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Claude Taittinger’s daughter goes solo in Champagne

Virginie Taittinger, once the 'princess' of her family's Champagne dynasty, has returned to the scene with her own cuvee.

The daughter of Claude Taittinger has 800 private customers in Western Europe signed up to her direct delivery service for ‘Virginie T’ non-vintage Brut and rosé Champagnes, with the Brut priced at GBP29.5-a-bottle for first time buyers via her website.

Her aim is to double the number of customers in the next year, she told decanter.com during a visit to London this week, while also announcing that, as of this month, she has her own winery in Sillery, near Reims.

Once referred to in press circles as the ‘princess of Champagne’, Virginie worked alongside her father in the Taittinger dynasty for 21 years. But, she left at the same time as him in 2006, not long after Starwood Capital gained control of the business in a deal worth EUR2.6bn.

‘I was disappointed, because I realised that all of the family wanted to sell, and it was a part of my life,’ she said. ‘I was famous, and part of me liked being at a high [social] level.’

In early 2007, the family returned to the business alongside Credit Agricole, with Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger taking a 37% stake in a new-look Taittinger.

But, Virginie Taittinger said she had already decided to branch out, at least partly to escape the ‘comfort’ of Taittinger. Not working, she added, was not an option. ‘I was too young to retire, and too old to be drunk every day.’

She added, ‘first, I had to wash my mouth of the Taittinger flavour. I studied all of the Champagne country, from Cotes de Blancs to the Vallee Marne to Montagne de Reims.’

Opportunities to source high quality grapes are slim in Champagne, but the 2008 global financial crisis damaged confidence among the Champenois and provided an opening for Virginie Taittinger’s solo project.

Now, she sources 85% of her grapes from Grand Cru vineyards. Of 150,000 bottles produced from the 2009 vintage, around 50,000 are being held back for a vintage release and the rest is non-vintage Brut, constituting around two thirds Pinot Noir and one third Chardonnay.

She has also produced 5,000 bottles of rosé from that year, although this has since risen to around 12,000 and she anticipates production growing to 20,000 in the next few years.

When asked about her family’s opinions of her business plan, she said it took her father some time to regain an interest in Champagne after his 45 years as head of Taittinger ended. ‘He did not want to talk about Champagne. For him, when the page is finished, it is finished. He is not a nostalgic person.’

However, she described her mother as ‘my best customer’ and said her enthusiasm sparked interest from her father. ‘I wouldn’t say he gives his opinion, but he has always tried to find little things that can be improved. He has always been very positive.’

Regarding the future, she said she has no plans to produce a Grande Cuvee, because ‘I am too old and it costs too much money’, but a 2009 vintage release is expected next year and she has recently launched a Brut Magnum.  

Written by Chris Mercer

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