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12 winemakers to watch in Champagne

A number of cellar masters in Champagne have taken on celebrity status in the wine industry – take the ebullient, eccentric, ever game for a quirky quote Richard Geoffroy of Dom Pérignon, or the dashing, debonair and immaculately coiffed Richard Gere lookalike (around the time of An Officer and a Gentleman), Benoît Gouez of Moët & Chandon.

However, a legion of little-known winemakers has been quietly beavering away behind the scenes, sometimes for decades, doing a sterling job in maintaining the consistency and quality of the flagship brut non-vintage cuvées at their respective houses, which account for the vast majority of global Champagne sales.

We felt the time was ripe to unveil their identities and give these rising stars their moment in the limelight, from Denis Bunner at Bollinger, recently appointed as new chef de cave Gilles Descôtes’ right hand man, to Julie Cavil at Krug, who gave up a job in advertising to pursue her dream of becoming a winemaker in Champagne.

Read on for our round up of a dozen chef de caves in the making, listed in alphabetical order, who with their enthusiasm, energy and technical nous, are helping to make their houses sparkle.

Axelle Araud (31)

Appointed winemaker at Dom Pérignon in 2010, 31-year-old Axelle Araud has worked at the prestigious Champagne house for a decade. Having been taken under the wing of DP’s chef de cave, Richard Geoffroy, Araud works closely with Geoffroy and his winemaking team as a project manager for the development of viticulture and oenology. Qualifying with a degree in agronomy engineering from the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon, Araud also has a degree in viticulture and winemaking from the Agronomy University of Montpellier.

She entered the drinks trade in 2002 working for Hennessy Cognac, but soon moved into wine with stints at Moët & Chandon’s Californian sparkling wine project, Domaine Chandon in the Napa Valley and Yering Station in Australia’s Yarra Valley. Before joining DP, Araud worked for a year at Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé estate, Château Cheval Blanc.

In her role as winemaker, she is responsible for the still red wines used in Dom Pérignon rosé in addition to being a spokesperson for the oenology department. “Making Dom Pérignon is an unparalleled confrontation with time. As a winemaker, I have a challenge to remain faithful to the spirit of Dom Pérignon with every new vintage,” she says.

Olivier Bernard (32)

Olivier Bernard

Having always dreamt of working for a high profile Champagne house, before putting his ambition into practice, Olivier Bernard cut his teeth by undertaking internships at Bouchard Père & Fils in Burgundy and Jaboulet in the Rhône. Having gained valuable grape growing and winemaking experience, he went on to work for Champagne Bruno Paillard. Restricted to a role in vineyard management, Bernard longed to make wine, and consequently moved to Champagne Deutz in 2011 after a gruelling interview with chef de caves Michel Davesne and chief executive Fabrice Rosset, who gave him the job after seeing the “fire in his eyes”.

“Joining a rising star of the Champagne industry, my challenge at Deutz was twofold – I had to seamlessly integrate myself into the company and soft pedal my enthusiasm by showing patience and humility before trying to put my stamp on the house,” says Bernard. Having worked for the Deutz for three years as assistant chef de cave, Bernard is still learning the ropes.

“I’m responsible for representing the house’s core values, which is one hell of a burden,” he says, adding, “The great thing about Deutz is that it nurtures ambition and an obsession for quality. There is no time to rest on our laurels – we’re constantly looking at ways to improve what we do and the wine we make, whether that be through experimenting with organics, trying out new liqueurs de dosage or trialling fermentation in oak casks. I feel good here and I still have a lot to learn,” he says.

Marc Brévot (42)

Born in the South of France, Marc Brévot spent much of his young life travelling – a passion which, he says, has given him an open mind. After obtaining a degree in agricultural engineering, Brévot spent a year studying in the US before getting his lucky break when he started working for LVMH in Tokyo.

Returning to France after a two-year stint in Japan, Brévot went back to the books to study for a degree in oenology at the University of Reims. Working for Cognac brand Hennessy for two years, he returned to LVMH in 2004 when he was appointed technical advisor of Moët & Chandon in charge of everything from investigating reduction in wine to traceability.

Brévot is currently project manager of the house’s oenology research and development department. “Making non- vintage Champagne consistently to a house style each year is incredibly challenging due to the region’s unique climatic conditions and the long and complex winemaking process involved,” he says. “One of the great things about Moët is that the house offers its team the chance to innovate in order to go to the limits of what is possible.”

Denis Bunner (33)

Before joining Bollinger last summer as assistant chef de caves, Alsace-born Bunner worked for a decade as head of oenology for the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), which, among other responsibilities, saw him participate in the implementation of the region’s guide to sustainable viticulture.

With a degree in oenology from Reims University under his belt, Bunner works alongside chef de caves Gilles Descôtes at Bollinger, who became the house’s cellar master last July. In his role, Bunner deals with everything from grape supply to the logistics of shipping bottles. While he specialises in the technical side of winemaking, he can also be called upon to lead seminars for Master of Wine students.

Having been a member of the Union Des Oenologues de Champagne since 2008, Bunner admits that Bollinger’s savoir-faire and the quality of its offering caught his eye years ago. “Working for Bollinger offers so many opportunities. I’m currently involved in the restoration of the house’s old wines, which is the kind of project that comes around once in a career and allows me to better understand the Bollinger style that has been handed down through generations,” says Bunner, who participates in a large number of the tastings required to develop a new cuvée.

“My mission is to support Gilles Descôtes in his endeavours from grape to glass by showing respect for the terroir, keeping winemaking methods as simple as possible and always moving forward, for you start regressing if you don’t progress,” says Bunner.

Pierre Casenave (36)

Born in the Pyrenees, Pierre Casenave could have quite easily become a doctor rather than a winemaker, studying pharmacy for six years at the University of Bordeaux. During a stint studying chemistry in Pamplona, he had a light bulb moment and realised his calling in life was wine rather than medicine, leading to a degree in oenology from the University of Montpellier. Cutting his winemaking teeth in St Emilion, Pomerol and Stellenbosch in South Africa, Casenave joined LVMH-owned Champagne house Veuve Clicquot as a winemaker in 2008 under the stewardship of Cyril Brun and chef de cave Dominique Demarville.

“At Veuve Clicquot, I value the fact that no one claims responsibility for the quality of our wine as it’s a team effort and the result of a variety of factors and the contribution of so many people,” says Casenave. Taking an active role in the creation of blends across all wines in the Veuve stable, Casenave is particularly focused on producing Chardonnay from sites located in Vertus and Bouzy.

“Thanks to the vision of Madame Clicquot, we have inherited exceptional terroir that needs to be respected at each step of the winemaking process so that we can capture its quality, characteristics and expression,” says Casenave, adding, “As a winemaker you always have to question the work you’re doing, keep an open mind and strive for quality. For this reason, I’ll soon be flying out to Marlborough to visit Cloudy Bay, where I hope to broaden my winemaking experience and increase my knowledge.”

Vincent Chaperon (38)

Born in the Congo in 1976 to a winemaking family from Libourne, after earning a degree in viticulture and oenology from the Ecole Nationale d’Agronomie de Montpellier in 1998, Chaperon upped sticks to work as a winemaker in Chile, where he developed a passion for New World wines. Jetting back to France, he continued his wine education in Sauternes and at a number of garage wineries in Pomerol before joining Moët & Chandon in 1999.

With eight years as a winemaker at Dom Pérignon under his belt, Chaperon shares chef de cave Richard Geoffroy’s unwavering commitment to quality, watching over the house’s sparkling treasures with equal fervour. The passionate pair work side-by-side tasting, assembling and refining the wines they make and monitoring their ageing. “Oenology is a blend of empiricism and science, technique and art,” says Chaperon, adding, “Vine growing and winemaking open the doors to science, culture and history and help you to build a well balanced relationship with both nature and time.”

Ever restless, Chaperon is constantly looking for ways to improve his knowledge of Champagne’s terroir and how best to control fermentation and ageing. “Our profession requires great sensitivity. You have to know how to pamper and love the vines, and how to assemble them; that’s harmony,” he says. A keen sailor, Chaperon compares the experience of riding the waves to riding out a vintage. “At sea you are always on the razor’s edge, just as you are with Dom Pérignon,” he says.

Julie Cavil (40)

The daughter of a doctor, Julie Cavil wasn’t destined to be a winemaker, kicking off her professional career as director of customer relations for an advertising agency in Paris. Having met her husband at work, desirous of a change of scene, the pair packed their bags for Champagne in 2001.

Keen to learn the craft, Cavil studied winemaking at the University of Reims during which time she completed harvests at Moët & Chandon. Joining Champagne house Krug in 2006 as a winemaker and a member of the tasting committee, Cavil looks after Krug’s cherished single vineyard, Clos du Mesnil, during the harvest. “I bring passion and devotion to my role. This is a second career for me, which I sought out, so I love it with all my heart,” Cavil says.

She continues: “I want to continue cultivating Krug’s unique signature while at the same time maintaining the house’s position as both an aspirational ideal and a pioneer in the region through continued technological innovation.” Cavil is valued for her creativity and meticulous attention to detail.

She says, “Krug’s vision and principles reflect my own personal outlook on life. It’s very easy to arrive somewhere and shake up the status quo by making up your own rules and enforcing a load of changes. It’s much harder to take the time to understand someone’s vision in order to successfully integrate it into what you do. The winemaking team at Krug tackles this challenge every year through the recreation of Krug Grande Cuvée.”

Hervé Dantan (48)

Born near the Champagne village of Marne, a career as a chef de cave seems predestined for Hervé Dantan. The son of a grape grower, Dantan was always fascinated by the art of winemaking. After completing internships in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace, Dantan obtained a diploma in winemaking then jetted off to California to work for Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma for a year. In 1991, aged 25, he retuned to France to work for Mailly Grand Cru Champagne, where he stayed for 22 years.

Hungry for a new challenge, last year Dantan joined Lanson as joint cellar master, a post he shares with Jean-Paul Gandon. “I’m excited to have joined Lanson – working for one of the grandes marques is something I’ve dreamt about since helping my father in his vineyard as a child. I feel very lucky to be part of the team at such a prestigious house – it’s a privilege to discover all the secrets that go into creating Lanson’s house style,” says Dantan. Attentive and enthusiastic, he dedicates his knowledge and passion to perfecting the Lanson house style.

“My biggest aim is to respect the Lanson house style, which dates back over 250 years. Its secrets have been carefully guarded by generations of winemakers and I too will one day pass on the knowledge to my successor,” says Dantan. He adds, “Working for Lanson, I have a unique choice of grapes from many villages, a vast selection of reserve wine and a wonderful collection of vintages at my fingertips.”

Floriane Eznack (34)

Growing up in Charente, Floriane Eznack could have pursued a career in Cognac rather than Champagne. The daughter of diplomat parents, she studied at the Lycée in London before returning to France to complete a masters in oenology at the University of Reims, during which time she cut her teeth in the Champagne world via an internship at Moët & Chandon.

A stint at a cooperative in southwest France followed, though the lure of Champagne proved too strong and she returned to work at another house within the LVMH stable – Veuve Clicquot – where she beavered away as a winemaker for four years until the end of 2010.

Joining Jacquart as chef de caves in January 2011, Eznack plays a pivotal role in the creation of the house’s blends, from its brut non-vintage all the way up to its new prestige cuvée, Cuvée Alpha. “My work is very seasonal, which makes it rich and versatile,” she says, adding, “It’s impossible to influence the style of a Champagne once it has been bottled, so the ability to anticipate the evolution of a wine while you create it is key.

This process requires a lot of humility and forces you to question yourself. It’s a demanding job that I am constantly learning from,” says Eznack. In terms of the wine she is most proud of, Eznack flags up her brut non-vintage rosé: “It’s the most challenging wine to create as it has to be consistent in style and colour,” she says.

Elise Losfelt (28)

A sixth generation winemaker hailing from a family of talented female vintners based in Montpellier, Elise Losfelt was made winemaker at Moët & Chandon in September 2012. Fluent in French, English, Spanish and German, Losfelt has a masters in engineering as well as viticulture, which she obtained in 2011. Based in Epernay, prior to joining Moët, she worked as assistant winemaker at Domaine Portet in the Yarra Valley in Australia, Saint- Julien fourth growth Château Beychevelle in Bordeaux, and Bodegas Mortix in Mallorca.

Having worked as part of the winemaking team at Moët under the guidance of chef de cave Benoît Gouez for a year and a half, Losfelt is also a spokesperson for the oenology department and is responsible for communicating Moët’s winemaking initiatives both at home and in the house’s key export markets. Losfelt reveals: “Moet & Chandon is 270 years old, so keeping a keen eye on this heritage while at the same time constantly innovating in order to continue the success story of the house is one of the biggest challenges I face.”

Magalie Marechal (37)

Having graduated in 1999 from Reims University with a diploma in oenology and environmental studies, Magalie Marechal joined the winemaking team at GH Mumm and quickly went about helping the house to achieve ISO 14 001 certification. When Didier Mariotti was made chef de cave of the house in 2006, he was quick to appoint Marechal as his deputy to oversee an 18-strong team.

Sharing Mariotti’s enthusiasm for exploring new winemaking innovations and pushing the boundaries in a constant quest to improve quality, Marechal assists with the management of the entire winemaking process at Mumm, from the arrival of musts at the winery and the tirage to on-site laboratory analysis. “I’m fascinated by the balance between technology and artistry in winemaking. What I love about my job is that I have the chance to work in an environment that I’m passionate about with a team of people who share the same passion,” she says.

Marechal can often be found with the technical team researching and experimenting with new winemaking techniques and plays a crucial role in the blending process of the house’s flagship non-vintage cuvée, Cordon Rouge, each year. “Magalie and I work together on the initial Cordon Rouge trials and the pre-blending of the cuvées.

Having been at GH Mumm for many years, she understands the house style instinctively and can second- guess what I want to achieve. Her natural flair for blending plays an important role in creating the consistency we look for in Cordon Rouge,” says Mariotti.

Thierry Roset (50)

Patience, precision and passion are the keys to being a good cellar master according to Thierry Roset, who knows a thing or two about patience, having been made chef de cave of Charles Heidsieck in 2012 after 24 years of service to the house. Roset joined Charles Heidsieck in 1998 having completed internships at Louis Roederer and Moët & Chandon after graduating from Reims University with a degree in oenology.

Taken under the wing of revered chef de cave Daniel Thibault, Roset began his career working alongside Thibualt and Regis Camus monitoring the vins clairs and reserve wines. “I’m extremely proud to have been made chef de cave and hope to maintain the quality and excellence that my predecessors are known for,” says Roset.

In his new role, he has continued with Thibault’s tradition of including the cellaring date on labels of the house’s brut non-vintage, though as a means of putting his own signature on the house’s flagship fizz, he has made some subtle changes to the blend. Streamlining the number of vineyards used from 120 to 60, Roset has also upped the average age of the reserve wines in the blend from 8 to 10 years.

“The things I focus on when making wine are precision, complexity and time, which I like to think of as the fourth grape variety in Champagne. I am proud to be able to create wine for enjoyment and sharing, and will try and pass on that sentiment to my successor,” says Roset.

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