Piper-Heidsieck’s Chef de Caves Émilien Boutillat on life in Champagne.

I’m on a Zoom with Émilien Boutillat, the youngest Chef de Caves appointed to a Champagne House, and one who has brought his barrel-aged wisdom and curious palette to the world of Piper-Heidsieck since 2018.

For someone who grew up in Champagne and raised on his father’s Pinot Meunier vineyard, the desire to understand the complex world of wine making began very early on.

“I had the chance to see what my father would do on the vineyard and it left an impression on me,” says Émilien Boutillat.

“I saw him prune regularly and it spurred a deep and strong connection to champagne,” he says.

“We all feel passion for our region, but to grow up in Champagne, well it took leaving to really appreciate what we have in this part of the world and how special it is,” says Boutillat.

The 35-year-old left his hometown to study in the south of France at the School of Agronomy of Montpellier focusing on oenology and viticulture. This gave him a rounded perspective on what it takes to make great wines and better understand grapes.

Boutillat honed his skills at Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Côtes du Rhône at Domaine de la Solitude making both whites and reds, then joined Chateaux Margaux in 2009 where he explored traditional viticulture with organic and biodynamic winemaking.

His first job outside of Europe was in New Zealand, where he joined Mud House Wines learning about maintaining quality with increased quantity. Then came stints in Chile, California and his final pitstop South Africa. But all roads took him back to Champagne.

“Even though I was in Champagne and in the centre of it all, I wanted to open my mind and travel and see the wine industry through a broader lens,” he says.

“I wanted to meet other winemakers and see their approach and look at how the climate impacts what they create,” he says.

“I did have Australia on my list of places to go to, and I did apply to work there, but the offer came through from New Zealand first so I took it.”

Boutillat says working at Piper-Heidsieck ticks all the creative boxes for his passion to make the best champagne in the world. He’s curious, a risk taker and approaching champagne with a renewed vision in these climate impacted times.  It’s a satisfying job that’s steeped in history as much as it is driven by a desire to be a modern revisionist in the champagne world. He is the new generation of chef de caves that the old guard are paying attention to and no two working days are the same.

“Champagne has a long history, and with that comes tradition which you need to respect as it’s part of who we are and what we are known for,” says Boutillat.

“But I think it’s important to find freedom in this world, and Piper is the house that has always had a pioneering spirit since the beginning. They have always wanted to twist tradition, to implement new ideas and new wine making practices. It was a good match for me because what I wanted to bring back to Champagne, I found it worked for Piper,” he says.

Boutillat is fiercely protective of his region, and his defiant French spirit means the final product in his hands is world-class. The Champagne House became B Corp certified on his watch – the first in the region to take the lead and made possible by Boutillat himself.

“The main challenge for us and for champagne today is climate change,” says Boutillat.

“We face more spring frost; more drought and the maturity of grapes is happening quicker.  Extreme weather means we have to look at that carefully and adapt what we do. As the grapes are riper, we need to preserve the freshness of our champagne, so it means treating the ground so it can preserve the acidity and now we plant deeper,” he says.

“Picking dates are very important and key to this process, but we need to pay attention to the maturity. It’s instinct as much as it is working with the unpredictability of climate,” adds Boutillat.

Piper-Heidsieck will return as a sponsor of the Australian Open 2024, a partnership that has seen the brand’s market presence increase 20% on the previous year.

“Australia is a big market for us and the Australian taste and desire for champagne fits to the Piper philosophy and style,” says Boutillat.

“We have a shared desire for sustainability, and while the traditional champagne drinker in France is older than those in Australia, we have a connection to celebrating joyous moments with a quality champagne.”

https://www.piper-heidsieck.com

 

 

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