During his brief time in Portugal, Clovis Taittinger spoke exclusively to Essential and weighed in on the last 10 years at the helm of the famous Champagne house
Founded in Reims in 1734, Taittinger is a globally renowned Champagne brand. After being acquired by the American private investment company Starwood Capital Group in 2005, it went back into family hands a year later. Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger is currently the president of the house, relying on the support of his family, including his daughter Vitalie Taittinger, artistic director of the brand, and his eldest son, Clovis Taittinger, who is export manager. Essential got the chance to speak with the latter to find out a bit more about the current state of the luxury drinks world in general and the company in particular.
After a career linked to financial consultancy and later working in the real estate and hotel industries, Clovis put his heart and soul into the family project. As of 10 years ago, the man who is also deputy director of Taittinger has helped safeguard the identity of a house that spans 280 years of history. For Clovis, quality, consistency and creativity are three key words that have contributed to keep the brand in a leading position in the sector. After all, Taittinger is in sixth place globally, owner of the third-largest property in the Champagne region, covering almost 300 hectares.
“There is no space for fear.” His words leave no doubt that he sees this decade at the service of Taittinger as a true adventure, but also as a constant learning curve. “I’m still young. The assessment I make is that I know that I don’t know. I think if I have learnt something about the last 10 years, or even before, is that quality is always paid. Quality is consistency; consistency in the relationship, in the vision, in the attitude.” For that same reason, his biggest challenge has been “to make people believe, to make people more creative, more passionate”. He adds: “We are our own worst enemies and I think it’s an everyday mission to make people use their own capacities, to make people dream, to make people love.”
Clovis believes that working in an independent family business brings some advantages that one probably wouldn’t find at other brands associated to large groups. “The decision is very quick; the relationship with people is direct. You’re free to speak, to act, to do things, but the main challenge is to use this freedom.” It’s this family spirit and the freedom that comes with it that he assures is essential for the success of the brand. “We don’t work alone. We all work together for others, for the customers, partners, final consumers… Despite being a company linked to tradition, inside the company we can be crazy, creative and fun, as well.” According to Clovis, Taittinger evokes a bubbly spirit, so bubbly in fact that its growth has been constant, especially in the last six years – the house currently produces around 6 million bottles per year.
But what makes Taittinger so different to the rest of the Champagne brands on the market? Clovis is assertive in his answer: “Champagne Taittinger is made by Mrs and Mr Taittinger [Clovis’s parents], so it’s a quality commitment, and for me that’s a big difference in terms of approach.” And the goal is clear: “The aim of our company is really to be a leader of quality over quantity, focusing on the craftsmanship, on tailor-made products and a family relationship with our customers and partners.”
Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) and Comtes de Champagne Rosé (70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay) are indubitably the stars of the house. The first is the maximum expression of the spirit of the brand, made from the best harvests of Côte des Blancs and aged for 10 years. The second is considered the Maison’s rarest Champagne, produced in limited quantities and only in the best years. Its rarity is owed to the percentage of red wine (between 12% and 14%) in the mixture. Clovis describes these drinks as light, fresh and consistent. “You can drink Taittinger from the morning to the morning!”
More recently, the company set its sights on England. The brand acquired around 70 hectares in Kent, making it the first French Champagne house to produce sparkling wine in the United Kingdom. Domaine Evermond is the name of the project that Clovis believes is yet another adventure. “This project came from the fact that England is the number one nation of sparkling champagne and it is two hours from Reims, so it’s very manageable. It’s a wonderful land to produce sparkling wines, so we said to ourselves ‘why not?’. I mean it’s an adventure in a country which has great knowledge of sparkling wines and which is very close to us.”
As for the possibility of England being a possible rival to Champagne, Clovis disagrees. “They are different. I don’t see a competition, just as I don’t see competition between Portuguese wines and Argentine wines. Instead I see more offering. They have their own trends, fans and customers. At the end, they buy what they really want.”
In truth, Taittinger has experience in producing sparkling wine outside of France, more specifically in California, in partnership with Kobrand Wine & Spirits. Under the label Domaine Carneros, this is one of the few Californian sparkling winemakers to use the méthode champenoise (secondary fermentation in the bottle), exclusively using grapes from the region.
As for the brand’s connection to Portugal, Clovis professes his belief in Europe. “Taittinger has been in Portugal for a long, long time. I want to continue to develop a strong relationship with the country.” He’s equally optimistic about the future of luxury drinks in general: “I think the future is promising and the trend is for people to drink less but better. There will always be a space for good brands and we’ll see more quality long term. I believe in quality and I believe in the future. I’m very optimistic.”
For his brand to remain successful, the strategy is “to work more and better”, says Clovis. “I want Taittinger to incarnate a good quality Champagne, to remain independent and to be even closer to the wishes of our customers.”