte des Blancs, and the areas of Epernay, Berru, and Cernay-les-Reims to the east of Reims on a very interesting small massif producing rather fresh wines.

Most of these vine-growers, in turn, sell us grapes from their own vineyards. So 75% of our supplies are guaranteed by long-term agreements both in terms of villages and grape varieties, and the rest is provided by other independent vine growers with whom we have long-lasting relations of 50 years or more. Hence there is no uncertainty in our supplies.

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

DP: Winemaking is one of the links in the chain. The vineyard is one, vinification is another.

The same selection we apply on the crus that we use is also applied to the wines that we use in the assemblage.

If a year is not of sufficient quality, or just without defects but with no particular quality, we will not use these wines in the blends.

At POL ROGER, we perform a cold settling of the must (separation of solid and liquid parts of musts) by inducing a very rapid temperature drop at 6-8 ° C for a few hours after pressing.

This thermal shock results in a nice sedimentation that allows us to eliminate the remaining parts of pulp from the first settling, thus avoiding the appearance of reduction tastes at the end of the first alcoholic fermentation.

BC: POL ROGER is known to age its champagnes before and after disgorgement, longer than the average in the region. Why this choice?

DP: The Brut Reserve (non-vintage) marketed in 2018 was bottled in 2013, and is based on the 2012 harvest, blended with wines from 2009, 2010 and 2011.

We take into consideration the fact that wine requires a resting period after disgorging. It needs to regain its equilibrium which was modified by the disgorgement.

The sugar added in the dosage must return to a state of equilibrium with the other components of the wine, and this takes time which is imperative for us! We do not ship wines that have not aged with us for at least three months after disgorgement.

In this way, the wines that we put on the market are ready for consumption.

But our wines also have a great aging potential. If our customers have cellars of good quality without fluctuations in temperature, our champagnes, vintage or not, can be kept for several years.

BC: What are the components of a wine that gives it aging potential?

DP: The choice of crus and wines used in blends. If we are not rigorous in the choice of blends, wines that are already “tired” at a very young age will not age long.

If during the tasting for the assemblage, a still wine is already very good to drink, we may have doubts about its aging ability after the second in-bottle fermentation.

When we produce our champagnes, whether vintage or non-vintage if the Brut Reserve is already quite charming and the vintage is a little closed, that’s perfect.

BC: You are a native of the Champagne region and Cellar Master of one of the most beautiful Champagne Houses. What does champagne represent for you?

DP: Festivity 🙂

BC: And what would life be without champagne?

DP: It would be sad. Champagne is there to celebrate victories, and in defeat, it is there to bring comfort. Champagne has always had its place.

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