Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger joined the family business in 1976 and became President in 2006 when he orchestrated the buyback of the house. He is a man of great charisma, a true character in fact, with strong values and a clear vision, and I am not surprised he once announced he would run for president of France. A true gentleman with a witty soul, he shares with passion his idea of champagne and spells out the ingredients to make great champagne.
How would you introduce Taittinger to those not familiar with it?
We are the largest family-run house in Champagne and we sign all of our bottles with our family name.
Taittinger is one of the 10 great names in Champagne and we are known for producing extremely consistent champagne based on chardonnay. We are the largest family-run house in Champagne and we sign all of our bottles with our family name.
Monks began working in Champagne hundreds of years ago, producing modest wines and later, sparkling wines. There is a historical uniqueness here and we want to maintain that. We have kept in some way the spirit of the monks: we maintain the philosophy of consistent, top quality work.
How do you make consistent, high-quality champagne?
To make great champagne, you need three things: the will of the manager, the quality of the grapes, and aging.
To make great champagne, you need three things: first, the will of the manager. If one decides to produce great champagnes, it is different from deciding to produce something of average quality. My grandfather, father, uncle, etc., a long time ago, had decided that we were to produce the best.
The second factor is the quality of the grapes. We use grapes from different vineyards–all of excellent quality. My uncle and grandfather realized that you need to own your vineyards for the best grape quality and acquired one of the largest vineyards in Champagne. The pressing of the grapes is also important: whether you produce champagne from mainly first pressing (cuvée), or second and third pressing (taille). At Taittinger, all of our premium cuvées are made only with the cuvée and for Brut Réserve, the amount is 95%, which is unique in Champagne, especially for the volume of champagne that we produce. The remaining 5% are tailles of chardonnay that bring up fragrances that we cannot get with the cuvée.
Finally, an extremely important factor is the aging of champagne, which takes a lot of money. By law, you can produce champagne in 15 months, but our minimum aging is three to four years for our non-vintage Brut Réserve and eight to 10 years for Comtes de Champagne.
That’s it! There are no secrets in producing great champagne. We became Taittinger because we have been producing top champagnes for many decades. For me, the honor of the company is not in producing a great special cuvée like Comtes de Champagne but producing a great non-vintage like out Brut Réserve. We became who we are because of the quality of this wine.
Your house has a strong relationship with chardonnay; can you explain how this grape came into play?
In the 13th century, Thibaud IV, Count of Champagne, member of the family running parts of France for nearly three centuries, was in love with the Queen, Blanche of Castile. She was also his aunt, and this caused quite a scandal at the time. Her son, King Louis IX, sent Thibaud to the crusades, hoping he would not return. But he did return and on his way back, he brought with him the ancestor of the chardonnay plant. We decided that since we owned the cellars and house of the Counts of Champagne (Demeure des Comtes de Champagne, one of the few remnants of Reims’ medieval architecture), we would give the chardonnay style to our champagnes. We gave the name Comtes de Champagne to our premium cuvée, which is made, in very small quantities, only of chardonnay, from five grands crus, and aged up to 10 years.
Ee were the first house to focus on chardonnay, but this is not to say we are better than houses producing champagne with more pinot noir; it is a style.
So, we were the first house to focus on chardonnay, but this is not to say we are better than houses producing champagne with more pinot noir; it is a style, and our style is more chardonnay. In all our cuvées we use a large proportion of it, 40% in our Brut Réserve, which is very rare and very expensive for a brut non-vintage. Our Prestige Rosé is mostly made with pinot, but we include 30% of chardonnay too.
Due to that, our champagnes are more feminine and delicate. This is very important because of the increased role women have played at the turn of the 20th century. Before it was mostly men buying alcohol, but today a lot has changed and women are making decisions just as much as men and our delicateness tend to be something many women prefer in good champagne.
Champagne is an expensive wine. How do you position Taittinger?
Champagne can be reasonably expensive because it is expensive to produce, but it also needs to be attainable for people.
Champagne can be reasonably expensive because it is expensive to produce, but it also needs to be attainable for people. Today, it can be more expensive to go to someone’s house for dinner with a box of chocolates and a bouquet than a bottle of champagne and I am pleased to see that. Champagne remains an affordable luxury.
Excellent wine and food are luxuries, but we prefer to stay reasonable. Taittinger is a consistent, top quality, affordable champagne. Our Comtes de Champagne is expensive, but it is also expensive to produce. Still, I want it to be accessible. We produce for connoisseurs and I want to be acknowledged by people who know good champagne based on quality, not on the highest price. We increase the price of our champagnes only when the price of grapes increases. Our philosophy is for our champagnes to remain well priced for the quality and value we deliver.
Since you are price conscious, are you looking at increasing your volumes instead?
We produce between 5 and 6 million bottles per year. If we wanted to multiply production, we would have to sacrifice quality because it is not easy to find the same quality of grapes, and we would never do this! There is a French expression, “To lose your soul,” and I would never sacrifice the soul of our champagnes. I want to keep the human aspect of our name.
Large groups have bought out many Champagne houses. Your story is peculiar because a group bought your house out, but then you bought it back. Is there is a difference between champagnes produced from large groups and family-run houses?
We had been bought out only for one year, so it made absolutely no difference for our precious bottles. A large American group bought our company for the real estate and hotel side of our business. They were not champagne makers and knew they could not do it the same way. So, in one year, the house was placed on auction and I bought it back.
There is a unique style and personality to each Champagne house. At Taittinger, I have my son and daughter working with me.
There is a unique style and personality to each Champagne house. At Taittinger, we have a lot of young blood. I have my son and daughter working with me and we maintain a very consistent team. I am proud to say, when people come to work at Taittinger, they stay at Taittinger. We work together, whistle together, and this is important to me.
This is not to say that we are better than houses not run by families. I respect my peers and some of the big names have done a lot for the image of champagne. If a name becomes big, it is because it is good and consistently good.
How would you define champagne?
Champagne is for me an extraordinary beverage to enhance our life.
Champagne is for me an extraordinary beverage to enhance our life. With a bottle of champagne, life is slightly better. There is an added elegance and charm to life after a glass of champagne. When we are tired, under stress, nothing is better than champagne. When my mood is not 100% perfect, I drink some champagne and the world is better. I drink champagne every day and that is why I like to produce good champagne.