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

Demarville to leave Clicquot and join Laurent-Perrier as cellar master

Dominique Demarville

Veuve Clicquot cellar master Dominique Demarville is leaving the company at the end of the year to take up the position as chef de cave at Laurent-Perrier. Recruited to replace him at Clicquot by the retiring cellar master Jacques Peters back in 2006, Demarville has apparently again been sought out by the soon to retire incumbent chef de cave at Laurent-Perrier, Michel Fauconnet, planning his succession. Fauconnet is 67 this year and has worked at Laurent-Perrier since 1973.

This news about one of the highest profile winemakers in the whole of Champagne, comes from the reliably well informed website of Sophie Claeys. It was Claeys who was first with the Continue reading “Demarville to leave Clicquot and join Laurent-Perrier as cellar master”

Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002

The prospect of tasting 15 prestige cuvée champagnes in one sitting later this week is a mouth-watering one.  Especially as they are all from the celebrated 2002 vintage, which will probably, with a little competition from 2008 & ’09, go down as the finest vintage of the past decade. But it’s interesting to speculate — before I have seen the actual list — who will be included in the line-up?

I imagine Dom Pérignon, Cristal and Krug will be there, the last named only released to a rapturous welcome early this year, while Cristal will potentially boast considerable bottle age, given it was first made available over seven years ago. I guess Dom Ruinart, fabulously rich and powerful in 2002 and Clicquot’s La Grande Dame will complete the Moët-Hennessy quartet in the line-up.

Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill and Salon are two further acclaimed ‘02 releases, and I’m pretty sure Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne will feature (see my piece on the recent Finest Bubble vertical tasting of Comte 1996-2006 which included the 2002). To these eight we can probably add Continue reading “Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002”

In praise of magnums

As you have probably gathered from recent posts, and those during last year’s festive season, I am a fan of magnums. The magnum is without doubt the perfect receptacle for ageing champagne in and in nearly all cases in my experience, faced with the same wine served from a standard 75cl bottle or magnum format, the latter will taste better.

Champagne aged in magnum develops and evolves more slowly, so it will always seem fresher than its 75cl counterpart. But it isn’t just about freshness, there’s extra zip, more nuances of flavour, and ultimately greater complexity. As I have noted because producers are aware of this, some houses will release and sell their magnum stock at a later point after longer ageing than their bottles. In the case of non-vintage blends, sometimes the base wine that is likely to make up the largest portion of the blend, will be from an older harvest in the case of the magnum non-vintage cuvée – this, as I have mentioned recently elsewhere, is the case in the example of both Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot.

If you are looking to buy something now in magnum for a special celebration over the holidays, it’s really non-vintage wines we are talking about here. Vintage champagne in magnum can also be sublime, but many current releases in magnum simply aren’t ready to drink, at least not if you wish to enjoy them at anything close to their peak. In terms of development they may be three or four years behind the same wine in 75cl bottle format.

For the better houses the price of a magnum is often more than the price of two bottles. That’s partly why I was keen to highlight the deal at Waitrose (13 stores and online) on magnums of Bollinger Special Cuvée, which at least one regular visitor to the site has found and purchased for only a shade over £60.

But where else outside the supermarkets – Sainsbury’s and Tesco have both had good deals on Veuve Clicquot in large bottles – can you find any stock of non-vintage champagne in magnum that you could buy and drink without disappointment (if you have the chance and the cellar space, most good non-vintage champagne in magnum will develop very well over a couple of years or so and if you can afford to put some away so much the better) in the next few days.

Hunting the other day for some bar