When Great Minds Meet
KNOWN FOR ITS CRISTAL CHAMPAGNE CREATED FOR CZAR ALEXANDER II OF RUSSIA, ROEDERER IS ONE OF THE RARE FAMILY-OWNED INDEPENDENT CHAMPAGNE HOUSES. CEO FRÉDÉRIC ROUZAUD IS A SEVENTH-GENERATION DESCENDANT AND STANDARD-BEARER WHO HAS SHOWN A CERTAIN DARING VISION IN CREATING THE BRUT NATURE 2006 CUVÉE WITH STAR DESIGNER PHILIPPE STARCK.
- By Stéphane Le Duc
How does one prepare to write the future when one comes from a family with such a storied tradition?
My whole childhood was spent amid the sights and smells of the vineyard and the grape harvest. All the passion and energy my father channelled into his craft rubbed off on me. When I turned 15, I began taking part in the harvest and all the related activities. It wasn't long before the product's highly physical, sensual and magical aspect made a strong impression on me. Champagne is quite magical indeed when it is made with the intent and desire to create something new and fresh, through daily obsession with countless details and the harvest of grapes that are increasingly sophisticated with each passing season. It is a passion that becomes second nature. Even if at age 20, working with my dad was the last thing I wanted to do.
What do you retain from the past, and from this tremendous legacy?
We hold on to many traditions, because making champagne is a slow undertaking. The craft as a whole is very slow. The grapes that go into making Cristal are at least 25 years old. So we plant a vine and we wait; we wait a quarter-century, for the vine to be sufficiently established, for the roots to make their way deep enough into the soil to enable us to start making viable grapes. They must be good enough to make our biggest wine: Cristal. In terms of aging our wines, we have four to five years' worth of inventory in our cellars, seven for Cristal. The whole experience of time here is pleasantly languid, completely at odds with the notion of time in the outside world, where everyone is in a hurry. But while we have to work with nature's inertia and the aging process, we need to counterbalance that through constant evolution. You need to consistently be creating and reinventing yourself in different areas, and there's no time to lose. This is the paradox of my trade.
Cristal is known even by infrequent champagne consumers. Can you grasp why a wine becomes iconic?
First of all, Cristal was created way back in 1876, so the family has been at it for quite a while. Second, the wine was specially commissioned by an iconic figure, Czar Alexander II. This gave the brand a notoriety that has continued to this day. Third, it has always been made in extremely limited quantities, using the oldest vines from the top terroirs and the best vintages. And finally, Cristal is unmatched in its taste, identity and sophistication.
You've collaborated with one of today's hottest designers, Philippe Starck, to create a new champagne – not for the sake of publicity, but as a genuine endeavour.
I was a big fan of Philippe Starck, not only for the objects he creates, even though they are always sure to be innovative and cutting-edge, but also for his work in hotel and restaurant design. I've always liked his ability to design places that have such a strong identity while avoiding repeating himself. We first met at a cocktail reception. He told me he loved champagne and that he drank only natural champagne. As it so happened, I'd been entertaining the idea of one day making a zero-dosage (i.e. natural) wine ever since I joined the Roederer team in 1996 and we had the terroirs to make that possible. I told him that if he was interested, I was working precisely on that type of a wine. He said he'd not only design the label for us, but that what he enjoyed most was actually participating in the process itself and acquiring a deep understanding of the product. So I introduced him to our cellar master, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, who is not someone who is easily won over.
Was your encounter magical?
Philippe and I had a wonderful encounter and we've become friends. It's enriched both our lives. He has brought us a burst of creativity and new ideas that has opened up really interesting possibilities and avenues for reflection. In the end, the Brut Nature 2006 Cuvée represents two convergences: between a historic terroir and a remarkable year, and between a creative genius and a great champagne house built in 1776.
The Louis Roederer and Philippe Starck Brut nature 2009 is available at saq.com for $109.