Eminent Champagne winemaker Daniel Thibault has died aged 55, after a long illness.

Thibault had worked for Champagne Charles Heidsieck since the age of 29, remaining a key member of the management team when the house was taken over by Rémy-Cointreau in 1985.

Born into a family of grape growers in Verneuil, a few miles from Epernay, Thibault was steeped in Champagne lore. He consolidated this by studying winemaking at the University of Reims, and joined Heidsieck soon afterwards.

After the acquisition by Rémy-Cointreau Thibault stayed with the group, and when Piper-Heidsieck – up to then a separate house entirely – joined in 1987, Thibault worked to make both marques synonymous with premium-quality Champagne.

Thibault was highly respected in Champagne, and was not afraid of testing the boundaries in what is a conservative industry. One of his innovations was mise-en-cave – the method whereby a non-vintage Champagne is date-marked. Every new bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve non-vintage Champagne now shows a date on its label – the year it was laid down in the cellar.

A tribute released by Heidsieck yesterday said, ‘Being the passionate, just and demanding man he was, he worked on the elaboration of Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck wines, which brought international recognition for these two Grandes Marques.’

Thierry Gasco, winemaker and cellar master at Champagne Pommery said, ‘Daniel was an inspiration. He was totally committed to the Champagne appellation, to the wine and to his company. He was honest and straightforward. He was spontaneous, dynamic, creative, imaginative, tenacious and always listened to others. Behind a hard face, he was a great-hearted man with real sensitivity. I will never forget him.’

Written by Adam Lechmere28 February 2002