The chef de cave merry-go-round in Champagne continues apace. It must be a bit of blow for Moët-Hennessy to lose their highest profile head winemaker, Dominique Demarville so soon after the retirement of the experienced Richard Geoffroy at Dom Pérignon (at the end of 2018). Veuve Clicquot winemakers don’t usually depart the job until they retire, they are not meant to leave in their prime and at 53 Demarville is one of the most experienced winemakers in the appellation, arguably at the peak of his powers.
He’s done a great job in the 13 years he’s been at Clicquot, but as is the nature of the job, only his first solo Vintage Réserve wine from 2008 has been released so far (they didn’t make the straight vintage in 2006 at Clicquot, though Demarville was involved in producing the La Grande Dame 2006 white and pink, the latter one of the best rosés from Clicquot I’ve ever tasted). It takes time for your legacy to be seen and appreciated.
The 2008 has around 5% of the juice fermented and aged in oak casks, a change Demarville introduced, and in prioritising efforts to make Yellow Label a better, more consistent blend with added complexity, he’s introduced some oak in this too. He also blended and launched ‘Extra Old, Extra Aged’ a low dosage (3g/l), multi vintage blend made from Clicquot’s substantial collection of reserve wines aimed partly at shining a light on the quality elements behind Yellow Label, but also a fascinating wine in its own right.
When Demarville moves to Laurent-Perrier in January 2020 to work alongside and then take over from their current chef de cave Michel Fauconnet, the palette of flavours he works with will move from a Pinot Noir to Chardonnay emphasis, but in prestige cuvée Grande Siècle – a three vintage blend – he’ll surely find some similarities to his work on Clicquot’s Extra Old, Extra Aged. He’ll also have the chance to make a non-dosé champagne for the first time in over two decades in Ultra Brut and its new cousin Ultra Brut Blanc de Blancs. And who wouldn’t be thrilled to be taking over production of Salon.
While everyone in Champagne was shocked to hear Demarville was leaving Clicquot, it was bit of surprise to find that his former colleague at G.H.Mumm, Didier Mariotti – they worked together there for three vintages – has been lined up to take the job at Clicquot. Mariotti, takes up the position on 26 August, just before the 2019 harvest begins, working alongside Demarville initially to learn the ropes before his appointment as cellar master is confirmed in January 2020.
Unlike Demarville before him, Mariotti didn’t want to leave G.H.Mumm where he had continued the good work that he and Demarville initiated together, first in greatly improving the Cordon Rouge NV blend, but more recently in sharpening the vintage offering – 2006 was his first solo effort and very decent – and making top class Blanc de Blancs Cramant (formerly known, much more helpfully, as Crémant de Cramant) and Blanc de Noirs, Verzenay.
The stylistic change facing Mariotti will be smaller than that facing Demarville, as both G.H. Mumm and Clicquot champagnes are black fruit dominant blends. Having spent time at Moët & Chandon and Nicolas Feuillatte before G.H.Mumm, Mariotti will have worked at four of the five largest brands in Champagne. He should therefore be pretty used to the way these large international drinks companies operate with the management in Paris and not in Reims.
For his part one suspects Demarville will glad to concentrate more on the winemaking side of things, rather than the international PR role the winemakers at LVMH are also expected to excel at. Fauconnet has always been allowed to stay largely out of the limelight at Laurent-Perrier, and certainly doesn’t go on global tours of major international markets every time a new vintage Is released. I’m not even sure he’s ever been to the UK in his capacity as LP chef de cave.
*This analysis column was first published by Drinks International online on 10 July 2019