Perrier-Jouët’s Climate Conscious Champagne

Robb Report spoke to Christophe Danneaux, MMPJ’s VP of Champagne on challenges past, present and future.

By Terry Christodoulou 10/07/2021

Champagne is a region that is at the forefront of new challenges in winemaking. From COVID-19 to climate change, the Epernay maison is continuing to march forward.

This year is no different, with the release of its 2013 Vintage of the highly celebrated Belle Epoque cuvée.

Crafted only in years when the seasons have aligned perfectly, Belle Epoque showcases the distinctive quality of the Perrier-Jouët vineyard. Much like every vintage of Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque, the personality of the recent release iconic cuvée naturally expresses the characteristics of its particular year: 2013 saw a late-blooming of the vines in the first days of July as the result of a cold winter, shadowed by a cool, wet spring.

To talk further about the challenges of COVID and climate change, Robb Report sat down with Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët’s (MMPJ) Vice-President of Champagne.

 

Robb Report: I understand after the drought in France, 2020 saw the earliest champagne harvest on record. Can Champagne harvest dates mark the creep of climate change? How has it affected production?

Christophe Danneaux: The 2020 harvest in Champagne has been a very early one. On Mumm and Perrier-Jouët’s vineyard, the first grapes have been picked on August 17th. Traditionally, we estimate that the time between flowering and picking is 100 days. Nowadays, we are between 80 and 85 days. This is a concrete and immediate impact of climate change.

Climate change has two main consequences on our production. First, it can damage our grapes through intense frost episodes, some droughts and the development of wine diseases. But also, it can change the style of the wines, for example with less acidity, more sugar, and a lack of freshness.

Our keyword at Mumm and Perrier-Jouët is adaptation. Adapt to maintain high-quality wines, reduce our environmental footprint and play an active role in the fight against climate change.

RR: Do you think climate change is the biggest challenge facing Champagne right now?

CD: It Is very hard to say. Champagne has faced a lot of hard times! The phylloxera crisis at the end of the 19th century, the two world wars… And every time we have managed to resist, adapt and rise up.

With climate change, I am confident that we will manage to adapt. At Mumm and Perrier-Jouët, it is our main priority and a shared concern among all teams, with the wine-making team at the centre.

RR: What does an early harvest do to the flavour of the champagne – what would an ideal harvest look like versus what is actually happening?

CD: A harvest being early does not mean that the result won’t be good. On the contrary, we adapt and pick earlier to ensure that the grapes are harvested at the optimum of maturity. It is a collaborative between the Cellar Master’s team and the vineyard teams to run tests and taste the berries to define the perfect moment of picking for each plot.

RR: What measures are taken across Perrier-Jouët to ensure that the product is made sustainably and fights against the effects of climate change?

CD: At Perrier-Jouët, nature has always been at the core of the house’s identity. The co-founder of the House, Pierre-Nicolas Perrier was a renowned botanist. His symbiotic relationship with nature has been transmitted through the generations of the house’s history. Today, we still have a close relationship with nature, that we can find in the floral intricate style of our wines, but also in the attention to our vineyard and its ecosystems.

Our ambition at Maison Perrier-Jouët is to reduce to the utmost our impact on nature and to cultivate a symbiotic relationship with it. This means a strong work on our vineyards which are doubly certified with some of the highest environmental standards since 2016, our zero-herbicide policy already at work, the efforts on our supply chain to reduce our carbon footprint, but also more recently the launch of our new giftbox collection for our non-vintage range.

RR: And as if the ever-potent threat of global warming isn’t enough – last year saw Covid-19 – what effect has that had on production and what is the forecast like for demand and sales?

CD: Indeed, the Covid-19 situation has affected us. Luckily enough, we have had the chance to rely on great teams and to manage, with strict sanitary rules, to maintain a production flow since the beginning. But it is true that we have seen a decrease in demand, mostly because of the on-trade sector (restaurants, bars, hotels) have been closed across the world.

That being said, we remain highly confident in both House’s strategy and we have the chance to rely on a truly resilient group, Pernod Ricard.

RR: On a consumer level, what are the plans for MMPJ in the immediate future?

CD: For Mumm and Perrier-Jouët, we are always working on a lot of projects! At Mumm, we have been welcoming since last January a new Cellar Master, Laurent Fresnet. He took the opportunity of his first lockdown month to work on a new tasting experience with both a neuroscientist and a designer to create a ground-breaking new perspective on tasting. This experience will take place in Australia this November.

Also, as you know we have also launched a new vintage for our Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque cuvée: Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2013. A vintage that is truly the embodiment of the Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque style: floral and elegant.

RR: Is there a push for new products in order for Champagne to stay current or appeal to a new audience, is there a need for the product to reinvent itself? If so, what does that look like?

CD: There is always a push for new offers, but what really matters is quality. This is what we have been concentrating on at Mumm and Perrier-Jouët. Both our houses are right in the heart of the current trends (prestige cuvées, growth of rosé cuvée) and this helps us to resist in the current difficult context.

RR: Are there new technologies being introduced – does the grape have to evolve?

CD: The Champagne appellation is very strict to ensure a high level of quality, but it is true that climate change for example is a call for innovation. There are a lot of experiments going on at the moment, from semi-wide rows in the vineyards to new resistant grape varieties. For those, not only should we wait to measure the real impact, but we also need to assess the quality of the wines we get from them. In Champagne it takes time!

RR: What is being done as an industry and at MMPJ to ensure Champagne can continue for the next 10 – 20 – 100 years?

CD: We have the chance to have two houses founded in 1827 for Mumm, and 1811 for Perrier-Jouët, so we really know what time means! Our daily responsibility is to ensure that we will be able to transmit our savoir-faire, some high-quality champagnes and a beautiful world to the upcoming generations.

For me, there are three words to sum up what we do for the future: quality, tradition and sustainability.

 

Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2013, RRP $349; Perrier-jouet.com

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