Meet the winemaker: Reflections on a Champagne life

Hervé Deschamps has held the prestigious title of cellar master at Maison Perrier-Jouët for 37 years and is the seventh cellar master in the company’s 209-year history.

He is now set to retire and pass on the baton to his successor, Severine Frerson.

He talks to DR about his time with Perrier-Jouët, his hobbies outside of work and the projects he has worked on over the past few months, in preparation for his retirement.

“I joined Perrier-Jouët in 1983 after a year with the army. I initially worked in bottling and fermentations. “I got to know Champagne pretty well and I was managing all of the technical elements and taste control processes, but I had never made a blend. When you make a blend it is like when you are cooking – you have to adjust things carefully to make each blend. So I spent some time attending tasting sessions with the cellar master to understand the blending processes.

“I became the cellar master in 1993 and, when I reflect back now on those first few years, I realise that initial decade was a big learning curve for me. You have to memorise the taste of the wine and, although you can learn the taste of the final product, when you try each of the still wines – which is the beginning of the blending process for Champagne – it is far more complex and you have to memorise wines from different villages and years.

“It is a very exciting job and I am passionate about all areas of my role, but perhaps the bit I love the most is the creativity of blending and maintaining consistency.

“Another thing I enjoy is introducing a new vintage or product to the market and building those direct relationships with sommeliers and chefs. “On top of this is the fact that I don’t work alone. I have a wonderful team and they have been great to work with. Some have worked with me for more than 30 years now, so we are a bit like an old married couple.

“Away from work I have a love of cooking and food, and I think the creative and tasting elements of blending Champagne really taps into this. Over the years I have had made a lot of connections with chefs and I am really interested in techniques that are about creating harmony on the plate, and not just by exploring different spices. If you look at Japanese cooking it can be as simple as how to cut the fish in different ways to get different flavours, and I think this is incredible. It is all part of my enjoyment of creativity and flavour.

“I also have a love of nature and the Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque bottle, which links art, flowers and Asia, is a nice connection for me.

SHARING KNOWLEDGE

“In recent months I have worked on a number of pre-retirement projects, one of which, of course, has been working with Severine to help pass on my role as cellar master to her. It has been very important to have had time to explain what PerrierJouët is about and to taste old vintages with her to help her memorise different wines.

“She joined the company 18 months ago and she has worked in the industry for 20 years, so she knows Champagne very well but, in addition to learning the history of the Champagne house, it has been about visiting partners and wine producers to understand the specifics of Perrier-Jouët.

“I have also been working on a sustainability project and we now have the highest standards in terms of environmental certifications. PerrierJouët has been working towards two specifications: HVE [one of the most recognised environmental certifications for vineyard and agricultural activities] and VDC [a sustainable viticulture certification created collectively and specifically for the Champagne region].

"This is the first year we are free from pesticides so now our future will be pesticide-free, which is a great achievement. It has taken about 12 years but it has been very important to have taken the time to do it properly, because every year has different weather conditions, which affect the plants in different ways.

“I am not planning to leave Champagne and I am fortunate to have a lot of friends around me. I will spend some time exploring some of my other passions in life, such as gardening and travel, but my quest has always been to share my passion for Champagne and I will continue to do this wherever I go.”

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