Cet article a été publié dans la revue Balthazar du mois de Juillet 2011.
Interview de Pierre Olivier JOFFARD (créateur du Champagne Vantz Clippert)
WINE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PASSION FOR PIERRE-OLIVIER JOFFARD. HE ONCE FELL IN LOVE WITH CHÂTEAU SALVAGNAC, AND HAS SINCE CREATED A NEW AND ORIGINAL CONCEPT, MAKING WINES THAT RESPECT AGELESS TRADITION AND PERFECTLY SUIT THE MOST FAMOUS TABLES AROUND THE WORLD. IN HIS EYES, FRANCE WILL ALWAYS REMAIN THE COUNTRY OF ”RED GOLD” BUT HE HAS TAKEN ON NEW CHALLENGES, IN PARTICULAR IN THE VERY EXCLUSIVE WORLD OF CHAMPAGNE. IN 2010, A NEW CHAMPAGNE BRAND WAS BORN – VANTZ CLIPPERT. PRODUCED IN THE SAME SPIRIT AS WINE, VANTZ CLIPPERT CHAMPAGNE MEETS THE SAME STANDARDS OF QUALITY AND EXCEPTION, AND RANKS AMONGST THE BEST MAISONS. INTERVIEW.
By Carole Schmitz. Photos: Céline and Gilles Deschamps, DCI and Philippe Poivre
HOW DID YOUR PASSION FOR WINE DEVELOP?
Pierre-Olivier Joffard : Without a doubt, it stemmed from my family tradition. I’d always been taught to appreciate wine, how to taste it, savour it. I must confess I often learned with vintage Bordeaux or Burgundy. I came to wine by passion, not with the idea of making it my occupation.
DID IT BECOME OBVIOUS AT ONE POINT THAT YOU WOULD MAKE IT YOUR OCCUPATION?
It did, it simply became so obvious one day. My previous profession was frankly not fulfilling anymore, and deep down I knew that working with wine would never disappoint.
YOU SAY YOU BOUGHT YOUR ESTATE BECAUSE IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. COULD YOU EXPAND?
Sure. I had actually been looking for an estate for some years but wasn’t happy with what I was seeing. There was always something that was not quite right – the terroir, the building itself. I ended up receiving two very interesting offers as far as the terroir was concerned but everything else would need to be built. One of the properties was located in the Bordeaux region, and the other in Languedoc. I chose the one in Languedoc as I think that it will be the future for great terroirs and vintages.
WHY DO YOU FEEL SO SURE ABOUT THAT?
It’s very simple: the rating system for the current Bordeaux vintages is such that it can’t be changed. On the other hand, the Languedoc region has been developed to produce high yields, but not to produce quality wines. This is about to change, and I do hope Château Salvagnac will be the best wine of Languedoc, the new vintage. Andreas Larsson, the best sommelier of the world has tasted the Château Salvagnac and said it was “a future grand wine.”
WHAT IS YOUR CONCEPT? AND WHAT IS SO UNIQUE ABOUT IT?
Our concept is based on our terroir. It is unique because it is part of the luxury craft industry and is very upmarket. We combine modernity with age-old savoir-faire.
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT YOUR WINE PRODUCTION?
The grape harvest is handpicked, using small and shallow crates so as to not compress and crush the grapes during transport. We sort bunches as we cut them, and again manually before arriving to the cellar. Then the grapes are destemmed and put in a machine that sorts them by using vibrations. After one last hand selection, grapes are placed into vats. As you can see, this type of wine making is absolutely traditional, almost exactly how it is made in Burgundy- manual pigeage, cold pre-fermentation maceration, slow and closely monitored vinification. Finally we use barrels and stainless steel vats for vinification.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR TERROIR
We are located on the terroir of Boutenac. It is a rich, varied, and very complex terroir. It has three main types of soil, all with round pebbles (colluvial limestone, argilo-calcareous and argilo-sandy soil, and ancient terraces). As for the subsoil, it is composed of hard fractured limestone with diagonal layers that allow constant hygrometry. The exposure is essentially North to Northwest, which is perfect because it maintains the cooler temperatures that allow aromas to intensify with refinement and elegance. The altitude also means that the land receives coastal winds. This shortens the maturity phase of sugars and boosts phenolic maturity. This is how we obtain a significant and non-vegetal tannic structure.
YOUR CELLAR HAS BEEN BUILT ACCORDING TO AGE-OLD TECHNIQUES.WHY IS THIS AN ASSET?
