Piper-Heidsieck: A Bubbling Tale of Craftmanship, Care and Class

05 Nov 2021
7 min read

Built on a legacy of encounters, passion and tenacity and encompassing a philosophy of audacity, innovation and continuous improvement, Piper-Heidsieck has become one of the globe’s most loved and lauded champagnes since its founding in the 1770s. Bringing a fresh new perspective, Chief Winemaker Émilien Boutillat has his eyes firmly set on securing the House’s future while delivering top-class wines. FOUR sits down with Émilien to find out more…

How did you get into the winemaking industry, and what led you to Piper-Heidsieck?

I’m lucky to have been born in champagne, and I am very attached to it. My father is a vinegrower and makes his own champagne. Growing up in the world of winemaking and viticulture – pruning the vines and working in the cellar with my father – I developed a strong passion for all aspects of wine production as inspired by my family. This was also further developed through my different personal experiences.

I wanted to discover other wines and meet other winemakers with visions similar or opposite to that of champagne and develop a broader vision of what is possible. So, I chose to study at the School of Agronomy in Montpellier: Montpellier SupAgro, which included both oenology and viticulture aspects as you cannot make great wines without great grapes. I became a winemaker but also an agricultural engineer specialising in viticulture.

Then I decided that I’d do two harvests a year for three years: one in September in the northern hemisphere and one in February in the southern hemisphere. I had the chance to work at Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Côtes du Rhône) and Château Margaux (Bordeaux) as well as in New Zealand, California, Chile and South Africa.

All those experiences in France and abroad taught me a lot about openness. I discovered different winemaking techniques from the other side of the world, along with different grape varieties and soil typicities. All of this has helped me broaden my vision of winemaking.

After these trips around the world, I wanted to go back to my roots in champagne, and use what I learned. Here, I worked for six harvests at Cattier and Armand de Brignac before joining Piper-Heidsieck in 2018.

What would you say the winery’s vision/goal is, and how do you convey this through the wines?

My philosophy resonates with that of Piper-Heidsieck’s: let the terroirs express themselves to the fullest. This requires a lot of attention in the vineyard, like pursuing sustainable viticulture, carefully choosing harvest dates and other key aspects in winegrowing. Then, in the winemaking process, we intervene as little as possible. The important thing is to have quality in the grapes and translate it into wines expressive of their origins and to isolate them in different vats. Then express the intention and creativity with the assemblage. This step is crucial because that’s where we build and maintain the style of the House.

The goal for us is to get the best wines and use them to produce exceptional champagnes. For that, we are very present in the vineyard. We have total control of our 80 hectares, where we give a lot of importance to biodiversity without using insecticide or herbicide. We replant shrubs to bring back insects and encourage biodiversity in order to create a new ecosystem in the vineyard that will benefit the vines and the grapes. We even have our own beehives (and honey)! As a testament to all these commitments, we have had a double certification for VDC (Viticulture Durable en Champagne) and HVE (Haute Valeur Environnementale) in our vineyards since 2015.

We also work hand in hand with all the partners all over champagne who deliver us their grapes for a wonderful diversity of supplies. Our winegrowing partners know their terroirs perfectly, and we have developed long-term relations of trust with them. This is one of the reasons I joined Piper-Heidsieck because I identify myself in our wines and their profile but also in the men and women that I meet.

How do you remain inspired day to day to produce top quality wines?

It’s easy to remain inspired in the champagne industry, and while having this job, as every day is a new challenge. From the vineyard to the grapes, blending and tastings – we do not have time to be bored!

Champagne is an exceptional wine region; it is a region that possesses a huge variety of wealth. The soils, the crus, the climate and the viticultural approach – all these factors affect the grapes we harvest each year. Every year is a new challenge for us; we have to listen to what nature expresses and do our best to create high-quality champagnes.

Above that, I have the chance to work with a truly inspiring winemaking team. We are seven people; each one of us has our own background and sensibilities, which allow us to have lots of interesting exchanges and co-construct our vision of Piper-Heidsieck wines and perpetuate its style.

What makes a good wine in your eyes, and how do you ensure Piper-Heidsieck upholds this?

A great wine for me needs to be balanced. Balanced on the nose with a nice diversity of aromas – a good harmony between fruitiness, toastiness and minerality, for example. Balanced on the palate between the generosity and body on one hand, and the freshness and elegance on the other hand. My team and I give a lot of importance to this balance we are looking for. Then you also recognise a great wine or champagne for its ability to age many years.

Finally, what matters at the end of the day, is the emotion a great wine or champagne will give you. I really like it when I close my eyes, smell the wine and start a journey in an extraordinary world of aromas. A great wine will connect directly with your emotions and memories and make that moment of tasting a magical one.

What makes your area ideal for the growth of wine grapes, and how does this give them their unique characteristics?

