Like the songbook of Frank Sinatra, a well-tailored suit, and the mullet (at least in semi-rural Queensland), Champagne has never gone out of style. The liquid marker of celebration, its alluring bead, mousse, smell and flavour has inspired and refreshed millions, and its straw-coloured allure transcends the status of mere beverage. No, champagne is an event.
But, as with many things that come with an appellation of origin from Europe, as demand grows, so do the trials and tribulations of meeting said demand. Champagne (the French sparkling wine) is so heavily controlled within the confines of Champagne (the region) that producers have to maintain high standards, while often finding new parcels of fruit to supply their wineries.
And one of the biggest maisons in terms of growth is Veuve Clicquot.
From its distinctive yellow label to the maritime emblems that adorn the bottle, it’s one of the most recognisable brands in the world of champagne, and the tasty contents of each bottle have been lauded by plenty in the 247 years since it was first produced.
“We reproduce the same taste year after year,” says Gaelle Goossens, one of ten winemakers responsible for ensuring the brand’s non-vintage expression remains the same, annually. “As a winemaker, it’s much more challenging to work on the yellow label than other Cuvee because making the same taste throughout, year after year, it’s such a challenge.
” a blend of yellow label, you have between four and 500 different wines, so it’s a lot to taste every year.”
The famed blend, which is a classic mix of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, sees grapes from all over the region harvested, graded and considered for the maison, which is very aware of its limitations in terms of keeping quality the main priority.
“You always find 50 per cent pinot noir, 30 per cent chardonnay, and 20 per cent meunier. Pinot noir is our DNA. We like Pinot noir. We like to have body in our wines. We are a more gastronomic portfolio because of Pinot noir.
“We have departments sourcing all year long, and we have to source exactly the same place we used before because we have 400 hectares, but we do not supply our own needs, so we have to buy grapes. Today, we buy two-thirds of our grapes, which is a lot, but we try to source exactly the same place where we have our vineyard.”
And, as with any supply chain, maintaining a certain standard is no small feat. And when sustainability is one of your brand’s major points of focus, it becomes a priority to set a standard early and enact it without compromise.
“We try to only sign long term contracts because we want to follow them. We’ve been sustainable for a few years at Veuve Clicquot, since 2014. Our vineyards are not sustainable. Our practices are sustainable, so we want our growers to be sustainable as well. Everyone is not sustainable yet, but we are working on that. We have 25 per cent of them sustainable today. We want to have 80 per cent by two years, and we want them to be all sustainable .
So, how does one of the biggest manufacturers of champagne go about doing that?
“It’s very hard. We have our department of technicians; engineers. They work with the growers all year long. They try to encourage them to change their practices. They help them, they support them.
And as for the finished product, while changes may be afoot in terms of production and practices, the delicious, familiar and structured wine that comes out of the bottle is beloved worldwide with very good reason.
“You always have these fresh, citrus notes at the beginning. We want this freshness because it’s still a non-vintage, so we like to have this, but we still age the yellow label three years in our cellar. So even if you have those fresh citrus aromas, you also have some ripeness that comes from the ageing.”