As the Champagne region redefines its approach to tourism, Tempus explores the most surprising – and romantic – stories of some of the area's most historic champagne houses. Read on...
The most famous love story in Épernay, Perrier-Jouët was founded by husband and wife Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and Rose Adélaide Jouët in 1811. It was a natural fit, with Perrier’s family owning vineyards and Jouët the daughter of a Calvados producer. The couple began producing fine champagne and by 1815 they were exporting to Britain, and to the United States in 1837. In 1846 the brand created the first ever ‘Brut’ champagne, to appeal to the drier English palate.
Years later, it was familial love combined with a passion for art that brought the brand’s iconic Belle Epoque cuvée to life. Henri Gallice managed the family business in Épernay while younger brother Octave delved into Paris’ early 20th-century art movement. When the younger’s friend, Art Nouveau pioneer Emile Gallé, designed an emblem for Perrier-Jouët in 1902 it became a symbol of the house for years to come.
Now owned by prestige spirit brand Pernod Ricard, Perrier-Jouët has more than 160 acres of vineyards in the Grand Crus of Cramant and Avize; closer to home, the Perrier-Jouët Champagne Terrace in Harrods (right) is the perfect venue for a romantic tipple.
Known as ‘Champagne Charlie’ for his work popularising champagne in the United States, Charles Heidsieck founded his eponymous house in 1851. The man himself lived a life as remarkable as his champagne. His father, Charles-Henri, was a champagne merchant famed for reportedly riding into Russia in 1811 just ahead of Napoleon’s advancing army with several cases of champagne – and his order book – ready to toast a victory.
Having delivered his champagne to the States, Heidsieck was the toast of New York society until the start of the American Civil War. Sneaking into New Orleans to chase a debt, he was arrested by Union General Benjamin F Butler under suspicion of being a Confederate spy, and spent seven months imprisoned at Fort Jackson, Louisiana. This caused an international incident that reportedly saw Napoleon contact Abraham Lincoln personally in order to campaign for Heidsieck’s release.
Heidsieck purchased the Crayères (right) in 1867 – 8km of chalk cellars dating from the third century and reaching more than 30m below ground – which in 2015 were listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The house now produces a wide range of champagnes, including a signature Brut Réserve cuvée that contains 40% reserve wines and is aged an average of 10 years.
The last major independent and family-owned champagne house, Duval-Leroy was created in 1859. Famed for its pioneering spirit and Chardonnay-dominant flavours, the house’s exceptional blends were winning major prizes by 1888 – including first place at the Universal Exhibition in Barcelona – and in 1911 Raymond Duval-Leroy became the first producer to create a Premier Cru champagne.
Since that time, sustainability of terroir has been at the forefront of the marque’s work. In 2009 Duval-Leroy became the first winery worldwide to combine solar panel installation, rainwater recycling, and sound insulation through vegetation-covered walls. It also presented the ‘open concept’ closure system as an alternative to cork. It was the first house to produce a certified organic brut champagne – the Brut Bio – and next year will mark the 110th anniversary of its signature cuvée Fleur de Champagne Brut Premier Cru.
Carol Duval-Leroy, who in 1991 became the house’s sixth-generation CEO and chairperson, is today considered the most influential woman in Champagne. Serving as the first female president of the Wine Association of the Champagne region from 2006 to 2010, her work promoting champagne internationally has seen her honoured with multiple awards – including the prestigious Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. Under her guidance, Duval-Leroy has continued to innovate, collaborating with chefs and sommeliers to create bespoke champagnes, and partnering with Michelin-star venues around the world – including the newly-renovated restaurant Seven Park Place, at St James’s Hotel and Club, Mayfair.
HATT ET SÖNER
Founded in 2006 by Kristofer Ruscon, then just 21 years old, Hatt et Söner has revolutionised how HNWs enjoy champagne thanks to its invitation-only personal vintage programme. Playing host to the wine region’s first ever private members’ club, Hatt et Söner offers the exclusive opportunity for oenophiles to take part in the winemaking process to create their own vintage champagne.
Ruscon was inspired into the world of champagne by his grandfather, Joseph. A beermaker from the Alpine town of Annecy, Joseph spent part of the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War hiding in a wine cellar with the Jewish people he was sheltering. After this, Joseph vowed to never pass a day of his life without drinking a bottle of wine, and thus his family became well acquainted with the independent Vallois champagne family. When Françios Vallois, feeling mounting pressure from the competitive champagne market, decided to sell up, Ruscon stepped up.
With its closely guarded level of exclusivity, those who want to taste-test the brand’s publicly available vintage will have to head to private members’ club 67 Pall Mall – London’s only Hatt et Söner stockist.