Interview with Quentin Beaufort

In Articles, Wine Writing, Winemakers & Vineyards by Paola CarlomostiLeave a Comment

 

Hi Quentin, I would like to bring you and your champagne to life in a somewhat unusual way. I like to talk about wine, and especially about champagne, but I like even more to "humanize" it. So I will  ask you some questions, some of which you can evaluate "unconventional", to which I would like you to answer me in an equally light and disenchanted way ... as if we were drinking a glass of champagne while walking through your vineyards.

1- Let's break the ice to put you at ease: what is the question you always wanted to be asked that no one has asked you? 

This is the first and worst question. However, we must respond.

Voila: "What is my point of view on the cause of left-handed people in the world? They are not right, they are said to be embarrassing, yet, with all the right-handers, the world goes wrong’’

2- Your vineyards are sort of in the "Middle-ground": Burgundy and Champagne. You buy the first vineyard in Côte d’Or, and then what happens? The first question many people ask me about your wine is "but is it a Champagne or a Cremant?". Let's clarify, give us a stylistic lesson.

I was lucky that my dad gave me vineyards in Champagne, in the Aube. Since we are several brothers and sisters, I had a fairly small property in extension, but that was enough for me anyway. At the beginning I sold my grapes to a company run by my brothers who produce André Beaufort Champagne. Since 2015 I have asked my dad and my brothers if I could keep my grapes and start making wine, hence Quentin Beaufort Champagne. N ° 9 corresponds to my ninth vinification in Champagne. I vinified the André and Jacques Beaufort de Polisy Champagne from 2002 to 2008. In 2007 we had the opportunity to find 1.5 hectares of vines in Burgundy 23 km from us, on the border with Champagne. It was impossible to buy in Champagne and the price was very attractive. We went from € 1,000,000 to € 50,000 / ha. It is less demanding (dangerous). In 2010, we were offered 5.5 hectares of property right next to ours and suddenly we no longer had the problem of the more conventional "chemical" neighbors. In this way, we had the opportunity to give these vines to our 5 children who, if they wish, can launch themselves into life, or rather into the vine.

The characteristics of the soil are very similar to those of Champagne. The specification is different. In Champagne, we only produce champagne, otherwise it would be a distillery (otherwise it is the distillery). In Burgundy, you can really downgrade the wine and make a sparkling wine. Our vineyards are in the Burgundy denomination and we can only produce Crémant. The denomination Crémant de Bourgogne is very vast, with strong disparities between the North and the South of Burgundy; Beaujolais is also allowed. You can get very powerful Chardonnay based Crémants, like a nice freshness with the good Pinot Noir, which I personally prefer, but not the Burgundians. Our wines are vinified in oak barrels for at least 7 years, so they could not correspond to this image, and I preferred to have a certain freedom, not claiming the appellation. I work with my brand, my surname.

So, I have my Champagne and my sparkling wine made like in Champagne, Le Petit Beaufort. Two well separated structures, with a cellar in Champagne and a cellar in Burgundy

3- Reading what others write about you, I was very impressed that they called your wines "timeless". They define you a misunderstood artist but with an innate ability to make everything damn light through your wine. Why do you think to give this impression?  In which way do you not feel "understood" , and if you were really an artist, what would your Champagne be like? For example, if I imagine your champagne as others see them, I imagine them as Chopin's Nocturnes, light and timeless. Yet when I drink them, I find them very rock.

It’s alive. The less you betray it, the more real it is. There are people who don't like it. And, there are people who are surprised the first time and who, from that moment on, can no longer go back. I had a client who said my wines were a drug. The vintages change and do not look alike, although we can find the "master's touch".

I don't know what the wine will really become after the harvest. I can have an intuition, an idea. Time will do the rest and will guide me in my wine making choices. We are always surprised. You have to adapt and above all not be formal. Surrender, always surrender ... Sometimes it is confusing, it frightens you, it surprises you. You can feel it in wines. The finesse and delicacy of some vintages can be linked to a particular care that year required and the least possible handling. A difficult vintage carries the risk of hardness.

