“In 200 years, there have only been seven cellar masters,” Hervé Deschamps, Perrier-Jouët‘s current cellar master tells me earnestly when I meet him at the maison’s Pacific Place pop-up during Art Basel in Hong Kong. “When you want a consistency in product, it’s very important to have a consistency in management. When you create a product, it’s not for tomorrow.” Here is a man who has dedicated his life to the success of Perrier-Jouët and its champagne.
With the arrival of the brand’s innovative By&For programme in Asia, clients will soon be able to create their own personal bottle. It’s the advent of a new luxury, I’m told, one that invites fans of the vineyard to visit and experience something entirely new. And that’s not all; Perrier-Jouët has also begun a partnership with amfAR Hong Kong Gala, bringing its best vintages to guests of this year’s exclusive annual event.
I spoke to Deschamps about the brand’s latest endeavours, the importance of pleasure and how champagne is like cars (and bread).
Why wine, how did you come to work in the industry?
I joined Perrier-Jouët in 1983, after the army. At the beginning, I was in charge of vinification and ageing. When you create the champagne blend, it’s a still wine; with the second fermentation you transform the still wine into champagne. It’s magical. It’s a kind of chemical reaction, it’s very important to select the best wine, the best yeast, and to have time to increase – with long ageing – all the aroma.
It’s like when you make bread, if you only have one hour it’s one kind of aroma, but if you add more time, it has more richness. It’s the same with different kinds of champagne.
When you want a consistency in product, it’s very important to have a consistency in management. There have only been seven cellar masters [at Perrier-Jouët]. When you know the brand, you know all the aspects, you are involved in all the spirit of the brand. If you move every 10 years, you don’t have transmission of the good quality.
Does nature or science make the most difference?
If you have bad quality of the grapes, you can’t create a good champagne. It’s terroir, it’s the way you press, to extract only the juice without tannins, without oxidation. It’s very important to check with science, with chemical analysis, at each step of the process.
I think wine is not better [now] than in the past, but now you have more information and you can decide earlier to move to another way, another method. Before, it’s only when you have the problem that you can adapt with the corrections, but now if it’s not a good way, you can change very quickly.
How did the By&For programme come about?
In 2009, we had a trip to Russia, in Moscow, and we had a special request from a client: they needed the most expansive bottle in the world. And that was a question for us, what is the most expensive champagne? [Answer] It’s your champagne: your champagne, your personality. But it’s difficult for you to describe your personality, and it’s only when you have a meeting to understand how to replicate the pleasure of your life [that you can]. You can choose Belle Epoque, Belle Epoque Rosé and Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs. We adapt the dosage for you, it’s the last step in the process. It’s at this time for you to finish the maturation of the wine. So, it is By&For You. Right now it’s just the beginning for this new concept.
In Asia, there are collectors for very limited-edition bottles. When you have a world brand, you can find everywhere the same product. Some people, they say it’s not for them, they want something different, just for them. Like cars: it’s the same wheels but a different colour, it’s different inside.
Is sustainability something you concern yourself with at Perrier-Jouët?
All of champagne have reduced the weight of the bottle, we lost 100g per bottle. There’s no difference to the wine, it’s only for the labelling that it makes a difference, the angle of the neck is not the same. You only see the difference if you have two bottles near.
And finally, what would you say to people who ask whether wine can be good for you?
If you have only a healthy focus, you don’t eat anything, you don’t drink anything. It’s very important to understand what is good, you need the education, to learn. It’s not only good wine, it’s a good spirit, a good water. Sometimes, it’s very important to have pleasure.