Interview with Hervé Deschamps Chef de Caves of Perrier-Jouët

BEST CHAMPAGNE had the pleasure of interviewing Hervé Deschamps Chef de Caves of PERRIER-JOUËT. Founded in 1811 by Pierre-Nicolas Perrier, the son of a winegrower and his wife Rose Adelaide Jouët, the daughter of a wine merchant, the House owes most of its success to its light and elegant champagnes, and to Belle Epoque, its iconic prestige cuvée.

Herve Deschamps Perrier-Jouet

Hervé Deschamps was appointed 7th Chef de Caves of PERRIER-JOUËT in 1993

PERRIER-JOUËT style is floral and intricate and results from the significant use of Chardonnay in its cuvées, from selected vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, carefully blended with Pinot Noirs from the Montagne de Reims and Meuniers from the Marne Valley.

The mastermind behind this work of precision is Chef de Caves Hervé Deschamps, a witty and elegant champenois who humbly creates spectacular champagnes with much love and passion.

He explains how the creation of PERRIER-JOUËT’s champagnes starts in the vineyard and is sublimated with the assemblage, an art more than a technique, that requires much sensitiveness and a long experience in champagne making.

By reading Hervé’s captivating words, you will probably perceive the floral aromas so distinctive of PERRIER-JOUËT and will feel the urge to have a bottle. Don’t hesitate, you live only once…

BEST CHAMPAGNE: PERRIER-JOUËT is known and recognized for its light and elegant champagnes with distinctive floral notes. Where does this style come from and how is it built?

HERVE DESCHAMPS: The founders of our House, Pierre Nicolas Perrier and his wife, Rose Adélaide Jouët, had a passion for botany and flowers. They even built a greenhouse to grow orchids, palm trees, and pineapples (a first in champagne). This passion for nature is found naturally in the champagnes that we make.

PERRIER-JOUËT’s style is floral and intricate. Chardonnay plays an essential role, it’s the House’s emblematic grape. Even in blends where it isn’t as present, Chardonnay’s image must stand out.

But we cannot separate the grapes from the villages. For this, we selected specific vineyards in the Champagne region to conserve or enrich these floral notes brought by Chardonnay.

Since the beginning, PERRIER-JOUËT has planted vines in vineyards that match its style and has bought grapes in particular zones with this light, aerial side.

It’s this lightness from the Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Pinot Meuniers from certain vineyards that I want to keep by adapting the vinification process to preserve these notes of flower fragrances.

The fruitiness of our blends is mainly of white and mature fruits and not of stewed fruit, with a simple vinification process to preserve the lightness of the grape’s primary aromas. The magic of the blend will then beautify these floral notes.

BC: Your Grand Brut champagne perpetuates PERRIER-JOUËT’s floral and elegant style. How is this blend built?

HD: Grand Brut is the wine that summarizes the idea that is found, to different extents, in the other PERRIER-JOUËT champagnes.

In this blend, there is 20% of Chardonnay, 40% of Pinot Noir and 40% of Meunier on average, and 12% to 20% of reserve wines that are ten years old at most.

Chardonnay brings the freshness that is always there after aging for three years on lees, with a roundness in the mouth brought by Pinot Noir and Meunier.

However, it is not just a question of grapes; the origin of the vineyards, between 50 and 70, allows us to obtain this blend.

The Pinots Noirs come mainly from grands and premiers crus from terroirs in the Montagne de Reims (Reims Mountain) in Mailly, Verzy, Aÿ, and Rilly-la-Montagne. The Meuniers are from the Vallée de la Marne (Marne Valley) in Dizy, Damery, Venteuil or Vincelles. Finally, the Chardonnays come from the grands crus of the Côte de Blancs: Cramant, Avize, Le Mesnil, and Chouilly.

BC: How do reserve wines take part in creating your style? Which characteristics are you looking for?

HD: The reserve wines bring roundness to the wine and help to rebuild the House’s style. However, the reserve wines must not stand out in the blend, we must not find it in the nose or taste, or else it will be like a dish that is too salty or spicy.

For this reason, the reserve wines must be chosen meticulously. PERRIER-JOUËT does not necessarily want to use old wines because they bring toasted oxidative notes.

Our reserve wines are reserves from previous blends, we do not keep them by crus, which helps to rebuild the House’s style year after year.

The reserve wines also have an ambivalence because the second fermentation rejuvenates them and gives them back freshness.

We are experiencing global warming, which favors a very quick evolution of the sugars in the grapes, as well as a very quick degradation of the acids. As a result, there is a tendency today to obtain wines that have more sugar and potential alcohol but have less acidity. However, we look for this kind of acidity because it allows the wines to age longer.

Therefore, we look for wines that have a potential that will be revealed by the second fermentation. That is why we prefer the cuvée to the taille, which is a lot richer in aromas. If the still wine is already beautiful and “done”, it will not have the potential for a great champagne.

