Jean-Hervé Chiquet is–together with his brother Laurent–in charge of the house, although he spends most of his time in the vineyards, the birthplace of their champagnes. When I went to meet Jean-Hervé at their estate in Dizy, I immediately realized I wasn’t meeting your traditional president. An imposing, down-to-earth, open man, after some chitchat to have an idea of our respective backgrounds, he quickly took me to the cellars for some proper tastings. There, not only I was exposed to these champagnes so unusual for me at that time, but I also enjoyed his vivacious intellect and genuine love for Champagne and champagne. In this interview, I tried to capture the highlights of this uncommon and enriching meeting in Champagne.
Jacquesson is often referred to as a boutique Champagne house, with small volumes and high-quality production. What is the story behind this approach?
My brother Laurent and I were frustrated champagne growers and so we have more of a vine grower’s mentality.
My brother Laurent and I were frustrated champagne growers and so we have more of a vine grower’s mentality. That is why our house appears more like a grower’s operation than a classic Champagne house. We wanted to have control of the grapes as we are convinced that wine is made in the vineyard. If a winemaker has the best fruits, chances are he will make the best wines.
In 1978, I joined the business with my father. I was 21 and began what I call “the 10 years negotiation period.” We worked differently; my father was a great professional but had no patience. I have always been a wine lover and have continuously tried to understand the product. I have always found it a privilege to work in Champagne, my place of birth. If I were born 20 km from here, I would be producing corn or wheat. So, when you are born into a particular privilege, it is of utmost importance to create the best.
You have to create a balance when growing the vine between the ripeness of the fruit and the minerality of the soil.
When my brother Laurent joined us, my father gave us the green light to make changes. We wanted to make good wines, have control over the fruits and improve the viticulture. We have transformed Jacquesson to something much closer to a grower’s estate. Between 2000 and 2003, we decided to focus on only producing top quality in the grapes and this had the effect of decreasing the quantities we were producing. You have to create a balance when growing the vine between the ripeness of the fruit and the minerality of the soil. If you produce too much of the latter for example, you will dilute the fruit.
The soil is a gift of Mother Nature; if you are lucky enough to grow in areas of grands and premiers crus, it is much easier to produce the highest quality because you are working with the best soils in Champagne. We directly farm 28 ha, planted with 50% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir, and 30% pinot meunier. We even supply large amounts of grapes to others. We try our best, and we do it our way. We don’t have a huge production, but we stand proudly behind our product.
We try our best, and we do it our way. We don’t have a huge production, but we stand proudly behind our product.
What makes Jacquesson stand out?
We have a unique range of wines; we have two blended cuvées (non-vintage, and vintage) and four single-vineyard champagnes, that’s it. We also have a unique style of production that is against the norm for most Champagne houses. My brother and I decided years ago that we would make the best blend possible each year. The problem with this, however, is that the taste of our champagne would change slightly each year, so we went with a cuvée number system. The first was 729 and we continued from there. Within this inconsistency, two things never change for us: the quality in the fruit supply and a great taste. For us, great wine expresses the complexity of the terroir, the character of the vintage, and the aging. We are proud to show customers the strength of our wines. We provide a specific back label to create an understanding of this and we also indicate where the wines come from, the disgorgement date, the dosage, and the number of bottles produced.
For us, great wine expresses the complexity of the terroir, the character of the vintage, and the aging.
With about 350,000 bottles produced each year, Jacquesson remains a connoisseur’s house. How do you compete with more renowned brands?
Visibility is important. One needs to be visible in wine shops and restaurants and I think our unique way of presenting our non-vintage wines has helped because no one else has done it in Champagne. We are transparent toward our customers, and I believe they appreciate the lack of obscurity.
In which markets are your champagnes most appreciated?
Forty-five percent of our sales are in France and the rest are exports within Europe and foreign markets such as Japan, Australia, and the US. We also have some presence in markets like China, Russia, and Indonesia, where we are experiencing growth.
Jacquesson champagnes can be pricey…
Our prices reflect our production costs that are always increasing to always produce high quality. When we make better quality, we can demand a better price. This is true for all luxury goods and champagne.
What do you think about less expensive sparkling wines from other wine regions?
You can make wines of similar quality to that of champagne, but our terroir makes our style, and this cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
I am convinced you can make wines of similar quality to that of champagne, but our terroir makes our style, and this cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
What does champagne mean to you?
Champagne is something that makes life a little less boring. For me, it is one of the two best wines in the world, the other being Burgundy.