You speak about respect for tradition but where does that respect really come through? Our cellar is built according to age-old techniques and it is indeed an asset. These building techniques, which are quite unusual, allow us to protect wine from temperature variations. We have actually used stones from the Gard Bridge to built the cellar. Each of these cut stone-blocks weighs 2.5 tons. The technique used for assembling the blocks is close to the one used for building the pyramids, it creates natural insulation so no artificial means of air conditioning are needed. Temperature control is therefore excellent, and so is the harmony with the landscape.
HOW DOES IT BENEFIT YOUR WINE?
Good temperature control avoids brutal shocks
HOW DO YOU COMBINE A GREAT WINES TRADITION WITH THE MODERN TOUCH THAT MAKES YOUR WINE SO ORIGINAL?
It’s a clever mix of concepts. First of all ingredients are key: the mourvèdre grape variety, rich in tannins and intense in colour is the major specifity of our wine. Then comes the very qualitative Grenache, which creates powerful and generous red wines. We offer three vintages of red and one rosé. The rosé is a small batch production, it is very atypical and more full-bodied than most rosés. Good wine connoisseurs who are typically not keen on rosé generally enjoy it a lot. On the side of reds, we have three fine ranges: the Extrait N°510 “Charnel,” the Extrait N°1015 “Corsé,” and the Extrait N°1520 “Extrême.” You might wonder, “Why would you call them Extrait?” Right? And that’s where a totally new concept comes into play. It is about how to live with your times. Today, wine is increasingly appealing to a female audience, and to amateurs, who are not necessarily connoisseurs. Our approach is to adapt to this trend by offering an entire range of wines created in the spirit of perfumeries and luxury artisan products. In addition, we bring an innovative label design in the form of a perfume bottle. Each piece of the collection is titled “Extrait” and has a number that indicates the ideal moment for tasting. For example, the Extrait N°510 can be best tasted between 5 and 10 years from the year of production.
WHY DID YOU CREATE YOUR COLLECTION IN THE SPIRIT OF PERFUMERIES AND LUXURY ARTISAN PRODUCTS?
I think there is a link between the nose of a perfume creator and a wine creator. In addition, this idea had never been used before and we were looking for something original, so we decided to flout conventions a little.
DOES THE GENIUS OF WINE COME FROM ITS TERROIR?
It does indeed, provided you think of terroir in the widest sense of the term , i.e., not only the soil but also the climate, the vintage year, the process of making of the wine, the way of growing the vines, and the producer him or herself. When you take all these elements into consideration, you might then be able to talk about the genius of a wine. There are a thousand ways of making wine, and the same land in the hand of different people will produce different results – this is why wine making is an art.
HOW DO YOU BRING A CÉPAGE TO MATURITY?
It’s quite technical and complex. You should focus not only on the degree of alcohol but also on phenolic maturity: the tannins should be melted enough, grape seeds should not be too green and hence not too acidic. There needs to be more than sugar. Another way of bringing our cépages to maturity is to harvest a little later. It’s about skilful alchemy.
EVEN THOUGH FRANCE REMAINS A REFERENCE IN TERMS OF GREAT WINES, IT IS NOT THE ONLY COUNTRY THAT PRODUCES GREAT VINTAGES. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THIS?
I think France is the country of the “Red Gold”, and always will be. The best vintages are French; it’s unquestionable but does not mean you can’t find great wine, and even exceptional wine, in other countries. This new competition means we must be vigilant. We must question ourselves, and develop our ability even more to produce exceptional wine, and to offer variety in order to constantly surprise palates and senses.
DO YOU THINK THE WORLD OF WINE LACKS REFERENCE POINTS
Absolutely. It’s very complicated for customers, and this is one of the reasons why we wanted to be visually different from our competitors. In this area, we preferred to go for modernity.
WHAT IS A GREAT WINE TO YOU?
Good question… A great wine must leave an impression, a memory. I consider wine to be an art, and that’s why it has to charm, and touch us. It has to generate emotion through its finesse, elegance, and length.
ELEGANCE IS A WORD YOU HAVE OFTEN USED THROUGHOUT OUR CONVERSATION. IS THIS MARKETING OR TRULY A WAY OF MAKING WINE?
Elegance in wine is about being fine enough to stand out. This is the main quality of our wines. It is indeed a concept but it came from the experience of the “senses”, and marketing is only based on it. It is about this “je-ne-sais-quoi” you discover as you taste the wine, and it can be a different experience every time. It is simple and complex at the same time.
CAN WE SAY SOME WINES ARE MORE MASCULINE, AND OTHERS
Why not? It sounds complicated though. I would say it’s more a matter of palate and wine knowledge.