The second fermentation transforms the champagne, where the yeast does not just create bubbles and alcohol, but also new aromas.

The second fermentation makes the champagne and its characteristics. The grapes and the terroir are the starting points, but the second fermentation emphasizes these elements and, if they are too present at the beginning with too much maturity, they will become exuberant with the second fermentation.

BC: PERRIER-JOUËT, was the first House to make a Brut champagne in 1846. How did that choice come about? What is your approach to dosage today?

HD: PERRIER-JOUËT, like the other Houses based in Epernay, has traditionally positioned itself towards what we call the “English taste” (with a dosage of 22 to 66 g/L), which is drier than the American, German, and Russian tastes.

These Houses exported their champagnes through the Marne river (that passes through Epernay), and then through the Seine river to Paris, and from there, they were exported to London through waterways and maritime transport, and the English have always looked for drier, more vinous champagnes.

As a result, PERRIER-JOUËT created the first champagne that you could call “Brut” in 1846 to adapt to the English palate.

Conversely, the Houses in Reims exported through another river, the Vesle, to reach the canals of the North and the Rhin river and therefore the Nordic countries and Russia, who looked for sweeter wines that were marked by Pinot Noir rather than by Chardonnay.

Dosage is part of the process of building a cuvée, it’s the final touch that enhances its style. To me, it’s like adding the finishing touches to a sculpture by smoothing the edges, by adding one last touch of harmony so that there aren’t any bitter or sour hints.

However, I find that we have put too much emphasis on dosage in the last few years. To me, focusing on this detail is like asking a chef how many grams of salt or sugar he used in his recipes or desserts.

I understand that we want to compare champagnes on something like the number of grams of sugar added, but this information is not enough because the dosage is not only sugar but also reserve wines that bring a nice coating and complete the champagne.

The perception of sugar is also lower in a sparkling wine than in a still wine. The bubbles bring forward a wine’s bitterness and acidity by allowing the sugar not to appear (in Brut champagnes).

BC: The notoriety of your House also goes through the reputation of Belle Epoque, your prestige cuvée. What makes it so special and successful?

HD: Belle Epoque, our prestige cuvée, is the House’s iconic blend of the three grape varieties: 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir, and 5% Meunier on average. We have always appreciated Pinot Meunier, which is found in the majority of our cuvées.

The Chardonnays come from the Côte des Blancs and the Pinot Noir comes from two zones: Mailly, Verzy and Verzenay in the north of the Montagne de Reims, less sunny, where we often harvest last, and Ay, in proximity to Epernay.

The Meunier comes from our own vineyard in Dizy which, with aging, will bridge the gap between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and allow the blend to gain harmony and richness. Without the Meunier, we would get two different expressions at different times, first the Chardonnay and then the Pinot Noir, whereas we are looking to achieve a harmonious expression.

The Pinot Noir is the pillar of this blend by giving it the structure while leaving the Chardonnay on top with its brilliance, its elegance, and its lightness that we must always find even after six years aging on lees.

With Belle Epoque, we get an impression on the mouth and nose of fullness, of fine aromas, a structure, and especially a long finish that allows you to go from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir without realizing.

In this blend, we find PERRIER-JOUËT’s typical flowery side, but after aging on lees for a longer period of time, we find notes of honey, of white fruit in syrup, candied notes of citrus, spicy notes like ginger, and the notes of butter and brioche are more intense.

Finally, the bubble is creamy, also thanks to the Chardonnay which, because of its composition in proteins, favors the creation of finer and more elegant bubbles.

BC: How do you give Meuniers, grapes that mature quicker, the ability to age in blends?

HD: Our Meuniers mainly come from the Vallée de la Marne, from Dizy to Château-Thierry and only from the right bank, which is sunnier.

However, the Meuniers used to make Belle Epoque only come from Dizy, rated at 95% on the Echelle des Crus, with a higher aging potential. This vineyard is totally south facing and its Meuniers have a richness and potential that allow them to accompany the Pinot Noir and to not crush the Chardonnay.

BC: In 2017, you launched a new blend, a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs. Why? How does it differ from Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs?

HD: This new blend follows the success of Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs which was launched for the year 2000. This blend is the epitome of PERRIER-JOUËT’s style, produced only during exceptional years and in very small quantities.

To make Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs, a vintage champagne, we only use two parcels that belong to our House: Bouron Leroi and Bouron du Midi, in Cramant, in the heart of the Côte des Blancs. We find the flowery side in the expression of these two parcels, with light notes of honey, of dry fruit, of nougat, of almonds, of candied fruit, of melons and pears, and of vanilla after aging on lees for eight years. This wine still has a certain nervousness in the mouth but is rich and powerful.

