Champagne lovers will be excited to know that iconic maison Perrier-Jouët recently introduced a brand-new permanent cuvée to its roster: the Blanc de Blancs 2017, which is the first non-vintage Champagne of its kind for the brand (compared to Perrier-Jouët’s prized Belle Époque champagnes, which are aged for a minimum of six years). A light and spritzy bubbly that’s perfect for springtime, the Blanc de Blancs bottle was unveiled in Hong Kong during the city’s busy Art Week, in an art-inspired pop-up bar at Pacific Place.
For this momentous occasion, we got to catch up with Hervé Deschamps — the brand’s seventh and current cellar master — to discuss his insights on winemaking, and future plans for the historic Champagne house.
The new Blanc de Blancs has just been made a permanent cuvée in the Perrier-Jouet oeuvre. What was the decision behind this?
They didn’t have a Blanc de Blancs in 1983, when I first joined as cellar master. I created the first Blanc de Blancs to celebrate the millennium — we successfully launched that cuvée in 1999. We have a long practice with Chardonnay in all our brands — it is in the Perrier-Jouët spirit — and the Blanc de Blancs is made only from Chardonnay grapes. It’s the most elegant and delicate variety of grape you can find in the Champagne region. This new Blanc de Blancs, it’s got a freshness, a vivacity, and a fresh spring floral aroma of acacia or magnolia. You get the feeling of cutting into fresh juicy fruit such as peaches or pears, and some citrus aromas like lemon and grapefruit. It’s got a nice acidity but not too sharp. There’s also a nice aftertaste — not too sweet, great for aperitif or cocktail occasions but also perfect for seafood.
What’s the special significance of Chardonnay to you and the brand?
Perhaps it’s been part of my life since I was young: my grandparents were wine growers in Côte de Blancs for Chardonnay — and they had a lot of it when I was young. Perhaps that gave me motivation to make the best quality champagne made with Chardonnay.
What’s your first memory of Champagne?
I don’t remember, but I believe I was very young when I first had a drop of Champagne on my lips. I was born in Morocco and my father was in the army. We travelled until I was six, when I returned to France just after the harvest. My grandfather had some Chardonnay grapes, I remember the colour — they weren’t green, but a very yellow, golden colour and very nice sweetness in the fruit. That was my first time tasting Chardonnay grapes.
How did you get into the Champagne business?
After my agriculture studies in Dijon, I got a oenology specialisation and I worked with white wine aged through yeast contact, like the French white burgundy, Mersault (a sparkling wine made in Germany and the Champagne region). I did research in sparkling wine, and specifically in Champagne, to learn how to develop a more yeasty aroma. Two months after I had my army period, I joined Perrier-Jouet in 1983. I was in charge of vinification and all the works in the cellars.
What was your relationship like to the previous cellar master, André Bavaret?
André Bavaret is like a father to me: he gave me a lot of advice to taste, to recognise the special flavours, to understand what is good wine, to maintain the consistency of the Perrier-Jouët style. When you make Belle Epoque it’s important that you have the dream for the taste and the elegancy. When he tries from the tanks, he already can see the result — whether if it’s going to be a good Belle Epoque, a good vintage, a good Blason Rosé — you have no computer, no books to learn that. You have to learn this from the cellar master.
Which part of the winemaking process do you most enjoy?
The blending time. It’s the most exciting period for me, after the harvest, when you are waiting on the tastings. For one month you try the blends every day, with two tasting sessions and around 20 samples. You check every wine for any potential for the next blend. Sometimes all the tanks are not open, and it’s difficult to check the potential. You need another tasting to understand and decide the best tanks from which to create a new vintage. It’s very exciting as you get to engage with your product. It’s like you have a dream and you see the result, six years down the line. It’s definitely a kind of art.
What about the future of Perrier-Jouët? Are you looking for a new cellar master to replace you?
I have had a cellar master deputy working with me for the past 26 years. For the future, it’s very important to have new guys who are able to spend 30 years with the company, as well as a figure like André Bavaret, to pass on information and confidence. My cellar deputy is very good, but his age is similar to mine. Yes, it’s rare to find young people to work in the Champagne business. You want to find new techniques without changing the history — to control efficiency for the second fermentation in the bottle, the quality for the yeast, new techniques for readings — but you should always get the same result.
Was it a steep learning curve in the beginning? Do you remember any mishaps in the cellars?
Sometimes there’s a problem with the glassmaker — Especially with the Belle Epoque bottle, if the batch of bottles were cooked too much, it destroys the structure of the glass. If it’s too much, you have a problem where the bottle explodes during fermentation. I’ve encountered that before, it wasn’t my fault, but we lost a lot of quantity.
What’s next for the rest of 2017?
It’s quiet — next year we have a new vintage of Belle Epoque, but no brand new cuvée. It’s rare now that we’ve created a new cuvée; it’s always been the same passion with maintaining quality for the brand. With new vintages, it’s always a challenge to do exactly that. I’ll be focused on launching the Blanc de Blancs vintage across five markets — first Hong Kong, then London, France, Germany and Japan.
You can purchase the new Perrier-Jouet Blanc de Blancs at Watson’s Wine Cellar for HK$640, or sip it at the Conrad Hong Kong poolside, which has been transformed into an artful Champagne garden where you can enjoy your bubbly in style. Specially curated Perrier-Jouët dinner pairing menus at the hotel are also available through the end of May.