Perrier-Jouët chef de cave Hervé Deschamps retires

Hervé Deschamps glass in hand at Maison Belle Époque

On Friday 30 October I received a note from Hervé Deschamps, the ever-smiling chef de cave at Perrier-Jouët, saying it was last day at this famous house. Only the seventh cellarmaster since 1811, he’s worked at Perrier-Jouët for 37 years, the last 27 as the chef de cave. He joined in a great year for Champagne, 1983 and he leaves immediately after another, this time the third of a trio of fine vintages. 

He’s been the creative spirit behind the wines, the consistent presence at this historic house under four different ownerships, three of them giants of the wine and spirits business in their time, Seagram, Allied Domecq and currently Pernod Ricard. While they have guided the marketing strategy, with variable success, he has sensibly been left to get on with making the wine. Over the past three decades he’s also been the friendly, welcoming face of the house, particularly for visiting journalists.

If the press has a good feeling about Perrier-Jouët, and I think it’s fair to say they generally do, he has had had a lot to do with it. He’s seen chef de caves at sister house G.H. Mumm come and go. While he’s ruled the roost at 28 Avenue de Champagne, in Epernay, there have been five different occupants there at 34 Rue du Champ de Mars in Reims.

The role of cellar master has changed radically over the past three decades. When Hervé started the job in the early nineties, he was not just making the wine, he purchased the grapes and all the dry goods needed in champagne production and he was also responsible for organising the considerably larger workforce then employed in the cellars.

As he comments, in Susie Barrie’s podcast https://bit.ly/3l1RRc3 celebrating his time at Perrier-Jouët, his predecessor only made one official trip outside Champagne during his reign as cellar master. Hervé, on the other hand, reckons over the past two decade or so, he’s spent 50-60 days a year travelling, principally to the brand’s main markets of Japan, the USA and the UK.

I first met Hervé soon after he became chef de cave in the early nineties and I have continued to meet and taste with him regularly in Epernay and London, over the past two and a half decades. He’s never been anything other than charming company, always smiling and at his happiest sharing a bottle of his own wine.

Just a few years ago I asked Hervé for a brief summary of the Perrier-Jouët style. The thoughts he proffered were: “white flower, stylish and sea-salt”. I’d just been tasting the newly launched Belle Époque Brut Vintage 2008 with him and while that wasn’t exactly my tasting note, all those things are evident in the very fine, dazzling fresh 2008 release. It’s perfumed, with a noticeable grip and mid palate chalky intensity. And no-one would say it lacked style.

It plays between the elegance and freshness of Chardonnay from Cramant, Avize, Chouilly, Mesnil and Vertus, set against the power and structure of Mailly, Verzy and Verzenay Pinot Noir. “But don’t forget the 5% Dizy Pinot Meunier,” says Hérve. “It acts as a link between the two, like the hyphen between Perrier and Jouët.” A lovely descriptor, I’ve always thought.


A beaming Hervé, sits behind a collection of the Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque magnums that he has made and we’ve just had the pleasure of tasting

I’ve been lucky enough to experience several vertical tastings of Belle Époque with Hervé over the years. Notably in September 2006, we worked our way back from 1999 white and rosé, through 1998, 1997. 1996, 1995, 1989, 1988, 1985 the first vintage he himself made and then on to ’82 and ’79.

But what I shall remember best is having a relaxed lunch with him on a summer’s day, on the terrace overlooking the glorious garden at Maison Belle Époque, sharing a glass of Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Blanc de Blancs, his very own creation first made in 1993, specifically to celebrate the Millennium. His winning smile and infectious giggle will be sadly missed on future trips to Champagne.

Last month Hervé handed over the keys of the cellar to his successor Séverine Frerson

Wines from 2012 look to have the wow factor

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I’ve been updating the Trade News page of this website where I have detailed harvest reports going back until 2006 and looking at the original assessments – done with the winemakers’ feedback in the autumn just after picking is completed — of the best vintages of recent years in Champagne. I had to give a marks out of ten assessment for each new addition of Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine A-Z and checking in the 2015 guide, between 2004 and 2013 we gave four vintages 8 out 10, the highest mark in this decade.  

