Dominique Petit was appointed chef de cave of Pol Roger in 1999, a position he held until retiring in 2018. A reserved man, of few, precise words, witty smile, and inquisitive yet friendly eyes, he talks of the superbe champagnes he made for 20 years with great modesty.
You use to refer to the style of Pol Roger as “plenitude with elegance.” What do you mean by that?
What characterizes the wines of Pol Roger is elegance, a certain sobriety, a feeling of serenity, fullness without extravagance.
Pol Roger is elegance, a certain sobriety, a feeling of serenity, fullness without extravagance.
Consumers familiar with Pol Roger identify it with the so-called English taste with distinctive maturity. Is there a risk that this style is no longer relevant?
There are several styles of champagnes, but the preference for fresher wines is associated with slightly younger consumers. As their tastes evolve, they will then shift to wines with more structure and maturity. At Pol Roger, we make champagnes for wine lovers.
What roles do your vineyard and winemaking play in creating your champagnes?
Our main asset is the total control of our vineyard of 92 ha. At Pol Roger, quality grapes and strict selection are paramount. Our keywords are “uncompromising selection.” We own vineyards in the Marne Valley and the areas of Epernay, in the Côte des Blancs, and in the Montagne de Reims in Berru and Cernay-les-Reims to the east of Reims on a very interesting small massif producing rather fresh wines. The rest of the supplies are guaranteed by long-term agreements with independent vine growers with whom we have relations of 50 years or more. Hence, there is no uncertainty in our supplies.
Winemaking is the other link in the chain. We apply the same selection on the crus that we use, to the wines that we include in the assemblage. If they are not of sufficient quality, or just without defaults but with no particular quality, we will not use them in the blends. Also, we perform a cold settling of the musts by inducing a very rapid temperature drop at 6-8 °C (43-46 °F) for a few hours after pressing. This thermal shock results in a nice sedimentation that allows us to eliminate the remaining parts of pulp from the first settling, thus avoiding the appearance of reduction aromas and taste at the end of the first alcoholic fermentation.
Pol Roger ages its champagnes, before and after disgorgement, longer than the average in the region. Why this choice?
Our Brut Réserve (non-vintage) marketed in 2018 was bottled in 2013 and is based on the 2012 harvest, blended with wines from 2009, 2010 and 2011. We also take into consideration that champagne requires a resting period after disgorgement. It needs to regain its balance that was modified by the addition of sugar and that must return to a state of equilibrium with the other components of the wine. This takes time, which is imperative for us. We do not ship champagnes that have not aged with us for at least three months after disgorgement. This way, the wines that we put on the market are ready for consumption. But our wines also have great aging potential. If our customers have cellars of good quality without fluctuations in temperature, our champagnes, vintage or not, can age for several years.
Our wines have great aging potential. If our customers have cellars of good quality without fluctuations in temperature, our champagnes, vintage or not, can age for several years.
What are the components that give your champagnes this aging potential?
The choice of crus and wines used in the assemblage. If we are not rigorous in our choices, wines that are already “tired” at a very young age will not age long. If during the tasting for the assemblage, a still wine is already very good to drink, we may have doubts about its aging ability after the second in-bottle fermentation. When we craft our cuvées, if Brut Réserve is already quite charming and our Vintage is a little closed, that’s perfect.
You are a native of Champagne and chef de cave of one of its most beautiful houses. What does champagne mean to you?
What would life be like without champagne?
Champagne is there to celebrate victories, and in defeat, it is there to bring comfort.
Sad. Champagne is there to celebrate victories, and in defeat, it is there to bring comfort. Champagne has always its place.