Taittinger is one of the most famous champagne brands and one of the oldest and largest Champagne houses as well as the largest family-run. The house owns Château de la Marquetterie, a handsome 18th-century stately home near Epernay, but its current headquarter and cellars are found in a more modern building in Reims. Its prestige cuvée Comtes de Champagne is among the most famous blanc de blancs of the region.
In 1734, Jacques Fourneaux, a wealthy textile merchant, founded his champagne company, which would later become Taittinger. His son, an advisor to the king, frequently traveled abroad and contributed to the company’s growth. In 1820, Jacques’ great-grandson, Jérôme, formed a partnership with Antoine Forest and the business became Forest-Forneaux and it further expanded, especially in foreign markets like Britain and the United States.
Meanwhile, the Taittingers were a family of wine merchants from the neighboring Lorraine region. In 1870, they moved to Paris to retain their French citizenship after the Franco-Prussian War and the Treaty of Frankfurt.
Before WW1, Pierre Taittinger was already active in the distribution and export of champagne. During the war, when he was an officer in the cavalry, he found himself based at the Château de la Marquetterie that was being used as a command post. There he fell in love with the beautiful manor, which before the French Revolution was the property of philosopher Jacques Cazotte, guillotined in 1792, and later of Forest-Fourneaux.
By the 1930s the champagne business of Forest-Fourneaux, like many others, had been hit hard by the war, the Prohibition, and the Great Depression. In 1932, Pierre Taittinger bought the Champagne house, including its vineyards that had been planted with chardonnay and pinot noir since the 18th century, and his much-beloved Château de la Marquetterie.
From 1945, François Taittinger, son of Pierre, an innovative man with great foresight, managed the house. He decided that chardonnay would be the house’s dominant grape variety realizing that, in the 20th century, champagne consumers would appreciate its finesse, lightness, and elegance, defining Taittinger’s signature style ever since.
When François died in 1960, his younger brother Claude took over the company until 2005 when the house was sold to the US private investment firm Starwood Capital Group. But the Champagne stakeholders advocated that the new foreign ownership was not compatible with the production of quality champagne that requires time and trust in the authority of the chef de cave as opposed to short-term profitability.
This is how, in 2006, the Taittinger family led by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, Claude’s nephew, bought the house back for 660 million euros. He became president of the house, a position he held until late 2019 when he passed the hand to his daughter Vitalie.
Vineyard and Production
The house owns an unusually large vineyard of 288 ha throughout Champagne, made of chardonnay (35%), pinot noir (50%) and pinot meunier (15%). It applies sustainable farming techniques and some plots are tended using organic methods. Its vineyard accounts for about half of its grape needs to produce more than 5 million bottles per year. Most of the fermentations are done in stainless steel vats with full MLF. The champagnes are aged far beyond the legal minimum time, for three to four years for the brut non-vintage.
The hallmark of Taittinger champagnes is the high percentage of chardonnay used in its blends, resulting in a style characterized by elegance and finesse and that has earned the house its prestige. The executor and guarantor of this style and quality has been for a long time, Loïc Dupont, chef de cave from 2000 to 2018.
The champagne range is very comprehensive, and I enjoy them all–for their elegance and roundness with some richness. In addition to nowadays classics like brut, rosé, demi-sec, vintage, and prestige blanc de blancs, they also include some less usual cuvées: Les Folies de la Marquetterie made exclusively from grapes grown opposite the Château, Prélude Grands Crus made exclusively with grapes of top-rated villages, and Nocturne, a very flexible champagne of unusual dosage of 17.5 g/l that taste like brut but pairs incredibly well with rich foods like foie gras, and desserts.