Philipponnat Champagne
– La Champagne au Coeur
(Champagne in our Hearts)

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It’s a great day at the office when you get to spend it surrounded by gorgeous views, enjoying delectable food and superb Champagne.

The Champagne in Africa team was invited to The Vine Bistro, Glenelly Estate, for a Champagne Philipponnat Masterclass presented by Francois Philipponnat, in celebration of their 500th anniversary.

To put 500 years into perspective, that was the time of Copernicus, Shakespeare and Michelangelo…  Fortunately, it was also when Philipponnat Champagne was born!

Interview with Francois Philipponnat, Export Manager

500 years is quite a legacy – how do you feel about it?

Champagne is in my blood… I am the sixteenth generation to be working in the business.  My father never pushed it, at home we didn’t talk about Champagne… but for me, it was a natural decision to join the business. I felt the need to perpetuate this amazing legacy after I interned in a wine blog and marketing business. Only then did I begin to see what wine is all about – the history, the art, and the passion. I realised just how special it was to be part of something that is so deeply rooted in my family history.

Nothing is handed to me on a silver platter; I had to learn about the business and seek information. Now the family complains that my father and I won’t stop talking about Champagne! I’m privileged to be a part of the next phase of this journey.

What does the House motto “La Champagne au Coeur” mean?

Well, the House is rooted in the heart of Champagne, but it also speaks to family values and seeing life as something precious. For example, one ordinary Wednesday evening, my father and I were just chatting. He said, “Let’s have some Champagne”, so I checked in the fridge. The only bottle was a 1990 Clos des Goisses – one of our premium wines. His response was, “It’s the only Champagne we have… so let’s enjoy it! It’s already chilled.” Having a bottle of fine Champagne in the fridge is reason enough to celebrate life; Champagne makes it an occasion.

Apart from this rich heritage, what else makes Philipponnat Champagne stand out?

  • 500 years of history, knowledge, tradition and expertise are woven into crafting our wines. One cannot underestimate this deep connection to the terroirs and the vines. Pinot Noir was the original grape in Aÿ, but gradually, the vintners began to produce white wine from red grapes and started to store it in bottles for greater intensity. It was called “The devil’s wine” because of the bubbles! Today, Pinot Noir brings aromatic intensity to our Champagnes. Pinot Noir makes our Champagne more vinous, more gastronomic
  • The plots are steep and South facing – the Clos des Goisses has a 45-degree incline, which is extraordinarily steep and means that the grapes receive more sunlight. We, therefore, have a micro-climate of 1.5 to 2 degrees warmer than elsewhere in Champagne
  • We only use the juice from the première presse because this is the highest quality. It is rich in sugars, intensity and acidity, which allows for aging – up to 20 years. We want to optimise the aromatic potential of the vintage. I see it as carefully calibrated wizardry!
  • We use the solera process, which means that reserve wines are kept in oak barrels (allowing for micro-oxygenation) and blended with non-vintage blends to create a Perpetual Reserve. The Perpetual Reserve was started in 1946. Slowly, over time, subtle nuances from each vintage add to the complexity of the wine. This complexity and depth are even in our introductory level Champagnes
  • We block the malolactic fermentation process with temperature control, not sulphur

How would you describe the House style?

The style is inspired by the warm terroirs, which we maximise. We usually harvest later than our neighbours to concentrate flavour, ripeness and intensity. Our Champagnes have a strong personality as they age on the lees for four months, which also produces finer bubbles.

We balance the ripeness with the minerality. Remember the chalky terroirs mean that we’re effectively drinking dead seafood! This saltiness enhances the freshness and structure. We have a 70% vintage and 30% Perpetual Reserve blend to maintain consistent quality but allow for subtle changes.

“It’s complicated to produce simplicity”. If you think of tennis star Roger Federer, he makes it look easy, but it isn’t. This is especially so with our Royal Reserve Non-Dosé – the absence of sugar means that it must be aromatically precise and perfectly balanced.

What is this “Clos des Goisses” you refer to?

Our founder, Apvril le Philipponnat owned a small parcel of land in Le Léon, Aÿ which had been devoted to wine growing from ancient times. This original plot of Grand Cru vines is in the heart of the Champagne region. The vine workers nickname it the “clos de l’angoisse” (anguish) because it is so steep and difficult to work. However, the chalky substrate, steep inclines and southern exposure result in vintage wines that truly express the full minerality of the terroir. We have to carefully preserve this centuries-old terroir by using traditional, sustainable methods. My father created the 1522 Grand Cru Cuvée in homage to our heritage.

What’s in the future?

Philipponnat is an ambitious brand. We’re approaching one million bottles but we remain committed to maintaining quality. Our focus will always be on producing high-end Champagne. We are building new cellars and production processes so that we can evolve and adapt to the effects of a warming climate. We need to combine technology and science to slow the ripening process.

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The Champagne in Africa team support enjoying life and the responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverages are not for persons under the age of 18. Please remember to drink responsibly.