Meet the Maker: Ludovic du Plessis, Champagne Telmont
The creative force behind the newly invigorated, century-old Champagne house, Telmont, talks to Douglas Blyde about his uncompromisingly green vision…
What is your vintage?
I was born in Paris in 1974 which was unfortunately not a great year for Champagne. However, I have enjoyed some beautiful eaux de vies destined for LOUIS XIII from this year.
Who has been a mentor to you?
Without hesitation, Richard Geoffroy, the cellar master of Dom Pérignon for twenty years and a real star in this business! Meeting with him was a moment I will never forget; his charisma drew me in immediately and I instantly wanted to work with him.
What did you do before the Telmont project?
I have dedicated my career to the world of luxury wines and spirits for nearly twenty years. After a decade at Dom Pérignon and Moët & Chandon, I joined LOUIS XIII cognac as Global Executive Director in 2014. LOUIS XIII’s key raw material is time – the very long time needed to make an exceptional Cognac. At the time, I liked to say that at Louis XIII, we think a century ahead. And with this in mind, I imagined creative initiatives which would materialise this incredibly special relationship to time. This is how we came up with the very innovative “100 years” campaign: we shot a movie, featuring John Malkovich, and recorded a song with Pharrell Williams. But they will only be released in 2115 and in 2117 respectively. Thinking a century ahead requires patience. Another example, still pertaining was the work that LOUIS XIII and The Film Foundation sponsored to give a new life to the “Broken Butterfly” movie. The screening of the restored movie, a moment which I shared with Martin Scorsese, was deeply moving.
Tell us something surprising about yourself?
I was almost nominated for an Academy award. All jokes aside, I once played a role in an Amanda Sthers movie called “Holy Lands”, and was lucky enough to cue the legendary James Caan.
How did you identify the Telmont Champagne house as being ripe for reinvention?
Finding Telmont was a blessing which came after months of screening many Maisons. Telmont was really what I call the “Belle Endormie”, a Sleeping Beauty which had everything I was looking for: a century-old house, a traditional family business, it made incredible wines, and had already started its organic conversion. This house had everything to succeed for the next one hundred years.
How have you repositioned it?
Firstly, preserving terroir and biodiversity, with the objective to convert our entire vineyard to 100% organic agriculture by 2025, and to support our partner growers to achieve a full conversion by 2031. This entails renouncing the use of all herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers; it constitutes a major breakthrough for Champagne, where today fewer than 4% of the vineyard is certified organic. The second pillar of our project is to generalise eco-design: we focus on “the bottle and nothing but the bottle”, and have banned all production or use of outer packaging or gift boxes. Because the best packaging is no packaging! Our job at Telmont is to make Champagne, not giftboxes! This constitutes another breakthrough, going against industry standards, but it is the only course of action consistent with our deep convictions. We have also stopped using transparent bottles, made with 0% of recycled glass, and systematically use green bottles made with 87% recycled glass – and which are fully recyclable. And we are currently working to reduce their weight, because less glass means less CO2 emissions. The third pillar is the transition to 100% renewable electricity and to promote the use of green energy sources for all our activities. The fourth initiative, perhaps being the most ambitious, is to thoroughly overhaul our logistics chain, upstream and downstream, to limit greenhouse gas emissions indirectly related to our business. For example, we completely stopped using air transport for supply and distribution. Our bottles are shipped by boat to overseas destinations. transparency and traceability: each of our bottles is numbered, and our front labels contain all information regarding the composition of each vintage, the sourcing of the grapes, and production details. The front label is like the identity card of our wine. We believe our clients are asking for that. But the most important – the wines we produce – have not changed at all. Telmont has been making extraordinary wines since 1911 with a very recognisable signature, a perfect balance between tension and freshness, a structured body, yet ethereal. This is the spirit of Telmont, and it will never change.
Do you hope other Champagne houses will follow your lead in sustainability?
Of course. To us, sustainability is a priority, because we wish to preserve our terroir, our grape quality and keep perpetuating the century-old traditions of Champagne-making. Fortunately, it is a vital subject which is being discussed, addressed, and researched by the players of Champagne. We are encouraged by a current shift of mindset across the region, with the key players starting to adhere to stricter regulations and stronger sustainability ambitions. Many of them are already supporting biodiversity, but this is no longer enough; we need to act now, to shift massively to organic viticulture, and to stop all unsustainable practices that are superfluous and lead to useless carbon emissions. So yes, we really hope that other Champagne houses will follow in this path, that they will stop giftboxes, stop air freight, stop transparent bottles, use lighter bottles. We need to change the game!
What expressions of Telmont are available?
Our range is composed of:
Blanc de Blancs 2012
Blanc de Blancs 2013
Blanc de Blancs Vinothèque 2006
Blanc de Blancs Vinothèque 2005
Blanc de Noirs 2014
Réserve de la Terre
Are they available via restaurants as well as retail?
Telmont is available in both retail and restaurants, in carefully selected establishments in the main cities of the world: London, Paris, Tokyo, LA, Shanghai, Geneva, Miami and New York, to name a few. All our wines are also available via our online shop.
What have sommeliers said of the revitalised Telmont expressions?
Our collection as a whole has received very positive feedback from key audiences around the world including sommeliers, wine critics and Michelin-starred chefs. Our non-vintage cuvée, Réserve Brut is emblematic of our house and is one of our most popular across all markets. The House’s first certified organic cuvée, Réserve de la Terre, proved to be incredibly sought-after, further engraining our ambitions to convert 100% of Telmont Estate’s cultivated areas (both owned parcels and those of our partner winegrowers) to organic agriculture.
How does art apply to Telmont?
We endeavour to make obvious the connection of our work with culinary art being immensely proud of what we are doing with several Michelin-starred chefs, including the “green stars” who share our commitment to the earth, including: Akrame, Florent Pietravalle, Josselin Marie and Claire Hetzer.
What is the connection between Leonardo DiCaprio and Telmont?
I met Leonardo fifteen years ago and we became good friends. His commitment to the planet is well known; his taste for wine is also very good. When I took over the Maison with the Rémy Cointreau group, I asked him: what about joining this adventure? Needless to say, he was immediately enthusiastic about the vision. Then he tasted the wines, and was even more keen on joining us! It is truly a privilege to count him among our shareholders. For the team at Damery, and for all the winegrowers working with us, it is a source of great pride. Leonardo came to Damery a few months ago. What a moment! He was truly interested to see how we are carrying out this project concretely because he shares the same passion for a green revolution that drives us at Telmont. His support will help us go faster in our transformation, it will also enable us to reach a broader audience, and to give more traction to the change that we want to impulse in viticulture.
Is Telmont the Champagne of Cannes?
This has nothing to do with Leonardo, but Telmont has indeed been the Champagne of Cannes for the past two years. For us, it’s an honor to contribute to celebrate filmmaking creativity. We consider it a recognition for our winemaking efforts and a testimony that our message “In the Name of Mother nature” has been heard, as Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate of the Festival, said: “We want the Festival to be exemplary in terms of respect for the environment. And Champagne Telmont combines a demanding elaboration process with the preservation of nature. This singular approach, adopted by the hundred-year-old house, and the unique character of its Champagne, won us over. We are thrilled to have Champagne Telmont on-board for another year.”
What is the Telmont Champagne tailor in Damery?
Some time ago, there used to be at Telmont a specific offer, the “Atelier De L’Oeonologue”, where visitors could make their own cuvée, with a specific assemblage. This activity is on hold for the time being, and is undergoing a thorough revamping. A new version of the atelier will be released soon.
Can Champagne Telmont change the world for the better?
We can and we will! I don’t want to sound pretentious, but what we are doing at Telmont is very ambitious. We are starting a green revolution, taking bold commitments, with no compromise. It is tough, but we are super motivated, and we are not alone. Wine growers, green star Michelin… are joining us, a community around our project In The Name of Mother Nature is emerging. Actually, I believe that each of us can make a difference, either by changing small things in their daily habits or by undertaking grand projects. The future is what we will make of it… And I am working to make sure that there will still be great Champagne wines to drink in a hundred years!
Telmont Champagne (uk.champagne-telmont.com) is available from Selfridges.