Vitalie Taittinger took over her family’s champagne house in 2020. As well as controlling the creation of one of the world’s most celebrated drinks brands, she is actively involved in supporting emerging artists in France and elsewhere. She chats to Samantha Welsh over a tasting of some of Taittinger’s most interesting cuvées about art, luxury and, of course, her champagnes
LUX: You are closely involved with supporting emerging artists through the Fond Regional d’Art Contemporain (Frac) in Reims.
Vitalie Taittinger: Five years ago my father asked me if I could be the new president of Frac Champagne Ardenne. In the beginning I did not 100% agree because I have a lot of work at Taittinger. Six months afterwards, he was saying “everyone is so happy you have become president of the Frac Champagne Ardenne…” The president is in charge of all the political relationships, the one who challenges the vision.
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It’s very interesting because I love this project and to see the evolution of a project that was created forty years ago [by Jack Lang, the swashbuckling Minister of Culture under President Francois Mitterrand]. It’s a lot of work and it’s also very exciting because it’s very political: we are dealing with the minister and we are trying to make things happen in a good way, to protect the Frac and to push them to evolve. Art is one of the biggest motors in society because it is just full of inspiration coming from every culture, from every mix of cultures, so I think for the young generations this is crucial. I should note there is no link between the Frac and Taittinger except for the fact that I’m working every day and on both sides.
LUX: When you took over last year, did you have a grand plan or a strategy to change anything?
Vitalie Taittinger: I think that when you are in this kind of family company, changing would be a renouncement, so the aim is not to change; the aim is to go further into every detail of the elaboration of this champagne. I think that today, with the challenge of global warming and climate change, we always have to improve our way, to be very careful with the environment and to always think about how we can produce this quality of grapes which can also bring after the additional quality to the champagne.
LUX: The producer of one of the world’s most expensive wines became quite heated when we asked him if his wine was a luxury good: he said it certainly was not. Are you producing a luxury good? Is champagne a luxury good or are you producing an agricultural product?
Vitalie Taittinger: This is a luxury good, definitely. And it doesn’t mean that it’s not a cultural brand, but I think for me this is a luxury good. It depends on what you understand luxury to mean, but for me this is definitely the highest level of luxury. Also, the fact that we have so many years of experience and these are in the memories of the workers, we have everything which makes this experience different, exceptional and inimitable. To work for more than ten years on a project which we drink in one second, is crazy. The only thing you will keep with you is the memory of the instant.
LUX: Would you ever consider going back into the general luxury goods world, like your family did before? [Previously, Taittinger owned luxury hotels until the company was bought out by Starwood Capital in 2005; Taittinger family members purchased the champagne house back again in 2006].
Vitalie Taittinger: Maybe one day. It was a challenge when my father bought back the company and every day since 2006, we have put all of our passion and time into the company. Today, we are happy that we have done everything with passion, heart and youth. We are not financially driven; this is really a company which pays more attention and credit to humans than finance. Both are important; it’s relative but when we are thinking about our development our thinking is more irrational than rational.
LUX: Why are the French so good at luxury?
Vitalie Taittinger: We are not the only ones! I don’t know… I think we are structured, but what makes France different, I think, is the country’s relationship to the time; the history, the heritage; and the fact that when you are thinking about generations, you are not focusing on the ego; it is less about “I” and more about “how can I continue this history?” I find this interesting because you keep all the knowledge and the experience of the people that were here before; you are just reinforcing history.
It doesn’t prevent yourself from being who you are and to bring what you want to bring, but this knowledge is a kind of religion. People in companies like Taittinger are really proud of the knowledge they have in their hands. So, I think maybe this is why, but I don’t have the perfect answer.
Comments by Vitalie Taittinger
Taittinger Prelude Grand Cru
This is 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, all Grand Cru. This is our vision of Grand Cru, and you have a wine which is sculpted. You always have this energy, this freshness which you can find in the Chardonnay; light, delicate thin bubbles. It is pushed by the structure of the Pinot Noir; the two grapes are perfectly integrated; they are one. I think that all our wine is precise, super clean and in a way they are also speaking to the art which is for us very important. It has to be a pleasure!
Taittinger Les Folies de la Marquetiere
This is a cuvée which talks about the origins of the house, everything started in a little castle close to Epernay. My great grandfather was there during the war, and many years after, his brother-in-law called him and told him there is a castle for sale, one of the only ones to be surrounded by vineyards, and he went to the visit the castle, and this cuvée was first elaborated with the grapes around the castle. The idea with history and identity was to create a cuvée which looks like this castle, which gives the emotions that similar to when we give a beautiful dinner in this castle, from the eighteenth century.
It is a very small but beautiful castle so you have a warm, cosy feeling, you have a feeling of culture. The Folies is a homage to great moments, gastronomy and beauty; you have the richness, something which is warm, which is larger and at the same time, you find this minerality of the Chardonnay and the style of the house.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008
This is a wine we do not do every year. It was created in the 1950s to pay homage to Thibault IV who is our ambassador of the house. For us, he represents the adventurous spirit, the poetry (he was a poet), and also the very smooth relationship between men and women, so in this character we find something which is very faithful and inspiring to us.
But there is a limit – we will never be able to produce a lot. We only take the grapes of the five villages in the Côte des Blancs, and with that we only use the first pressed juice, to have the purest juice, to be able to make it age in the long term.
This is a wine we will release ten years after we make it, and it’s also a wine you keep in your own cellars. We take only the best grapes from the Côte des Blancs, afterwards there is a little elaboration process which is 5% of the juices come from Chouilly (it is more bodied), just to have this precious taste. And what is special about the Comtes de Champagne is that when you are opening your bottle, when you are having your first sip, you have the first impression that the wine is a long one, and it has more than ten years, and as you keep it, it will become more warm; minute after minute you will be be able to smell all the aromas, they are totally fantastic. This is the life of the wine!
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2007
2007 was a beautiful year, strangely so: it was not a conventional one. In the grapes there was some tension, which was for us a very good sign because at the end you get a perfect wedding between both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and you get something which is both structure and harmony. You have something which is very noble and very elegant. It has the red fruits, but it’s also very deep and it also has freshness.
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