On the contrary, our non-vintage Blanc de Blancs is, to me, the pure flowery expression of Spring and the House’s brightest blend, with its very delicate aromas of hawthorns, elderberries, acacias, but no notes of heady flowers, and that are followed by notes of white fruits like peaches, pears, and citrus fruits, such as lemon and grapefruit, and citrus flowers (orange tree, lemon tree) that make the transition between flowers and fruits.

We find Chardonnay’s signature on the palate with its freshness and liveliness, but the blend’s aftertaste is still very PERRIER-JOUËT with that rounded and charming side that makes this champagne different to other Blanc de Blancs, once again thanks to the use of specific vineyards.

We include 15% of reserve wines in this champagne to accompany this sensation of freshness with a hint of warmth and sun in the aftertaste, which is the most pleasant thing in a wine and makes you want to drink more and more.

BC: This same concept of double expression, prestige vintage, and non-vintage is also found in your rosé champagnes. How do they differ?

HD: Blason Rosé (non-vintage) is a blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 25% Meunier and 25% Chardonnay, including 12-15% reserve wines. To obtain a constant color that lasts with time, we include 15% of red wine in the blend.

With the same dosage as Grand Brut, which is 8-10 g/l, Blason Rosé is a rich, generous, and spontaneous wine.

We use red wines that are not marked by tannins, therefore from sunny vineyards and parcels. These wines come from our favorite zones around Ay, Mailly, Vertus, Vincelles, and Reuil in Riceys in the Aube department and are supplied by growers with a lot of experience in producing red wine.

Blason Rosé is a very generous champagne with notes of red fruits, such as strawberries, and a powerful taste, but it also contains notes of citrus fruits, such as blood orange and pomegranate with a sour side.

Belle Epoque Rosé, always vintage, is also a rosé d’assemblage. This blend has a very pale salmon color. The aim of this blend is to keep the flowery note, but mainly of roses or peonies instead of white flowers. The fruits found in this blend are wild strawberry, raspberry, pink grapefruit, accompanied by notes of brioche resulting from longer aging on lees.

We include a little less red wine (12% for the 2006 vintage) and more Chardonnay (50%) compared to Blason Rosé. It is a light rosé that is more velvety and soupple.

BC: Is your work more technical or creative? What are the most complicated and most pleasant aspects of what you do?

HD: My work is rather creative but technique helps me. You need sensitivity, to listen to your emotions and to know how to express them.

The most difficult thing is making the blends because you always question your choices. You always want to do better but, at some point, you have to make a final choice.

The most pleasant thing is discovering a blend after fermentation during the frequent tastings that we do every six months to analyze the evolution of the wines. To me, it’s like having a child and guiding him when growing up to help him become an adult.

The Cellar Master also takes part in creating value and recognition around the champagne by providing the key to understand it and sharing his own experience. It’s great to talk to our customers about our wines.

The Cellar Master incarnates the House’s identity, he’s the guardian of the House’s style. I am the seventh Cellar Master at PERRIER-JOUËT in 200 years of history of this House and I am perpetuating its heritage. Some of the wines that I make may be marketed and tasted by my successor, who will devote himself to continuing our House’s style.

BC: What characterizes PERRIER-JOUËT’s identity?

HD: The identity of our House is found in its connection to nature but also to art, which has been the case throughout the House’s history.

Our founders and all of our Presidents were art lovers and/or collectors. While Art Nouveau was animating the beginning of the 20th century, Octave Gallice, the grandson of the founders of PERRIER-JOUËT, met Emile Gallé, one of the pioneers of this artistic movement.

Gallé made a motif for the PERRIER-JOUËT magnums in 1902 at the behest of Octave Gallice: a spray of Japanese anemones. As beautiful as it is original, it reflects the contents of the bottle: a champagne that places emphasis on Chardonnay’s flowery notes; Belle Epoque was born.

Our archives show that this cuvée was reintroduced in 1964, with unquestionable consistency in the vintages used since then. The freshness and purity of Belle Epoque, its floral style, and prevalence of Chardonnay immediately made it the emblem of PERRIER-JOUËT champagnes.

To continue our association with the world of art, we have been partners of the Design Miami contemporary art fair since 2012 and we regularly commission artists that reinterpret the heritage of Art Nouveau.

BC: The competition from other quality sparkling wines from other wine regions is growing. How do you see the future of Champagne?

HD: Other regions make high-quality sparkling wines, but they do not have a magical history like ours which goes through kings and emperors and the excellence of our know-how.

I think the magic aura of champagne touches the consumer more than its technical details. That is why Champagne must remain associated with excellence, pleasure, and French art de vivre.

BC: What does champagne mean to you?

HD: Pleasure. Champagne is, above all, pleasure. Pleasure is an idea, an image that I want to transmit with our wines.

Champagne is a part of life and its happiest moments.

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