Loïc Dupont has been at Taittinger for more than 30 years, being the guardian of the consistent style and quality of its wines. He retired in 2018 when he received the Lifetime Achievement award at the Sparkling Wine World Championships. An elegant man with a great smile, he explains the specificities in the making of Taittinger from the vineyard to the bottle with such humbleness that producing every year millions of bottles of great champagne sounds easy, which is certainly not.
You are originally from Champagne. How did you get into making champagne?
I was attracted to the product by an uncle-in-law, a vine grower and a small champagne producer in the Côte des Blancs in Vertus. As a child, I was often with him and that is how I got to know the vineyard and champagne. Vertus is among the villages that we use at Taittinger and I like its very particular chardonnay wines that are very rich and have a beautiful range of aromas.
What role do crus play in the creation of the style and quality of Taittinger?
More than 80% of a wine’s quality comes from the vineyard if the wine is well worked.
More than 80% of a wine’s quality comes from the vineyard if the wine is well worked. Our vineyard covers 40% to 45% of our grape requirements, which means that we are also partly vine growers. The parcels in our vineyard make up the backbone of our Brut Réserve and play a large part in our style. It also allows it to remain constant over time. We use 60 ha in grands crus in our Brut Réserve so that our customers can be fully satisfied with the product.
Assemblage is also important, however, as it builds a house’s reputation and distinctiveness.
Assemblage is also important, however, as it builds a house’s reputation and distinctiveness; 40% of our Brut Réserve’s blend is chardonnay, including grands and premiers crus, with 30% of reserve wines. The average crus rating in this cuvée is over 90%. It is a financial effort that allows us to produce quality champagne with a lot of finesse that matures in the cellar for three years minimum.
What is the impact of so much chardonnay in your blends?
Chardonnays bring delicate aromas of flowers, vanilla, and citruses. They bring lightness and elegance to champagne. These characteristics vary slightly from one cru to another, though. For example, if we compare Avize and Vertus, the first one gives chardonnays with great finesse, whereas the second gives more volume and fullness, and, sometimes, small things that make the difference.
You vinify part of your wines in oak casks. What made you go for that option?
When I arrived at Taittinger under Claude Taittinger, president of the house at the time, we started to mature the wines for Comptes de Champagne for five months in oak casks to make up 5% of the blend (100% chardonnay). As a young enologist, I was a bit skeptical because no one in Champagne used this technique for white wines at the time; but we did it and realized that it brought something extra to the wine. Chardonnay is a grape variety with a lot of qualities, but it lacks in structure, and by vinifying it in oak casks, we bring a bit of volume to those wines with a toastiness resulting from positive oxidation. It is appropriate for this prestige cuvée.
You lowered the dosage of your champagnes over time. Why?
When I arrived at Taittinger, we used higher dosages, and that was in line with the trend at the time. Since then, with climate change, we have champagnes that have evolved somewhat and need a slightly lower dosage. We were at 14 g/l for our Brut Réserve while we are now at 9 g/l; we have refined our wines with a lower dosage. That said, we have witnesses old champagnes that when we let people taste them, no one found them particularly sweet, even at 17 g/l. Therefore, we do not focus on sugar amounts anymore.
Why does champagne, such a qualitative wine, need added sugar to be complete?
Today, there is somewhat of a trend for extra brut champagnes, but I find that not many customers necessarily adhere to that.
Champagne keeps a lot of acidity that gives quite sharp sensations. I do not like champagne that has just been disgorged; I find it a bit aggressive and lacking in balance. Today, there is somewhat of a trend for extra brut champagnes, but I find that not many customers necessarily adhere to that.
You have been at Taittinger for over 30 years. How do you look at your long experience in the house?
I have always liked working at Taittinger, with mutual respect between Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and myself. I have always felt good at the house, but today, I am shining even more thanks to a great environment. Before, it was a more compartmentalized structure; today, it is easier to share opinions and I can meet the president and tell him what I honestly think, and he will listen to me.
What does champagne mean to you?
The first wine that I tasted was champagne. I cannot get enough of it today. I never refuse a glass of champagne.
The first thing that we Champenois make our children drink is a very small dose of champagne from our fingertips. Then as they get older, they can drink a small amount of champagne with a biscuit rose (a pink biscuit typical of Champagne). The first wine that I tasted was champagne. I cannot get enough of it today. I never refuse a glass of champagne. It is a festive wine; it comes with every step of life: a marriage, a communion, and even funerals. We celebrate everything with champagne.
What would life be like without champagne?
It would be a bit dull and sad, a somber gray. Champagne brings joy and color to life.