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon chef de cave at Louis Roederer

The most recent of these was 2012, and now as more wines from that year are released, my harvest time assessment definitely looks a little on the mean side. There were some pretty effusive comments made at the time, despite the mostly disastrous growing season with frost, poor flowering, hail and disease all hitting yields. Quality was saved by very sunny weather immediately pre-harvest in mid-August, that continued into the first week of picking.

“It is a great vintage. Probably better than 1996 and close to 1990 on average. But in some special location it could well be better than that, closer to a 1947,” said Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon chef de cave at Louis Roederer.

Charles Philipponnat CEO of the eponymous house

“For us [it is], somewhere between 1959, 1990 and 2002. Yields were only 6 to 7000 kilos/hectare, but quality was very satisfactory, especially the Pinot Noir,” said Charles Philipponnat of the eponymous house.

“Everything is here, quality-wise, to craft some top vintage champagne. It looks like a cross between 2002, 1990 and 1952 all excellent years,” said Frédéric Panaïotis, chef de cave at Ruinart

Perrier-Jouët chef de cave Hervé Deschamps

“The overall quality of the grapes was very high,” says Hervé Deschamps, chef de cave at Perrier-Jouët. It was “a very good healthy harvest with no botrytis and a very good ripeness for all grapes varieties.”

While Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon was “very confident in the vintage potential of this harvest”. Slightly more cautiously, Dominique Demarville, who was at that time head winemaker at Veuve Clicquot, said: “On the paper, this year looks very good, close to 1990, 1989 and 2002 for the level of sugar, with the acidity level not too far from 1998, 1990 and 1982. It could be a very nice vintage, but we must wait to taste the wines, which we start next week.”

Benoît Gouez

Eight years on and most of these houses have released cuvées of this vintage with impressive results, but wines that are yet to reach their peak. It’s been very interesting in lockdown to sample more recently released examples from Charles Heidsieck and Krug, the latter in the shape of Grande Cuvée based on this harvest.

For Charles Heidsieck, 2012 follows 2005, 2006 and 2008, the last two vintages made in fairly small volumes, partly because the house was still run then by Remy-Cointreau who were looking to sell the brand (as they had sold Krug a few years earlier). There is therefore a suspicion that the 2012 has come to the market slightly earlier than it might have. But as current winemaker Cyril Brun says – this wine was actually made by his immediate predecessor Thierry Roset who sadly died in 2014 – it has the balance to carry this off (see full review of both wines on What I’ve Been Tasting page).

The latest release of Krug Grande Cuvée, the 168th Edition, is also based on the 2012 harvest, which accounts for over half the blend, or to be precise, 58%. Krug has over the years been at pains to says that its flagship Grande Cuvée is a uniformly consistent product, whatever the vintage base may be.

To demonstrate the apparent truth of this, Olivier Krug is fond of recounting the blind tasting a few years back where the senior members of the tasting panel — himself, previous chef de cave Eric Lebel and the newly promoted Julie Cavil — lined up a number of blends of Grande Cuvée based on six different vintages, a range running from 1998 to 2003, a pretty interesting and diverse collection of harvests.

When they voted for their favourite blend in the line-up, “We all three picked the blend based on the 2001 harvest as our favourite, despite this being the poorest harvest by some way of the six we tried,” says Olivier Krug.

However, the very fact that Krug has started more readily revealing the harvest base for each release through its ID code and has now gone one step further by giving each new blend an edition number (a practice which started only in late 2016 with the release of the 163rd Edition, based on the 2007 harvest), is a tacit admission that blends do vary. And those based on particularly fine harvests are almost bound to be more popular among the Krug fanatics, who want to buy every version of the Grande Cuvée blend to contrast and compare.   

These two wines, although they have entirely individual taste profiles, demonstrate in their different ways is there’s no hurry to drink up this vintage, which is still only at the start of a drinking window that might easily last two further decades or more. They will improve with more time in bottle and offer substantially more nuances of flavour and texture, as great champagne does. But they also show the innate drinkability of a vintage that shows a lovely balance between ripe fruit and fresh acidity, that makes it attractive now.

