Interview: Hervé Deschamps, Perrier Jouët's Chief Winemaker

Perrier Jouët's Chief Winemaker Herve Deschamps spills the grapes on the champagne house's bubbly ideas

In 1993, Herv&eacute Deschamps was named Perrier Jouët's Chief Winemaker. Throughout the company's 200-year history, only seven people have held that position. As Chef de Cave, this connoisseur oversees production of the entire Perrier-Jouet range. In this interview, the 50-year-old Frenchman reveals how the Champagne-producing company keeps bubbling with ideas.

What are the origins of the Perrier Jouët brand?

Pierre-Nicolas-Marie Perrier, a native of Epernay, established the Perrier Jouët House in 1811. Perrier was a common name at the time and so in order to make the House distinctive, he added his wife's maiden name, Jouet, to the title. The wines were instantly popular and, thanks to the business acumen of his son Charles, the House soon forged into the British market and became a favorite of both Queen Victoria and Edward VII. Perrier Jouët introduced the concept of Vintage Champagne.

In 1858 it was the first House to state the cru (vineyard name) and year on the cork. Two years later, this information was displayed on the label. Charles rose in prominence and was elected Mayor of Epernay. By the time of his death in 1878, the House was producing over a million bottles each year. Today, Perrier Jouët belongs to Pernod Ricard and produces close to three million bottles annually.

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The Perrier Jouët range of Champagnes is extensive. Which is the most famous?

The Perrier Jouët House is famous for the production of the "Cuveé Belle Époque". Even before it is opened, this worldrenowned prestige Cuveé can be identified by the swirling anemone design on the bottle. In 1902, Charles Perrier's nephew, Henri Gallice, commissioned [French Art Nouveau glassmaker] Emile Galle to design a special bottle. Although it had some success, it was quickly forgotten.

In 1964, four of these bottles were discovered. They were considered so beautiful that the House resolved to fill them with an equally fine Champagne. The design was re-released two years later to celebrate the seventieth birthday of Duke Ellington. Initially only 5,000 bottles were released. However, within 20 years, the company had increased production to well over 600,000 bottles each year.

Perrier Jouët is as famous for its Art Nouveau-styled bottles as it is its champagne. How did that association with early 20th-century art begin?

The period before World War I was an era of innovation, creativity, parties and fun. This was when art was reinvented, new patterns were introduced and new materials were being used, specifically glass. Many of our Champagnes were created during this time and featured these new designs. You might recall the great works of artists such as Daum, Gallais and Guimard. In our "Maison Belle Epoque" (guest house) in Epernay, we have assembled outstanding testimonies of this Art Nouveau era and allow our VIPs and loyal Perrier Jouët clients to view this exclusive collection.

What else distinguishes Perrier Jouët from other brands?

As is the case with all of the world's great wines, Champagne Perrier Jouët's finesse and elegance spring from its vineyards. Occupying some of the most prestigious sites in the entire Champagne region, Perrier Jouët owns more than 247 acres in Ay and Dizy in Vallee de la Marne as well as Verzenay and Mailly in Montagne de Reims and Avize and Cramant in Cote des Blancs. On the slopes of the famous Cote des Blancs, Cramant is without a doubt the finest vineyard in the Champagne region because it grows the best Chardonnay grapes — the essential component in the most refined Champagnes.

Perrier Jouët was in fact the first Champagne house to recognise the special merit of Chardonnay and, soon after its founding, purchased a number of vineyards of exceptional quality. In the incomparable Cramant vineyards alone, Perrier Jouët possesses more than 99 acres. The high proportion of superb Chardonnay in Perrier Jouët Champagnes makes them a miracle of delicacy and lightness.

Perrier Jouët is also well known for its amazing caves.

Indeed, Perrier Jouët's caves are unique — vaulted tunnels dug directly into the chalk, on three levels, nearly 10km in total length. Here, as deep as 45ft underground, 12 million bottles mature at the constant and ideal temperature of 51.8° F. This is where we taste and evaluate the wines, assuring the harmonious blend of subtlety and seductiveness that is unmistakably Perrier Jouët. Perrier Jouët is now part of the Pernod-Ricard Group.

How does this benefit the company?

I believe this is one of the greatest opportunities for Perrier Jouët to fully benefit from globalization and the increasing demand for luxury products, specifically champagne. Thanks to the strong foothold of Pernod-Ricard in Asia, and its extensive distribution network, we are able to bring Perrier Jouët to more consumers in this part of the world.

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