Vintages like 2010, 2014, 2017 are very straight and maintain themselves wonderfully. 2011, 2015, 2018 are fatter and more rock. More austere 2013 and 2016 ... I still don't know 2012 (I only got 3 75 cl bottles from 8.5 hectares!) And 2019 is still aging in cask.

4- When we talk about Champagne we speak almost exclusively of the Reims Mountain, the Marne Valley and the Côte de Blanc. I would finally like to talk to you about the Côte des Bar and the Aube, always seen as the "son of a lesser God". Long-standing diatribes on the inclusion / exclusion from the AOC, champagne of a lower dignity, the fashion of focusing on minor historic vines (such as the arban and the petit meslier), vineyards necessary for the great Maison so that they can face the market at affordable prices for their base wine: is it all true or all false? Tell us the whole truth about the Aube.

The Aube has enormous potential that appeals to the taste of the world. A freshness that winemakers know better now than 20 years ago. The Nordic and Asian countries appreciate it very much. And of course, Italy too!

The price is slightly more affordable and we have less vigneron with more extensive properties. There are 2 generations of difference with Reims-Epernay winemakers. Alice's grandfather was the only one in his family who wanted to take over the vineyard. The winemaker normally was a tough job for the poor class. The vine is planted where nothing else can be planted.

With the Ambonnay's grape, we could have done a good assemblage with the wines of the Aube. It is like adding a touch of elderberry to the jam. Proceeding with separate vinifications from the beginning, we were very surprised with the Aube and the Champagne André and Jacques Beaufort Polisy. These are wines that would be easier to manage.

There are probably fewer differences within the Aube terroir than the Marne.

The wines with the so-called "minor vines" are very interesting, especially in the assembly, while they are more difficult to make and to find in single variety vinifications. Too bad that Gamay is banned, while before it was allowed. Of course with adequate yields.

5- About the big Maison and small vignerons: how are things really? Do you really live peacefully because you two satisfy two different consumer targets? Do you appreciate the big Maison because they have always been a flywheel for small producers, or do you suffer a little from the cumbersome presence? How does your style stand out? How are you different?

It is important that both are there. However, their economy is very different. The cost of producing champagne in large Maison is ultimately higher than buying grapes. The margin is mainly based on marketing for the big Maison. For the artisanal winemaker is exactly the opposite. The hours spent in the vineyard have no value, nor do all they can for commercial efforts, otherwise it would deliver blows. Economy of scale.

The fear I have is the ubiquity of some groups; LVMH with Bernard Arnault, represents the most important economic force in France (Moët, Cliquot, Krug, Ruinart, etc.). They can bring the little winemaker to his knees, setting prices and returns. They receive the grapes directly without taking into account the working hours necessary to produce them, and they can very well "transfer" them for free, outside the contract. This is why small producers need to produce some bottles to regulate and guarantee a market, but it is not easy or binding.

Personally, and thanks to my father's 50 years of experience in organic farming, my wine stands out from the others. The less we intervene, the more the wine shows its fruits, like the champagne of the past, before the 60s, before the pesticides. Often "the elders" said while tasting Champagne André and Jacques Beaufort that they had found champagne from their childhood.

I did an internship in Cramant where the winemakers produced more than 200,000 bottles of champagne, while dad, at the time, only sold 20,000, yet dad had more fame than they did. I made this reflection: why? In fact, when people buy a medium-quality champagne carton, they drink those bottles, happy with a dozen friends but without looking at the label. On the other hand, if you open only one bottle chosen from the other bottles you have, the effects are enormous. At that moment you don't just drink champagne, but look at the label...

6- Champagne has always been considered a technical wine par excellence. The Aube is almost predominantly converted to biodynamics and even Roederer with Cristal has made this revolutionary choice in the genre. Biodynamics and champagne is therefore possible. How? Is it a choice of style or more exquisitely a kind of weltanschauung? If there was a difficult year, do you think it is still advisable to keep the choice of non-intervention, or, as Roederer admits, intervention is necessary regardless of the dictates imposed by biodynamics?

