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10 Things Every Wine Lover Should Know About... Taittinger

L-R: A sculpture made from bottles of Comtes de Champagne; fruit for the first Taittinger wine was grown at La Marquetterie; Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger
© Taittinger | L-R: A sculpture made from bottles of Comtes de Champagne; fruit for the first Taittinger wine was grown at La Marquetterie; Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger
Caroline Henry goes behind the scenes at Champagne house Taittinger.

No. 1. Taking instruction from monks:

The house of Taittinger did not exist until 1932. For nearly two centuries, it was known as Forest-Fourneaux.

Originally founded in 1734 by Jacques Fourneaux, a wealthy textile merchant, the house worked closely with local Benedictine monks to learn how to produce still and sparkling wines.

In 1820, Jacques’ great-grandson Jérôme formed a partnership with Antoine Forest and the business started to boom, especially in export markets such as Britain and the United States. Forest-Forneaux originally marketed its wines under the name of each village – e.g. "vins d’Aÿ," "vins de Sillery," and "vins de Bouzy" – rather than using the generic Champagne name.

No. 2. The shadows of war:

Pierre Taittinger first visited Champagne as an officer in World War I. When he was injured during combat he was transferred to the 18th-century Château de la Marquetterie, a major French command post south of Épernay. The young Taittinger was so impressed by the elegance, beauty and history of the building that he vowed to buy it if the opportunity ever arose.

By the 1930s, Forest-Fourneaux's fortunes were dwindling: World War I, the Great Depression, and Prohibition had all taken their toll. Exports were almost at a standstill.

Pierre Taittinger saw his opportunity to buy the property. As wine merchants originally from Lorraine, the Taittingers decided to use their existing network and relaunch the Champagne business under the family name. Over the next few decades Taittinger established itself as one of the region's leading brands, joining the Syndicat des Grandes Marques in the 1950s.

Folies de la Marquetterie, a single-vineyard wine, was the first Champagne produced under the Taittinger brand. The vines were originally planted by Brother Jean Oudart, who worked closely with Dom Pérignon, making it one of the house's most-coveted wines.

No. 3.  Caves for cuvées:

Taittinger is one of only five Champagne houses to cellar its wines in the famous "Crayères" of Reims – chalk caves originally dug out by the Romans. The caves were rediscovered at the beginning of the 18th century and Champagne merchants found that they provided the perfect conditions for aging wine. Today, Taittinger owns four kilometers of Crayères, which are used to age their prestige cuvées: Comtes de Champagne and Comtes de Champagne Rosé.

L-R: Inside Taittinger's four kilometers of underground cellars; the entrance to La Marquetterie
© Taittinger | L-R: Inside Taittinger's four kilometers of underground cellars; the entrance to La Marquetterie

No. 4. Comtes de Champagne:

The large 13th-century mansion on the Rue de Tambour in Reims, now Taittinger's headquarters, was once home to royalty: Theobald IV, who reigned over Champagne from 1222, lived in the palace. 

A long-standing legend claimed it was Theobald who brought the chardonnay grape to the region from Cyprus after leading a crusade to the Holy Land. However, this has been disproved by UC Davis researchers. Nevertheless, Taittinger’s cuvée prestige is named Comtes de Champagne in his honor. Not surprisingly, the wine is 100 percent chardonnay.

No. 5. Closing ranks:

In the 1990s, the Taittinger family vastly expanded their business and invested heavily in other luxury products. This eventually led to cash-flow and other financial problems, resulting in the sale of the Taittinger brands in July 2005 to the American-owned Starwood Hotel Group.

The sale was badly received by the Champagne-producing community. They feared the new owners would pursue short-term profitability over quality, upsetting the equilibrium of the Champagne industry.

But salvation came in the form of Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger. Claude’s nephew had always been opposed to the 2005 sale of the family company to Starwood, says his daughter Vitalie. He is a third-generation member of the Champagne family and started work in 1976 as a sales rep before slowly climbing up the ladder. When he showed interest in repurchasing the business the industry united to negotiate a deal with the Starwood group and Crédit Agricole. On May 31, 2006, the Taittinger family resumed ownership of the company.

