Didier Depond was appointed president of Salon and Delamotte in 1997. Although he was not born in Champagne, he is so passionate about this region, its wines, and its people that he has become de facto one of them. With his contagious enthusiasm and witty smile–so Champenois–he talks with great pride and respect of the two houses he brought to a new shine.
Why Salon and Delamotte are presented as sister houses?
Ever since Laurent-Perrier became the owner of Salon and Delamotte, the two houses worked together. Today, one company regroups the two adjoining houses in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, so we call them sister houses. They had different stories, but they were always related. Ever since Salon existed, there were familial relations between the owners of the two houses. Also, there is a common historical focus on blanc de blancs; Salon was the star, but the star also had a sister who was not jealous of her; rather the opposite.
How would you explain Salon and Delamotte champagnes to someone unfamiliar with them?
Corney and Barrow (one of the oldest independent wine merchants in the UK) has a definition for Delamotte Brut: “it is a real pleasure to drink this champagne.” You drink a glass, and you hold your glass to have a second one, and for me this is key. With Delamotte, one does not drink champagne to be intellectual, to dissect, it is just to drink champagne, easily, for pleasure. Delamotte is the easiest champagne to drink for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all night, all day long. In fact, champagne is the only drink besides water that you can drink at any time. You do not drink whiskey right in the morning, or cognac, or red wine, and you do not drink white wine late at night. Champagne is for every moment, everywhere and at every instant.
Delamotte is the easiest champagne to drink for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all night, all day long.
At Delamotte, we focus on what we know and what we want to do well. We deliberately include only four cuvées: Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Blancs Vintage, and Rosé. But Blanc de Blancs is really our identity card, a reflection of who we are and what we aim at: one day, in my craziest dreams, we will only sell blanc de blancs. We have 250 years of experience in the Côte des Blancs where we only use three grands crus: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Avize. For Vintage Blanc de Blanc, we also use Cramant, for 5-10% of the blend. Our Rosé is made with the saignée method, with 80% pinot and 20% chardonnay. We also let our champagnes age for a long time: 24 months for Brut and Blanc de Blancs, and seven years for Blanc de Blanc Vintage. We let the Rosé age for a maximum of 20 months, as we love it very fresh, pale, with light notes of red fruits like strawberry and raspberry. So, the four Delamotte champagnes are wines of pleasure, for immediate consumption when we release them. Of course, if you want to age them further, they will remain good.
Salon has a very particular taste that can even be shocking at times. We talk more of a great white wine with bubbles.
With Salon, we are in the world of special editions, collector’s wines. Salon has a very particular taste that can even be shocking at times. We talk more of a great white wine with bubbles. Salon champagne is the same variety, same cru, same year, with very long aging of 10 years minimum. Salon is a powerful, strong wine, so it needs to be calmed, time, for it to lighten up. The right moment to drink it it’s after 15-20 years, but you can keep it 20 years or 30 years in the cellar without a problem. We have champagnes from 40 or 50 years ago that are still in the same state of youth. They are a little weathered, they will have some ripples, but they are always good and fresh, with some effervescence. We explain this with our terroir and know-how, with the rigor with which we work at all the stages in the vineyard and in the cellar, without compromise; if we have a doubt, it is a no. In terms of tasting, you can love champagne and pass on Salon. I often tell sommeliers: “careful, when you sell a bottle of Salon, explain that it is Salon.” You do not drink it at the same temperature as normal champagne, of 8 or 9 °C (48 °F), but at 12, 13, 14 °C (53-57 °F), and in a wine glass.
Champagne is by definition a blend of grape variety, crus, and years. Salon is the opposite of all this. Why?
The Champagne Method is indeed the art of blending grape varieties, crus, and years, and 90% of all champagnes are blended wines. Eugène-Aimé Salon took a completely opposite approach. He had the desire to do something different and unique, for his consumption and that of his friends. He did it his way and it became a myth. So, at Salon, contrary to what is usually done in Champagne, we use one grape variety–chardonnay–one cru–Le Mesnil-sur-Oger–from one single year. To that, we add a layer with the long aging in the cellar before release.
At Salon, contrary to what is usually done in Champagne, we use one grape variety–chardonnay–one cru–Le Mesnil-sur-Oger–from one single year.