IS IT TRUE THAT BAD VINTAGES ARE EXTREMELY RARE NOWADAYS?
It’s true. As soon as you limit yields, you consequently limit the possibility of getting bad vintages. In this respect, our maison gives priority to small yields- we preserve the quality of grapes and only extract the essence of our terroir.
IN YOUR VIEW, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YESTERDAY’S AND TODAY’S WINES?
Today you can go further with analysis. New technologies allow us to be precise. For example, we master malolactic fermentation, which was not the case just a few decades ago. Hygiene is also a lot better. That said it is vital not to go down the route of technological escalation.
DOMINIQUE LAPORTE, THE BEST SOMMELIER OF FRANCE, DESCRIBES CHÂTEAU SALVAGNAC AS AN ATYPICAL WINE COMING FROM EXCEPTIONAL CÉPAGE AND TERROIR. I SUPPOSE SUCH PRAISE MUST BE PLEASING YOU?
The credit goes to the mourvèdre, not to me. We use this cépage in 50% of the vintages. Its specificity is to give structured and very elegant wines. In fact, in blind tasting, he thought our wines were from the Rhône Valley or Italian Barolo. This confirms they are indeed atypical.
WINE ISN’T YOUR SOLE PASSION, AND YOU ALSO LOVE CHAMPAGNE. YOU’VE LAUNCHED YOUR OWN CHAMPAGNE – VANTZ CLIPPERT – JUST ABOUT A YEAR AGO. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT IT?
Wine and champagne are two completely different worlds, which both belong to luxury however. Obviously champagne is “THE” luxurious beverage. It is lighter, more festive, and also more demanding. This is why, based on the same concept of elegance and excellence, we launched our own champagne Vantz Clippert last year. It’s a risky bet since the market is pretty crowded. However, I am convinced that many of the ”reference” champagne brands do not offer the quality that every connoisseur expects. Our champagnes come from the purest tradition of the Champagne region. They stand out thanks to their lightness, and their thin and explosive bubbles.
AREN’T WE MORE FOCUSED ON DISCOVERING NEW WINES RATHER THAN CHAMPAGNES NOWADAYS?
In small groups definitely but when it comes to major events, champagne is and always will be a “festive” wine, the symbol of luxury, pleasure and conviviality
THE CHAMPAGNE MARKET IS ALREADY QUITE CROWDED. WHY LAUNCH A NEW BRAND?
Launching a new champagne brand in a circle, which is already packed, traditional and where name recognition is important, was indeed a major challenge. It’s quite a static market concentrated around a few famous leaders. This raises the question of quality ,i.e. a famous name does not mean quality.. Champagne, like wine, evolves and new horizons should be discovered and explored in this very exclusive world.
ISN’T IT A BIT DARING?
It is indeed, and we think that daring was just what was missing in the world of champagne. It is what will make the difference over the next few years. Vantz Clippert has dared to invest in a saturated market. It has dared to modernise a tradition through the use of attractive designs and colourful labels. It has dared to innovate. We have many more projects, some of them in partnership with other brands.
WHAT DIFFERENTIATES VANTZ CLIPPERT FROM THE COMPETITION?
I would say the “C” for Character. It is our added value. Very often, champagne unfortunately becomes solely a “marketing’ product.” The whole ‘”sensual” spect of it is then lost behind a world it does not come from, and which even forgets about its exceptional character. What is different about us is our position. We go back to the basics. We remember where the strength of champagne lies. We only look for the quality of a really “bon” champagne. This is what will enable us to meet the challenge.
WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF YOUR CHAMPAGNE?
We want to bring forward what champagne is truly about – finesse, delicacy, and freshness. The Vantz Clippert champagnes come from the purest tradition of the Champagne region. We carefully look for the best vintages in order to heighten the essence of champagne, i.e., it should be sparkling and delicate. It is about going back to the basics and giving back to champagne the standard of luxury that is naturally attached to it.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE “GOOD” CHAMPAGNE?
It is about the combination of sensations it brings: pleasure and surprise for the taste buds. Good champagne shows freshness, and its bubbles conceal more than one secret that is then revealed to the palate.
THE VANTZ CLIPPERT CHAMPAGNE COMES IN FIVE VINTAGES.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE?
The five vintages come from a meticulous selection. The Brut vintage is fresh and not very sweet. The Réserve vintage is more subtle and aromatic. The essential Rosé vintage is surprising and fruity. The Prestige has longer notes. The Millésime is more generous and powerful. All these vintages have in common fine and elegant bubbles.
Pictures of the article