Didier Mariotti, a gentleman of Corsican origins native of Burgundy, spent his entire career in Champagne. A qualified agronomist with a Degree in Enology from the University of Reims, he joined Mumm in 2003 and became chef de cave in 2006, a position he held until 2018. With his natural aplomb and captivating charm, he explains with great clarity how grapes varieties and crus participate in creating the Mumm style, but also how nature dictates the tempo of a terroir, changing it at each vintage, and how men guide its interpretation in the assemblage.
What is the Mumm style all about?
Through our champagnes, we express the different intensities of pinot noir, the emblematic grape variety of our house.
There is not a single expression of our style because we have different wines within our range of champagnes, but the overall idea is to find an expression of intensity, different according to the cuvées, with a certain elegance given by the freshness. Through our champagnes, we express the different intensities of pinot noir, the emblematic grape variety of our house, revealing its multiple facets within a very fruity universe. In Cordon Rouge (brut non-vintage), the emblem of the house, you always find this idea of biting into the fruit, with the richness of ripe fruits combined with a subtle acidity. It is a fairly specific style in a dimension of fresh fruits.
How grape variety and terroir participate in the making of your style?
Mumm is based on pinot noir, but chardonnay and meunier are also present in Cordon Rouge and each year, the proportions of each variety vary depending on the harvest. There are a hundred or so historic crus that have defined our style, but many more villages are included in our blends, from terroirs that are more or less impacted by the weather and the quality of each harvest. What matters is to produce a champagne consistent over time, so that the consumer finds the style of our house when enjoying a bottle of Mumm. So, the only question I ask myself is how, each year, to recreate the same Cordon Rouge with what nature gives us in each harvest and with the reserve wines from previous harvests.
Everything comes from nature; she is stronger than us and she decides. We must be humble, adapt, understand the wines, and make the right choices to get to the result we aim at.
Everything comes from nature; she is stronger than us and she decides. We must be humble, adapt, understand the wines, and make the right choices to get to the result we aim at. There are no recipes for that; it’s purely a matter of feelings and choices. We begin by tasting the still wines of a harvest and decide how to use them. Some wines will show a greater aging potential and can be used for vintage champagnes or as reserve wines to be included in other blends, and some will be used as a base for the Cordon Rouge of the year and other non-vintage cuvées. But the villages of origin of the grapes don’t dictate our blends. In our tasting committee, we make choices based on the personality of each wine, regardless of its origin, except for our RSRV range that deliberately expresses the great historical crus of our house.
These cuvées prove that champagne is a wine that expresses itself differently depending on the winemaking philosophy of each house. The terroir impacts the wines but the house, with its winemaking and assemblage, reveals it, expressing its style. For me, a terroir is an expression through the style of a house and accordingly, there are different expressions of the same cru. So, these champagnes are not the expression of their originating villages, but our vision of these terroirs.
For me, a terroir is an expression through the style of a house and accordingly, there are different expressions of the same cru.
Today the trend is to talk about wines in terms of their terroirs, but a Champagne house is above all the expression and perpetuation of a style, through the assemblage of different crus. Grape varieties and crus are the components of the style. These components vary each year, sometimes strongly, hence the need of blending them to express the style of the house every year, but not through a particular cru but the terroir of Champagne as a whole. This is also why it is not possible to make the very same wines in Champagne, England or Australia: it’s a matter of terroir.
What role does dosage play in your champagnes?
Dosage is a very important part of our work; it’s like salt or spices for a chef, it makes a big difference. I do not adhere to the widespread fashion of making champagnes without dosage. Today we have set the optimum dosage in our champagnes and therefore, we focus more on the reserve wines that we use.
What role do these reserve wines play in the making of your champagnes?
We are including more reserve wines in Cordon Rouge than in the past, making the continuity of our house style easier to obtain in the face of the ever-occurring climatic hazards.
Reserve wines bring consistency and complexity to the blend. We are including more reserve wines in Cordon Rouge than in the past, making the continuity of our house style easier to obtain in the face of the ever-occurring climatic hazards. Beyond the quantity used, the impact of reserve wines in champagnes depends mainly on their age and how they are aged. Each house has its approach to reserve wines. At Mumm, we make Cordon Rouge using wines of two to six years of age, with percentages in the blends that slightly differ from one year to another, from 30% to 35%.
The competition from sparkling wines from other wine regions is increasing. How is this impacting the future of Mumm and the champagne industry? Where is the demarcation between perpetuating a style and becoming obsolete?
Tastes change, habits change; champagne is not consumed in the same way today as it was 50 years ago. It’s impossible to predict exactly what the champagne markets will want, but we must try to anticipate the future expectations of the consumers.
Tastes change, habits change; champagne is not consumed in the same way today as it was 50 years ago. It’s impossible to predict exactly what the champagne markets will want, but we must try to anticipate the future expectations of the consumers. The idea is to evolve, with our wines, at the same speed at which the world evolves, because being still means going backward. So, we use the house’s past to create its future because what we create today will be enjoyed in four, five or 10 years. The idea is to evolve, slowly and discreetly. We try to adapt the style of Cordon Rouge, the champagne that better incarnate our style and history, to the evolution of the world, to remain contemporary. We also create, less frequently, brand new champagnes that are pure innovation. The sparkling wine segment continues to grow globally with the increasing reach of other regions and producers, but champagne remains a luxury product at the very top. I think everyone has found its place and we all work together for the growing success of quality sparkling wines.