The terroir of Champagne is unique. It is an excellent combination between soil and climate. The subsoil is limestone in most of the Champagne sub-regions, with it sometimes being pure chalk. This particularity will guarantee the vines a nice water stock. The roots go very deep inside this sub-soil to get the water that carries all the minerals from underground, which, in turn, gives minerality to our champagne.

The Champagne vineyards are also in northern Europe, with a double climatic influence: oceanic and continental. This area is almost the northernmost limit for growing vines in Europe. This climate guarantees a slow maturation of our grapes and gives the freshness and acidity we need to create unique champagnes.

How would you define Piper-Heidsieck’s style?

I define the Piper-Heidsieck style as elegant and refined, with a clear reference to fruits. It is a balance between generous fruits and a certain elegance and minerality. That balance is obtained thanks to a strict selection of each grape (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier) with no compromise on quality. It is magnified by a precise dosage, decided after a blind tasting with my team, so that we can have the best expression of our terroir.

Tell us about some of the winery’s awards and why these are significant to you?

This year, we were lucky to have won a double international recognition for the House. The Best Wine of the World competition awarded Piper-Heidsieck as the Best Champagne House of the World, and I was awarded the title of Sparkling Winemaker of the Year by the International Wine Challenge. These recognitions reaffirm the dedication and commitment of the entire Piper-Heidsieck team in its goal of continually producing the finest blends while working towards a sustainably conscious future within all its winemaking practices.

The awards also recognise the teamwork done over the last years – from our winemaking team, some of whom have been working hard for more than 30 years to craft Piper-Heidsieck champagne, to our vinegrowers and winegrowing partners, whose efforts to deliver the highest-quality grapes never go unnoticed, and right through to those involved in the production of the bottles, each of whom displays incredible craftsmanship!

How do you hope people will receive your wines?

Of course, I hope they will enjoy it! Champagne is, by definition, a product that you share. When a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck pops, it really elevates the moments. By keeping a simple, uninhibited approach, my day-to-day objective is to craft Piper-Heidsieck champagnes that our consumers will be pleased to share with friends, family and loved ones.

What are some of the different wines’ best pairings?

It all depends on the cuvée you choose! We are lucky enough to get a fantastic diversity of aromas with the different cuvées of our range. And champagne is perfect to pair with almost all kinds of foods, from street snacks to finger food and even gastronomic offerings.

At Piper-Heidsieck, we have a wide variety of cuvées, and each one has its best pairings. For instance, Cuvée Sublime, the sweetest one, fits perfectly with desserts. I particularly enjoy having Cuvée Brut with some white fish such as sea bass or codfish. For Essentiel Blanc de Blancs, it pairs perfectly with oysters, and Rosé Sauvage is perfect with red meat on a barbecue, for example. For Essentiel, you can enjoy it with cheese such as Parmigiano.

What are your Piper-Heidsieck favourites?

It depends on the occasion, of course. In my eyes, each cuvée is special for a dedicated time. If I had to choose, lately I have had a little crush on our Vintage 2012, sharing it with a great friend for a special occasion. Also, Essentiel Blanc de Blancs, which is perfect for enjoying with a platter of seafood and some friends – why not after a day at the beach!

What’s next for Piper-Heidsieck, any new products, partnerships or events?

We have quite a big milestone happening at the end of the year. We are launching a new collection named “Hors-Série” that opens a new chapter for the House. Piper-Heidsieck gave me carte blanche to regularly unveil unexpected cuvées such as those made with special blends, vinification methods or older vintages with a contemporary interpretation. The first opus of this collection is Hors-Série 1971, a vintage from 1971, kept in our cellars for 50 years and released today with a recent disgorgement. Quite unexpected for a 50-year-old cuvée, we have decided to release 2021 numbered bottles globally.

Also, an exciting international event is coming to Australia, with the Australian Open happening in January 2022, of which Piper-Heidsieck is a partner for the 4th consecutive year. We aim to create a memorable experience to highlight the great values we have in common with this sport, and with the Australians too!

How do you envision the future of champagne?

I am very optimistic; it’s in my nature. I think that if we want to remain at the top in the consumers’ minds and the world of sparkling wines, it is key that we further develop sustainable viticulture. We have to be leaders and innovators all the time, and this is clearly our goal at Piper-Heidsieck. For example, we have invested in a start-up that develops autonomous tractors that allow working the soil permanently and which can intervene in the vineyards at any time, enabling winegrowers to focus on other essential tasks. In the future, these tractors will be able to treat vines very precisely and thus reduce the number of phytosanitary products needed.

Our challenge in champagne is how to best build our future by staying rooted in our past all the while improving viticulture and oenology. We need to be pioneers in innovation to remain leaders. Sustainability is also my priority outside the vineyards. We aim to reduce our environmental footprint considering the whole ecosystem of champagne production, from the vines to the supply chain, from our carbon footprint to energy and water consumption and waste management.

To find out more about Piper-Heidsieck, visit its website, Instagram profile and Facebook Page.