Didier Depond was appointed president of Salon and Delamotte in 1997. Although he was not born in Champagne but in the Loire Valley, 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, witty humor, and no-nonsense, he talks with great respect and pride of the two houses he brought to a new shine. And even if Salon is today among the most prestigious champagne houses, Didier doesn’t get philosophical about champagne. He just focuses on what matters: pleasure, very much in line with the vision of its founder Mr. Salon.
When did Salon become an icon in the world of champagne?
The special aura of Salon is very old. Eugène Salon invented the first 100% Chardonnay champagne at the beginning of the 20th century because he wanted to make something different and unique, for his consumption and that of his friends. This champagne was presented under the name Vin Nature du Mesnil (natural wine of Mesnil) as the name blanc de blancs for this category of champagne started to be used much later. The house very quickly became mysterious and mythical, a separate case.
How did Salon and Delamotte become part of the Laurent-Perrier group?
After the death of Monsieur Salon in 1943, the house continued to produce exceptional wines but no one talked about them anymore. Salon was a sleeping beauty. Nephews of Monsieur Salon, a brother and a sister, became the owners. This niece married Charles de Nonancourt who owned Delamotte.
In 1988 Bernard de Nonancourt, president of Laurent-Perrier, bought Delamotte from his brother, and simultaneously Salon which belonged to Besserat de Bellefon (which belonged to the Pernod-Ricard Group). There was just a wall separating the two houses, but both houses had a common historical focus on blanc de blancs.
Salon came with a treasure of wines in the cellar, and a brand that had had notoriety and that the sommeliers of Paris and abroad knew, but which was under the radar. And even Delamotte, when I arrived, only produced 200,000 bottles a year. We now sell 800,000 per year. So, I gave new life to the houses.
How did you find yourself at the head of these two houses? What was your strategy to redevelop them?
I was already working for Laurent-Perrier, where I arrived when I was 22 and where I did my entire career. Bernard de Nonancourt was like a second father to me. One day he announced to me by telephone, while I was in Venice: “On Monday you are at Mesnil”. I didn’t understand that he wanted me to be in charge of both houses.
I was lucky to get along very well with the former cellar master of the Laurent-Perrier Group, Alain Terrier, who helped me a lot technically to develop the ideas I had to revive the houses.
In general, when someone arrives at a Champagne house, he/she wants to create new cuvées. When I arrived, there were seven different wines (for Delamotte) and I thought there were at least three too many. I do not buy into this concept of having 10 or even 15 cuvées per brand with all these single-plot cuvées which are often disappointing.
So, we went for brut non-vintage, non-vintage blanc de blancs, vintage blanc de blanc, and non-vintage rosé.
Why don’t you buy into this trend of single-parcel champagnes?
For me, champagne is the art of assemblage, blending vintages, grape varieties, and years, for consistency. We cannot produce (non-vintage) champagnes that are not the same, that are not consistent year after year.
For me, champagne is the art of assemblage, blending vintages, grape varieties, and years, for consistency.
Salon also is a blend, of different parcels of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. But we are 100 years ahead on the concept of vintage single-grand-cru champagne. And with Delamotte we have 250 years of experience in the Côte des Blancs.
There are plenty of producers in each grand cru like ours in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, but the quality of the wines varies a lot from one producer to another. Not everybody on an exceptional cru produces exceptional wines. The work of man is necessary, it must intervene and guide the produce of nature. Wines are not made on their own. It is a question of terroir and know-how.
Wines are not made on their own. It is a question of terroir and know-how.
At the end of the day, you make the wines that you like. I make wines that taste good to me, that are clean and neat.
How do you define the style of Delamotte?
Delamotte are wines of pleasure, for immediate consumption when we release them, as we age them long enough. We market our brut after a minimum of 36 months, the non-vintage blanc de blancs after 48 months, and the vintages after 7 years. Despite their ages, after 10 or 12 years they are still clean and neat. Of course, if you want to age them further, they will remain good.
Delamotte are wines of pleasure, for immediate consumption
As they open up in the glass you realize how good they are and you want another glass. Champagne is made to be drunk again and again. This is why with Delamotte our intention is to craft something of very high quality and, at the same time, accessible.
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.
Tell us more about your cuvées.
Delamotte Brut is made of 60% Chardonnay only from grands crus from the Côte des Blancs: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize; 30% Pinot Pinot Noir only from grand crus in the Montagne de Reims, namely Bouzy, Ambonnay, and Tours-sur-Marne, and 10% Meunier from the Marne Valley.
Over the years, we gradually increased the proportion of Chardonnay, from 30-30-30 to 60% Chardonnay 30% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier.
Today our brut is on point. Maybe we will continue to reduce the Meunier gradually, but I would still keep it, just to bring its particular touch to the blend. I don’t denigrate Meunier, I find it interesting as a complement, and find it super interesting on its own, with certain old blanc de noirs champagnes made of Meunier which are extraordinary.
Delamotte non-vintage Blanc De Blancs is our true business card: 100% Chardonnay from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize, with 48 months of aging in the bottle. It’s good, it’s fresh, it’s clean. It has little dosage but thanks to 4 years of aging it’s not austere, it had time to round out. He’s not too young and he hasn’t aged badly.
Delamotte non-vintage Blanc De Blancs is our true business card: 100% Chardonnay from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize.
Delamotte Vintage Blanc De Blancs (currently 2012) is made with the six grands crus of the Côte des Blancs: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, Oiry. This champagne is delicious, that’s really what I like.
We have been using these six crus since the 2008 vintage. Before, it was only four grands crus: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize, Cramant.
It’s still lively, with a distinctive menthol nose, aromas of fresh grass, of youth. I love the nose of this wine. The wine is tense but is not aggressive. The finish is very neat, and very clean.
We also have the Black Label collection. These are vintages that we keep in magnum for at least 15 years on the lees and that we disgorge gradually.
Is there a marked difference in aging champagne on lees and after disgorgement?
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 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 define the style of Salon?
With Salon, we are in the world of great white wines with bubbles. Salon is about purity, straightness, it is the expression of Chardonnay and then of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a grand cru with its chalky soil. It has salinity and all notes of white flowers that I love like jasmine, honeysuckle, orange blossom, lime blossom, and they evolve over time to remind jam and honey.
Salon is about purity, straightness, it is the expression of Chardonnay and then of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a grand cru with its chalky soil.
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.
Salon in its youth is a bit muscular so it needs to be tamed with time, for it to lighten up. The right moment to drink it it’s after 15-20 years, but you can keep it for 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.
That’s why I like to open the bottles of Salon an hour before serving them, as the wine has been locked up for so many years and suddenly finds itself “free”. Also, 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. As it unfolds in it, Salon tells a story, it is a journey, to be tasted step by step.
You do not make no-dosage champagnes, except from Salon 2002. What is your philosophy on dosage?
Champagnes without dosage are extremely pure, but less pleasant and more aggressive. And I firmly think that we drink champagne to enjoy. This is why, in my opinion, any champagne needs a little bit of dosage, it can be tiny, but it’s a little something that makes the difference. Dosage is like the final touch in a dish.
Champagnes without dosage are extremely pure, but less pleasant and more aggressive. This is why, in my opinion, any champagne needs a little bit of dosage.
The dosage of the Delamotte range is very low, around 6, 6.5 g/l. We reduced progressively and compensated for this with longer aging.
For Salon we are around 5-6 g/l of sugar, sometimes less. Also, very often we do not perform malolactic fermentation (MLF). This is why Salon wines need this essential component: time.
Indeed, we produced some cases of Salon 2002 without dosage upon the request of Sketch restaurant in London to give the opportunity to its clientele to taste two different expressions of the same Salon vintage, by the glass, with and without dosage. Consumers had mixed feelings, and we think that dosage is still necessary.
How do you balance the long aging of your champagnes 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.
Aging is key to great champagne, especially when made with chardonnay with its high acidity that needs to calm down.
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.
Similarly, we could be tempted to make Salon more frequently, but we say no to that. On average we make four vintages per decade and we market our wines after about 12 years.
We always respected our philosophy and it is an absolute pleasure to continue to work this way.
How do you look at “cheap” champagnes and sparkling wines of other regions?
The global demand for sparkling wines is growing and champagne participates in satisfying it. There are good sparkling wines made in several wine regions in France and elsewhere and there is a market for everyone. But champagne is champagne.
I think that first-price champagnes contribute to the notoriety of champagne, although they hardly generate margins, and consumers who buy these champagnes gradually can invest in better and more expensive champagnes.
And I have absolute admiration for the prestige cuvées of big brands, with millions of bottles produced and sold of very high quality, which pull the whole of Champagne up. It is proof that in Champagne volume and quality can coexist.
In Champagne volume and quality can coexist.
You have gone from 200,000 to 800,000 bottles per year. Is this your cruising speed?
We will increase our volumes. Our objective, which is very feasible, is to reach one million bottles per year. It will take time as I don’t want to increase volume at the expense of quality. Our ambition is to simultaneously increase volume and quality.
What is champagne to you?
Champagne is my life. I arrived in Champagne at 22 and I was, you could say, adopted by two great men, Bernard de Nonancourt and Alain Terrier, who taught me a lot over the years. 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.
Do you drink champagne every day?
Twice a day!