Best value wines for Christmas and the New Year

With the round of autumn retail tastings over, it’s time to look back to find some of the best bets for champagne, that you can readily buy in the next couple of weeks and that won’t break the bank. The Wine Society has an extensive champagne and sparkling wine list and while it’s a members’ only co-operative, it doesn’t cost a fortune to become one. You can join for £40 and for any wine loving friend who isn’t already a member, it would make a great gift.

This three-way blend of Champagne’s three main grape varieties is based on the 2014 harvest and fermented in small old Burgundy casks. Four years on its lees gives extra complexity

You only have to go to one of their regular press tastings and see who attends, to understand the high esteem in which the Society is held by fellow journalists. On the Champagne front, it deals with Continue reading “Best value wines for Christmas and the New Year”

Waitrose still boasts one of the best Champagne ranges in High Street

While the Waitrose Blanc de Noirs, currently our ‘wine of the week’, is no longer on offer, with Father’s Day fast approaching there are still a couple of other champagnes on a deal that are drinking really well and represent great value.

The Waitrose Brut Vintage 2007 (the ‘05 preceded it), which has been the grocer’s vintage champagne offering for well over a year now, is at or near its apogee. It’s a rich, generous style with a majority of Chardonnay in the blend (52%) plus Continue reading “Waitrose still boasts one of the best Champagne ranges in High Street”

Dom Pérignon launches 2002 P2

Dom Pérignon 2002 P2 and the original release

Bruno Paillard, who has long championed the use of disgorgement dates on his own champagnes, and those of the brands in the wider BCC group, has an anecdote he is fond of bringing up to emphasize the importance of post-disgorgement ageing. He feels the more venerable the wine, the longer it needs to recover from the shock of disgorgement. In much the same way as an older person is likely to take longer to recover from a serious operation than a younger one. It makes sense. Champagne is unlikely to perform at its best Continue reading “Dom Pérignon launches 2002 P2”

Robuchon dies after long illness

Very sad to hear the news (yesterday) that celebrated chef and restaurateur Joël Robuchon has died after a long battle with cancer. He’s the man whose restaurants have been awarded more Michelin stars than anyone else – they hold 23 round the world currently. I have been lucky enough to meet him, and eat his sublime food, twice in the past five Continue reading “Robuchon dies after long illness”

Canard-Duchêne celebrates 150th anniversary and launches new prestige Cuvée V

Alain Thiénot raises a glass of Cuvée Léonie to 15 years of work at Canard-Duchêne

Last month Canard-Duchêne hosted guests from around the world in Ludes to celebrate the house’s 150th anniversary. It has been 15 years since Alain Thiénot bought the house from LVMH, Continue reading “Canard-Duchêne celebrates 150th anniversary and launches new prestige Cuvée V”

Message in a bottle

One of the main reasons that champagne houses covet working with the leading airlines is they like the exposure for their brands. They want to be seen as the preferred pour in the first or business class cabin. Partly because this is an affluent audience that’s difficult to reach, they will even agree relatively unprofitable deals to get the listing, though of course they are at pains to deny this.

But they know there is a large potential downside to this exposure. Will the cabin staff pour the champagne in front of the customer, thus showing Continue reading “Message in a bottle”

Vintage champagne that hits the spot

Nipping out for a last-minute bottle of fizz to celebrate the end of 2017 and welcome in the New Year? If it’s something vintage you are after that’s drinking superbly well now, then Waitrose Brut 2005, the wine I finished my recent WSET tasting with, is very hard to beat. Made Continue reading “Vintage champagne that hits the spot”

Dom Pérignon launches P2 2000: an exploration of extra lees ageing

Vincent Chaperon, right hand man of Dom Pérignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, was in London earlier this month to launch the P2 version of Dom Pérignon 2000. Interestingly, he also bought along the original 2000 release aged on the cork since its disgorgement several years ago in 2007. We went along to see him and asked him to talk us through the quite considerable difference in tasting profile the same wine has when it gets a decade and a half of lees ageing.

See the interview video: