It is so easy to take Champagne for granted. As soon as we see the bottle, we anticipate the percussion of the popping cork and the bubbles ebulliently dancing in our flutes. But I was recently reminded by Régis Camus, Chef de Cave (Cellar Director) at Piper-Heidsieck, that Champagne does not begin its life in such a dramatic fashion. All Champagnes actually start their journey as a still white wine known as a Vin Clair. Each season, Champagne producers taste and combine the Vins Clairs to create the blend that will ultimately undergo the second fermentation and requisite aging to blossom into a bottle of Champagne.
For an unprecedented eighth time, Piper-Heidsieck Chef de Cave Régis Camus was named “Champagne Winemaker of the Year” in 2013 by the International Wine Challenge. Clearly, he's mastered the art of blending! (image courtesy of Piper-Heidsieck)
Crafting a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck is akin to solving a beautiful puzzle. Let's use 2014 as an example. When non vintage bubbly crafted from the 2014 harvest is released in a few years (probably in 2018), the blend will consist of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier that was tasted and meticulously assembled by Camus and his team when the wines were young and still. It will also include a bit of wine from the Piper Heidsieck reserves (2008 and 2009). This process is known as assemblage and countless combinations are tweaked and rejected. It requires an incredible amount of talent, experience, and patience to look into the crystal ball and anticipate how that blend of Vins Clairs will taste after aging and the second fermentation that creates the bubbles. Camus said that very little talking happens during assemblage - when they all smile, they know they have succeeded in creating the final magical blend that is consistent with the Piper-Heidsieck house style.
Is it any wonder why Champagne is so revered? From the vineyard to assemblage and beyond, so much goes into crafting this most special of wines that requires no effort to enjoy. To truly appreciate the delicious puzzle that is Piper-Heidsieck, pop open a bottle of their Brut NV ($45) - it is a lively Champagne with fine bubbles, a lingering finish, and balanced flavors of citrus, pear, brioche, and minerality. Cheers!