No. 6. Scoring a goal

Taittinger will be the official Champagne at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The family lays claim to a strong link with soccer. Pierre-Emmanuel recalls that the only time he was allowed to watch television as a youngster was on June 6, 1959. Real Madrid and Stade de Reims were playing in the final of the Coupe d’Europe des Clubs, now called the Champions League. In the live telecast from Stuttgart, Taittinger watched his father, Jean, who had just been elected mayor of Reims, start the game.

Taittinger owns 288 hectares of vines in Champagne
© Taittinger | Taittinger owns 288 hectares of vines in Champagne

No. 7.  Grape growers:

With 288 hectares of vines, the Taittinger family are one of the largest vineyard owners in Champagne. Their holdings provide half of their needs for their annual Champagne production. Such extensive vineyard ownership is viewed as a way to control quality, but the company also concentrates on workforce management.

A system of task-related employee contracts has been adopted over the last 20 years at Taittinger, replacing hourly contracts. Today, each employee has sole responsibility for about three hectares of vines, including a requirement to meet specified yields. In other words, they work in a similar way to independent growers and are paid by the task rather than by the hour.

Vincent Collard, Taittinger's vineyard manager, believes “this system assures the quality” of the estate's wines. He says it encourages workers to complete their allotted tasks within specified time frames and to the standards required.

No. 8.  The California connection:

At the end of the 1970s, Claude Taittinger developed an interest in producing quality sparkling wine in California. He partnered up with his American distributor, Kobrand, in 1987 to purchase 56 hectares of land in Carneros – one of the cooler sub-regions in Napa. Together, they launched Domaine Carneros.

The Napa sparklers produced by the estate are never going to be Champagne. However, Rick Bakas, social media whizz and sommelier at the Michelin-starred Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma, puts Domaine Carneros in his top three Californian sparkling wines. Ed Hodson, sommelier at Starling Diner in Long Beach, California, views them as good-value sparkling wines, providing "complexity, balance and structure for less money" than Champagne.

No. 9. Champagne pricing:

Champagne is often more expensive than other wines. The region's production costs sit between 10 and 15 euros ($13–$20) per bottle, excluding marketing and distribution costs. Vitalie believes her wines are “fairly priced,” not least because “making Champagne is an expensive and elaborate process which takes time. The quality is heavily impacted by the aging period, and you cannot afford to age extensively if you are not willing to reflect this in the price," she explains.

On both sides of the pond, retailers and sommeliers seem to agree with Taittinger’s pricing policy. According to U.K.-based wine expert Robert Joseph, “all Taittinger’s Champagnes, bar the rosé, are generally well priced in the U.K market.” In the U.S., Hodson says the non-vintage cuvée, in particular, is good value for money: "Few can compete with its quality to price ratio at below $40 retail."

No. 10. What the experts say:

Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne is one of the most recognized and loved Champagnes. In 2012, it was elected "Best Champagne" by Fine Champagne Magazine, and the 2002 vintage was Bettane and Desseauve’s top pick to bring in the new year in 2013.

Tyson Stelzer, author of "The Champagne Guide," notes: “Taittinger’s depth of reach into the Côte des Blancs grand crus has made Comtes de Champagne one of Champagne’s most consistent blanc de blancs, and every even vintage since 1996 has been nothing short of transcendental.”

Prices worldwide on Wine-Searcher (US$, ex-tax, per 750-ml bottle):

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  • Comments

    Knut Gotfredsen wrote:
    17-Oct-2013 at 07:45:21 (GMT)

    No. 11 Modern Art In 1983 Taittinger created a unique packaging for a portion of their 1978 vintage: The Taittinger Collection. The bottle was encased in a cover and packaged in a gift box, both designed by Hungarian artist Victor Vasarely. Since then additional 11 vintages have been added to the Collection series, that latest is 2002 designed by Senegalese artist Amadou Sow. Not only are these beautiful works of art, the content is also hightly rated by wine critics. The content is always the same as the "normal" Taittinger vintage.

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