PRESTIGE SELECTION TOUR #1: LA MAISON PERRIER-JOUËT
The champagne brand known for its floral decor bottle is a favorite behind the bar these days. Our author joined acclaimed Munich bartender Klaus St. Rainer on his recent journey to Epernay, leaving the rest of us to bask in the autumn sun while they entered the inner sanctum of Perrier-Jouët. A sparkling travel report!
Late this past September Munich’s favorite son Klaus St. Rainer famously proclaimed on a well-known social media platform, “Champagne for the horses! We’re off to Paris!”. As romantic as it sounds, in the end the horses stayed home and sober in favor of a plane to Charles de Gaulle airport followed by a rent-a-car onwards to the province of Champagne and the actual destination, the venerable La Maison Perrier-Jouët. Rainer and a team of journalists were additionally accompanied by artist and photographer Claus Föttinger, famous among other things for designing the bar at Germany’s 2014 FIFA World Cup winning team’s quarters at Campo Bahia, all on a mission to immerse themselves in the world of Épernay’s legendary champagne luminary.
Two-hundred years of tradition
Deep, deep roots: Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and Adèle Jouët celebrated their wedding in 1811 and set up Maison Perrier-Jouët in the same year. The company’s international breakthrough came in 1861 as their son Charles Perrier made his first delivery to Britain’s Queen Victoria. In 1959 Perrier-Jouët was acquired by champagne legend Mumm, and in 2005 both brands were picked up by the Pernod Ricard concern and their products were added to the conglomerate’s Prestige Selection.
Today Perrier-Jouët cultivates some 65 hectares of vineyards in Champagne, an impressive 99.2% of which are classified as Grand Cru. The vines are spread across the Champagne region in Cramant, Avize, Mailly, Ay and Dizy.
Who needs the sun? We’ve got champagne!
Despite the golden autumn weather just days after the harvest, the team bid farewell to the waning sun and descended into the Perrier-Jouët wine cellar. This is a privilege afforded only to a fortunate few: In contrast to most of Champagne’s other houses, Perrier-Jouët takes a very old school view and rarely opens its cellar doors to the public. This is something of a tragedy, because in addition to the premium bubbly stored there, the cellar is also home to a number of wonderful art installations. Perrier-Jouët has maintained close ties to art and artists throughout its history. This is best evidenced in the beautiful anemone design elaborately created in enamel mosaic on its bottles. The design was donated by Art Nouveau artist Emile Gallé in 1902 as a token of appreciation and loyalty. A legend in its own right meanwhile, this design has decorated every bottle of the company’s Cuvée Belle Époque since 1964.
The cellar walls are made of the typical moist chalk found throughout the Champagne region, ensuring the ideal temperature and humidity while the bottles await their dégorgement. In line with tradition, different Belle Époque quality vintages are stored in the perfect climate here on rémuage racks. Perrier-Jouët says that at least the Belle Époques are still turned by hand as always, not mechanically.
Down into the Garden of Eden
But the cellar’s true highlight is hidden behind a heavy grated door. While every cognac house in the Charente region possesses its own “Paradise”, a special cellar where the oldest and most select Eau-de-vies are stored, Maison Belle Époque similarly keeps its “Eden” room under lock and key. This room is home to “invaluable” valuables, including two bottles of Perrier Jouët from 1825 which the Guinness Book cites as the oldest champagne in the world. Other treasures include the last bottles from the 1874 vintage, one of which was sold at an auction in England for the highest price ever paid for a bottle from the Champagne region.
Hervé Deschamps is the current Chef de Cave and holds the only key. He joined Perrier-Jouët in 1983. Since 1993 he has held the position as the seventh chief winemaker in charge of the wine’s composition in the company’s more than 200-year history. Each Chef de Cave serves roughly for an average of almost 30 years, providing stability that is reflected in the quality of the wines.
At the end of the cellar tour the attendees were treated by Hervé Deschamps to a tasting session of all the champagnes on hand. While this also included a sip or two of the non-vintage Grand Brut and Blason Rosé qualities, all eyes were of course on the exceptional Belle Époque bottles, all of them vintage champagnes, produced as the name implies only in years with particularly goods harvests,.
The first Belle Époque was pressed in 1964. Déchamps leaves them on the lees for at least six years, twice as long as the time stipulated for champagne.
Belle Époque Rosé, which also lies on the lees for at least six years, was first introduced in 1980. Perrier-Jouët’s only “mono-cépage”, the Belle Époque Blanc de Blancs, was added in 1999. Up to now Deschamps has created three small batches from the Chardonnay vintages. These wines remain on the lees for at least eight years before dégorgement.
While talking with Hervé Deschamps, Klaus St. Rainer praised Perrier-Jouët as one of his true favorites in the world of champagne. The company’s Grand Brut is a champagne with a style fit for both pure enjoyment and as an outstanding champagne cocktail ingredient, while the Belle Époque qualities and their price tags are more suited for undiluted appreciation at festive occasions. What’s certain is that all of them offer a delightful taste experience that never gets old: Champagne the way it’s meant to be, not just in Epernay, but everywhere!
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Orinignal article by Gabriel Daun and translated by J.J. Collier.