Words by Tom Harrow
Cellar master Hervé Deschamps shares the secrets of
Perrier Jouet’s prestigious Belle Epoque Champagne,
including their latest, eagerly anticipated release…
Can any prestige cuvée Champagne boast a
more iconic and distinctive insignia than Belle
Epoque’s gilded Japanese anemone, created
for Maison Perrier Jouet in 1902 by Art Nouveau master Emile Gallé? The maison has always had a strong connection to the art world since it was
acquired in 1850 by Eugène Gallice, a founding member of the French Art History Society, who cultivated a circle in Paris of the great artists of the Belle Epoque.
Two years ago, after extensive renovations, Perrier
Jouet reopened Maison Belle Epoque on L’Avenue de
Champagne in Epernay, restoring it as completely as
possible to its former glory, complete with one of the
world’s greatest collections of original Art Nouveau
treasures, including works by Hector Guimard, François-Rupert Carabin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Rodin. Modern works from Mischler Traxler continue the botanical theme of the original label and the Japanese heritage of the anemone insiginia is referenced by Ritsue Mishima’s Murano glass light installation which leads to the cellar where, for wine lovers, the real works of art are locked away. Here lie bottles dating back to 1825, including the auction record-breaking 1874 (sold for over £100,000) are kept. For the princely sum of £90,000 per person
you can enjoy the splendour of Maison Belle Epoque,
as well as a tour of the vineyards and tasting with cellar master Hervé Deschamps, who will subsequently create a personalised cuvée of the 2002 Blanc de Blancs. Born in 1956 into a family from the Champagne region, Deschamps studied agriculture and oenology in Dijon, before joining Perrier-Jouët in 1983 where he was put in charge of the fermentation process and the cellar ageing of wines. Shortly after he was appointed as assistant to legendary Cellar Master André Baveret, the guardian of Perrier-Jouët’s distinctive house style for almost 30 years. “During that time, I learned much about the art of blending the various Champagne wines while retaining the hallmark charm and elegance of Perrier-Jouët’s cuvées”, says Deschamps. He has now been cellar
master at the maison for more than 30 years and L+ was delighted to be present when he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Champagne and Sparkling Wines World Championships in 2018.
Perrier Jouët was famously the first Champagne house to develop a dry style “to please the English palate,” reveals Deschamps, when the rest of the region’s wines were decidedly sweet and tended to be drunk with dessert. Charles Perrier, son of the maison’s founder not only released the first Brut Champagne in 1856 (so called, it is said, because the lack of sweetness was considered “brutal” to French palates), but later introduced single vintage Champagnes as well. Over two hundred years
after its foundation, Perrier Jouët is now enjoyed all over the world, with it’s top markets being Japan (in terms of value) and the U.S.A (in terms of volume), and is prominent in Italy, the UK and France. The brand has hosted its multi-sensory L’Eden Experiences in Cannes, Tokyo and London and at Design Miami and at Art Basel in recent years.
The initial magnums gilded with Gallé’s anemone
insignia lay in the cellars of Perrier Jouët for over 50
years because the design was considered to expensive to commercialise, before being rediscovered by Deschamps’ predecessor, André Bavaret in 1964. Bavaret released 500 magnums only of the first Belle Epoque vintage in 1969 to commemorate Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday at
Alcazar in Paris. And so the legend was born. “Belle
Epoque’s creation is part of the philosophy, DNA and
heritage of the maison” says Deschamps. The blend
averages 50 per cent Chardonnay, 45 per cent Pinot Noir, and 5 per cent Pinot Meunier, which the house has always favoured. “It is always a vintage,” Deschamps continues, “Only produced during the years where the balance between alcohol and acidity is perfect and that the ageing potential is outstanding, because this cuvee stays at least
six years in our cellars.” The Chardonnays for the cuvée come from the Côte des Blancs and the Pinot Noir from two regions: Mailly, Verzy and Verzenay in the north of the Montagne de Reims, which is cooler and often harvest later, and Ay, near Epernay famous for the power of the wines it yields.
Meanwhile the Meunier comes from Perrier Jouët’s own vineyard in Dizy which, says Deschamps “with ageing, will bridge the gap between the other two grapes, and allow the blend to gain in harmony and richness”. “The Pinot Noir is the pillar of this blend, giving structure and supporting the Chardonnay’s brilliance, elegance, and the lightness that we must always find even after extended lees ageing.”
“With Belle Epoque, we get an impression on the
mouth and nose of rich but fine aromas, and a structure that weaves a seamless journey from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, with an especially long finish.” Belle Epoque utilises reserve wines to bring roundness and depth, and help to maintain the maison’s styles despite vintage variations. However, Deschamps says “the reserve wines must not stand out in the blend, we must not find it in the nose or taste, or else it will be like a dish that is too salty or spicy”. Perhaps his ultimate creation, in terms of balance and finesse, the Blanc des Blancs, launched in 1999, was created by Deschamps to celebrate the millennium. Perrier-Jouët’s ultimate tribute to Chardonnay, the maison’s emblematic grape variety,
is selected from an elegant blend of these floral white grapes from the region’s best vineyards. The result says Deschamps “is a wine of exuberant energy and vitality, characterised by wild hedgerow flower aromas of elderberry, acacia and honeysuckle, with a hint of citrus fruit”.