Dominique Demarville became Veuve Clicquot’s 10th chef de cave in 2009 and remained in this key position until late 2019 when his colleague Didier Mariotti took the relay. He is the artist who every year crafted Yellow Label by blending hundreds of young and old wines the same way a painter uses a broad palette of colors for its creation. A warm man with a great passion for his work, he served Veuve Clicquot with much pride and contagious enthusiasm. He talks about his wine with such excitement and details that it’s impossible to resist their charm. If seeing is believing, and the proof is in the pudding, in this case, reading is believing, and the proof is in the champagne.
You are from Champagne. How did you get into champagne?
I am from Ardennes (a French administrative department north of Reims) but my parents are not from the wine world. The grandparents of a friend were winemakers in Charly-sur-Marne (in the Marne Valley), and he invited me to do the harvest with them, and I loved it! I decided to study for the National Diploma of Viticulture and Enology at the Avize wine college. During my studies, I discovered Burgundy and Champagne, two extraordinary wine regions. In 1990, when I obtained the diploma, I went back to Champagne to work at a small champagne producer who entrusted me with the responsibility of her winery. I then continued my career in other Champagne houses to eventually join Veuve Clicquot in 2006. Succeeding the previous chef de cave, Jaques Peters, was a big responsibility: I had to maintain the same quality of wines and go even further, by continuing to innovate.
Where does the quality of your wines rest?
For champagne as for any other wine, quality begins with the grapes, so in the vineyard.
For champagne as for any other wine, quality begins with the grapes, so in the vineyard. Champagne is a patchwork of terroirs, which gives different wines from one village to another. All our winemaking work is to extract the best in these soils. Our vineyard provides 20% of our supplies with 50% chardonnay planted on the Côte des Blancs, 45% pinot noir on the Montagne de Reims, and 5% meunier on the Montagne Ouest (a sector of the Montagne de Reims) and in the Saint-Thierry basin northwest of Reims. Vine growers supply us with the rest, some since four generations. Without quality in the supply of grapes, we cannot make great champagne.
What role do grape varieties play in creating your style?
The grape variety is the entry door, it already tells a lot, but the construction of champagne begins with a terroir, the origin of the grapes.
The grape variety is the entry door, it already tells a lot, but the construction of champagne begins with a terroir, the origin of the grapes. Then the winemaker gives the signature to the style of the house. Pinot noir dominates our blends, followed by chardonnay and meunier. The wines are worked to bring the style we want, with this generosity, power and smell of the terroir of Champagne that I love.
Tell us more about your winemaking.
To make great champagne, you have to be very precise in the vinification, during the alcoholic fermentation, and adequately control the temperatures.
To make great champagne, you have to be very precise in the vinification, during the alcoholic fermentation, and adequately control the temperatures. It is also necessary to avoid aromatic alterations and to use yeasts that respect champagne and the expression of the terroir.
At the harvest, we vinify each cru separately without any filtration, centrifugation, or fining agents. In this way, we obtain about 600 vats of different wines of the year and 400 vats of reserve wines that we keep on their lees, which will bring interesting aromas to these wines. We taste them all, at least twice a year, to decide which wines will be included in the current blends and which wines will be kept as reserve. Some wines will not be used because they’re not good enough. Some will stay in reserve for two or three years, some 10-20 years. It depends on the quality of the year and its ability to age. We follow these older reserve wines very meticulously because we must use them before they begin to decline.
What role does assemblage play in creating your style?
Assemblage is the core of our work. It allows us to create Yellow Label, our brut non-vintage champagne, which incarnates the signature style of our house.
Assemblage is the core of our work. It allows us to create Yellow Label, our brut non-vintage champagne, which incarnates the signature style of our house. For this, it must remain the same, year after year.
The style of Veuve Clicquot is power, aromatic intensity, but without heaviness, with freshness and a silky texture. Aromas of brioche, toasted notes, and this slight smokiness are also part of our style and result from the aging of our wines. The texture is smooth, silky, and brings a lot of pleasure.
Yellow Label is made with 50-60% of wines of the year, with 400-450 different wines. Reserve wines are of seven or eight different years, some of which are over 10 years old, from all over Champagne. If the base year is rich, powerful and solar, I will use reserve wines with lightness, acidity and freshness. On the contrary, if the base year is somewhat tense, I will use more powerful reserve wines. These reserve wines are our “spices,” which, with the diversity of our terroirs and the quality of our grapes, allow us to recreate Yellow Label every year.
What role does this diversity of terroirs play?
The main differences between the crus that most impact their wines are the vineyards’ sun exposure, and their microclimates.
This patchwork of different terroirs in Champagne finds its origin in different soils (chalk, marl, or clay). But the main differences between the crus that most impact their wines are the vineyards’ sun exposure, and their microclimates. An east-facing cru does not give the same expression in its wines as a south-facing one, even if in the same sector of Champagne. Depending on the year, specific sectors perform better than others, but not always the same ones. It depends on the microclimates, which can vary enormously in the same year in the subregions of Champagne. So, the grapes will have different expressions and styles, with the signature of the year (of its climate) and that of the crus and the plots, with their own identity.
It is essential for us to have this diversity in the supplies to reproduce, year after year, the distinctive style of Yellow Label, through the art of assemblage. The vine growers also make a difference with their work. For this, we have a technical team that accompanies our suppliers in monitoring the grapes’ ripeness and sustainable viticulture.
In 2017, you launched your first low-dosage champagne Extra Brut Extra Old, made only with reserve wines. Why this choice?
We decided to make this unusual champagne because we have this specific know-how on reserve wines. For the same reason, we do not make blanc de blancs (pinot noir dominates Veuve Clicquot’s blends).
This new champagne is an extraction of Yellow Label because the fundamental principle of this blend is similar except that in this cuvée we did not use wines of the year but only reserve wines, aged on lees, in steel vats, for at least three years. We wanted the texture and power of these reserve wines while keeping their purity. The extra brut aspect is a consequence of being extra old. Through the aging on lees in vats, followed by the aging on lees in bottle, we obtain the characteristic Veuve Clicquot style but in a purer version, with a distinctive freshness linked to its low dosage. This wine is excellent for food pairing.
The spirit of Veuve Clicquot is based on innovation. Are you going to create new champagnes?
Our consumers have such a strong sense of belonging to our house and brand that we do not have the right to disappoint them.
We have other projects in mind to exploit other treasures of Veuve Clicquot while remaining true to our identity. Our consumers have such a strong sense of belonging to our house and brand that we do not have the right to disappoint them. The quality of our wines must always be irreproachable.