Yes, clearly. As long as the bottle includes the dead yeasts resulting from the second fermentation, aging happens extremely slowly. Once the disgorgement occurs, the aging will continue but faster. If you disgorge a 20-years-old champagne, you will immediately identify the youth of the wine compared to a champagne of the same age that was disgorged five or 10 years earlier. We had many experiences, and this is an absolute piece of evidence.
How do you balance very long aging with the cash-flow side of the business?
Aging is key to great champagne, especially when made with chardonnay with its high acidity that needs to calm down. This long aging represents an enormous constraint. Our houses are small, and we can afford to wait. We have the chance to be part of a group that tells me: “if you need five months or a year or more for your wine to be perfect, you have them. We are always here to support you financially.” It is for me an incredible comfort to have this freedom to aim for the best no matter the cost.
Should we not had this chance, the temptation would have been, instead of making 37 Salon vintages in the last century, of making say 45; nobody would notice anything, no one would make a remark and it will bring us much more, but we say no to that. We always respected our philosophy and it is an absolute pleasure to continue to work this way.
The scarcity of Salon carries a significant retail price. How is price linked to its image of prestige?
It is not a secret that the prices of our champagnes have risen. Their image grew strongly but does the image raise the price or does the price raise the image? In any case, the other aspect is quality and taste. Image, price and quality are all necessary and all meet simultaneously. Today around the world and in all the champagne markets that matter, Salon enjoys an amazing image, especially in Asia, in Japan and Singapore, but also in the UK, France, and Italy, major markets for great wines.
Image, price and quality are all necessary and all meet simultaneously.
Why Delamotte, one of the oldest Champagne houses, does not benefit from the same notoriety of other old brands?
Delamotte is more than 250 years old and we have owned it for 30 years. It was attached to other larger houses, and it was choking so that others might live. When I took over, we produced less than 220,000 bottles a year. Today, we produce 800,000, which is not bad in terms of growth in 20 years.
Quality has increased as well. When we don’t produce Salon, we use the wines at Delamotte, in the blanc de blancs and the brut non-vintage. These super-high-quality grapes participate in the prestige and image of Delamotte.
It makes me very happy when I am told that the quality of Delamotte increases every year. This is a sign that the increase in volume is not made at the expense of quality or at the expense of price, which is relatively low. Our intention is to craft something of very high quality and, at the same time, accessible. Our Brut is our showman, and I do not fear anyone. And our Blanc de Blancs is a perfect introduction to this type of cuvée. In December 2012, Eric Asimov, wine expert for the New York Times, did a blind tasting of 30 blanc de blancs. Delamotte came out first, and this created an incredible snowball effect. In Japan, our Blanc de Blancs is the champagne sold the most, it is really a benchmark for champagne and for blanc de blancs.
In December 2012, Eric Asimov, wine expert for the New York Times, did a blind tasting of 30 blanc de blancs. Delamotte came out first.
We mentioned price and brand. What is the role of distribution in your success?
It is key to find the right partner for distribution, someone is in the same creed who understands and has the same aspirations. The distributor must know how to sell something expensive, not talk about price at the start of the conversation. An aggressive price strategy can work in the beginning, but it will not work long term. Of course, the brand plays its role in that too. In fact, it’s a mix. This is why the French market is still super-important, where brands must be recognized to be then accepted in other less-mature champagne markets.
You are not originally from Champagne, but you became Champenois by adoption. What does champagne represent in your life?
I am originally from Tour (in the west of France) and I arrived in Champagne at 22. I have been in Champagne for over 30 years. When I arrived, I met two extraordinary men: Bernard de Nonancourt who was the president of the Laurent-Perrier group and who was like a second father to me, and Alain Terrier who was the winemaker of the house. So I was, you could say, adopted by these two men and they taught me a lot over the years. I was 33 when Bernard de Nonancourt appointed me as the youngest president of Salon and Delamotte. Last year I traveled 132 days in 40 countries. For now, champagne is my life. But it will come one day when I would not be at Salon and Delamotte any longer. Someone else will replace me because this is what must happen. But in any case, to have served Salon and Delamotte and the group Laurent-Perrier is an immense pleasure.
Last year I traveled 132 days in 40 countries. For now, champagne is my life.
Do you drink champagne every day?
Twice a day!