Michel Davesne became chef de cave at Deutz in 2003. A humble man with a discrete yet permanent smile, he talks extensively about the distinctive style of its champagnes and why their complexity and elegance make them great companions for gastronomic pairings, above everything else.
How did your previous experience in champagne making influence your work at Deutz?
I’ve always loved Deutz wines, and I would never have joined a house I did not appreciate. We spend 10 hours per day in this job, so one must find pleasure. When I arrived here, I completely put aside the style of the champagnes I was making before. I arrived just before the 2003 harvest, and there was no overlap with my predecessors. It was a small and healthy harvest, so it was easy to organize and set in motion. I had ample time, from September to January 2004, to taste all the reserve wines, and then the whole range, several times, to properly soak in and understand the Deutz style. Since then, I have corrected a few minor things and refined our style a little. I also benefitted from a more efficient and modern vinification tool, which enabled us to better master oxidations, for instance, but without modifying our unique style.
The Deutz style is characterized by a distinctive vinosity, with elegance and finesse. Yet these two elements are nearly opposite, don’t you think?
Yes, they are indeed. Finesse, elegance, and power brought in by vinosity are antagonistic, but the very art of assemblage is precisely about harmoniously bringing these elements together. I consider elegance, finesse and purity to be the underlying thread of all our cuvées. Champagne must be fresh, easy to drink, and very elegant. However, it must also possess an exquisite mouthfeel. Therein originates the vinosity that characterizes Deutz.
Finesse, elegance, and power brought in by vinosity are antagonistic, but the very art of assemblage is precisely about harmoniously bringing these elements together.
Where do this distinctive style and vinosity stem from?
The distinctiveness of the Deutz style occurs upstream, in the origin of our grapes, since our winemaking process is fairly traditional. We vinify in stainless steel tanks, in small vats; we ferment wines at low temperatures, between 16 and 17 °C (61-61 °F), to preserve the aromas, and we carry out malolactic fermentations.
The vinosity that characterizes our champagnes issues from the pinot noirs, but also from the crus we use. This finesse, this elegance stems from a truly admirable supply of pinot noirs from Aÿ, which are certainly powerful, but are also eminently fine, much finer than those of other grands crus like Verzenay or Mailly, which are even stronger. Aÿ is always synonymous with finesse and elegance.
The vinosity that characterizes our champagnes issues from the pinot noirs, but also from the crus we use.
So, consequently, the very identity and style of Deutz emanate from Aÿ?
We use wines issued from Aÿ in all our cuvées, except our blanc de blancs. Therefore, Aÿ is well represented at Deutz, more than in other Champagne houses. Even in our Brut Classic, Aÿ has a significant presence. And in the vintage cuvées be it Brut, Rosé or William Deutz, Aÿ is always present to a higher extent, with 20-25% of the total blend, sometimes even more.
Is chardonnay cultivated in Aÿ?
Only by growers who produce their champagnes. The vine growers who supply the Champagne houses don’t really have any interest in growing chardonnay in Aÿ, as this cru does not, in my opinion, give the best chardonnay.
That’s the reason why Deutz Blanc de Blancs mainly comprises crus from the Côte des Blancs: Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, with a touch of Chouilly and a bit of Oger.
You include two blanc de blancs in your range: Millésime and Amour De Deutz. How do you achieve your signature vinosity without using pinot noir?
We use a touch of chardonnay from Villers-Marmery, in the Montagne de Reims, which is primarily planted with pinot noir. The chardonnays from this cru do go a bit “the pinot way,” as we say around here, given that they have a bit more structure, a bit more vinosity than the chardonnays of Avize or Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. This produces blanc de blancs aligned with Deutz’s distinctive vinosity.
In your experience, does the grape variety or the crus on which they are planted have a greater impact on the profile of champagne?
The grape variety has a somewhat greater impact, although both have their importance: a pinot noir of Aÿ bears little resemblance with a pinot noir of Verzenay or from the Aube. Nonetheless, the grape variety impacts somewhat more on the profile than the cru.
What role do reserve wines play in your style?
The purpose of reserve wines is to homogenize, smooth the climatic variations from year to year. The amount of reserve wine we use in our non-vintage cuvées will vary from one year to the next. For instance, during the 2003 harvest, with very small yields, we used 40% of reserve wines in our brut non-vintage. But during the 2004 harvest, we only used 10% or 15%.
At Deutz we always look for this freshness, this finesse and elegance, and age our champagnes longer.
Too much reserve wine could make our champagnes more vinous, less fresh and sophisticated. By using very little reserve wine, the champagne needs more time to reach its full maturity. At Deutz we always look for this freshness, this finesse and elegance I mentioned earlier, and age our champagnes longer.
What is your view on dosage?
Dosage is paramount and extremely technical. Before adding the dosage liquor to a new cuvée, we always carry out several tests with different amounts of sugar. Then we let the champagne rest before tasting. And we always let champagne rest between four and six months between disgorgement and commercialization.
Deutz boasts three rosé champagnes, all made with the assemblage method. Why do you favor this method to the saignée method?
I find that rosé champagne made with the saignée method often lacks finesse and elegance, with somewhat excessive aromas and an explosion of red fruits in the nose and mouth. It is also more difficult to manage the color, with some rosés de saignée being very red, too red for my taste. Rosé champagne must remain sophisticated, in the image of white champagne. At Deutz, we know how to create rosé champagne with finesse.
Can one say, on account of its signature vinosity, that Deutz are mostly “food champagnes?”
Certainly. Our champagnes are gastronomic wines. That is also why we are a Champagne house for connoisseurs, for enlightened amateurs, and we are not that well known by the wider public.
You are from Champagne, and you make champagne. What is champagne to you?
For me, champagne is a beautiful wine. It symbolizes friendship, friendliness ad the art of living the French way.
For me, champagne is a beautiful wine. Champagne symbolizes friendship, friendliness between good mates or among family members. I always enjoy opening a good bottle with friends or siblings. Champagne is the art of living the French way.
What would life be like without champagne?
Life becomes sad without champagne. Champagne is always about wonderful moments of great pleasure.