It is a strategic and vital choice. For the big Maison there are first of all economic reasons, the side I don't like, but as they say here, once you have set foot there, the other foot is also good, and with time it will get better and biodynamics will become a raison d'etre. This practice has always been allowed in Champagne. The problem is production. At the time of my grandfather André Beaufort, they were happy when they harvested 4,000 kg / ha, or 25hl / ha, now, that's ridiculous. The problem of a large production makes the vine more prone to get sick; as if to say that the vine is obese and therefore tends to get sick more easily ...

You have to know how to handle the ups and downs. Nature is not an industry, and it doesn't always behave the same way.

What makes me laugh is that in 2001 I sent a CV to several champagne houses offering them my services to launch part of their vineyard in organic farming. The only ones who answered me and asked me to meet were Jacquesson and the Chiquet brothers. They just kept my CV. I had asked Roederer, Salon's Laurent-Perrier, Bollinger, Duval-Leroy, ... and here I fail.

7- Several times, I was corrected by the champagne producers when I asked which grape varieties they had chosen for the cuvée because the grape variety is not of absolute importance. The territory in Champagne wins over the vine. It's really like this?

The people of Champagne are very chauvinistic and don't like changes too much. However for them, their terroir is better than that of the neighbor.

Following two tornadoes in Burgundy in 2012 and 2013, I was forced to buy wine. In Burgundy there was none, and while I was looking for organic products, I found some in Alsace to prepare a special cuvée in sparkling wine. I worked 2 hours with 6 samples and made an assembly with 82% of Riesling (with 2 different rieslings, one mineral, the other fat), 12% silvaner and 6% of my wine. After a few years of bottling, I happened to blossom this bottle with my brothers, on the occasion of the children's birthdays. My brothers knew it, so I didn't say anything. Once, a sister-in-law, winemaker in Champagne Grand Cru told us that this champagne was very good...

...So, the grape...

8- Cuvée vs Millesimo: Provocative question: by reviewing some of the most famous Italian sparkling wines companies, you can note that the top labels tend to always be vintage, while looking at France this association between vintage and quality superiority is not at all obvious, so much so, it is true that many argue that the art of knowing how to make sparkling wines consists precisely in knowing how to combine musts to obtain the perfect cuvée. Why do you think in Italy we do not have the same consideration of blending that is often relegated to occupy the position of entry level product of companies? And as a producer which of the two schools do you feel closest to and why?

Vintage! It is very Beaufort. However, a good basic product is needed, namely grapes. When you cheat with nature, you have to cheat after winemaking. For example, an excessive amount of phosphate in the vines causes tartaric precipitation in the wine, therefore a re-acidification. When we put fungicides, we kill indigenous yeasts and we have to add industrial yeasts…

We can vintage each vintage and have the same style of wine. Why not assemble several parcels of the same vintage is far more interesting. Having said that, I am a big fan of blends but, from the point of view of the sale, it is much easier for the consumer to look for the sans année for the recognisability of the wine…

My father taught me to taste wine and I enjoyed these moments very much, like when I came back from college on Friday evening and took us to the cellar to taste all the parcels of Ambonnay and asked us to choose the best blend for the vintage. Also, very often, you had to blend  everything!

9- Volée or not volée? Very often I have witnessed the recommendation of a producer to do the ancestral method of keeping the bottle upside down, to accumulate the yeasts at the end of the neck of the bottle to expel them when opened. Is it an advice that you would give too? for what purpose? If  yeasts are indigenous, aren't they a precious surplus that fixes some primary characteristics of grapes at the taste?

Yes, à la volée, it's better. The deposit is a natural antioxidant especially when these dead yeasts are healthy and non-industrial. Wine gets old less and matures over time. 

Furthermore, when the bottles are "on the point", it is as if another cap is created which prevents the pressure drops and the exchange with external oxygen. The capsules are not 100% waterproof. Furthermore, I prefer and would like to work with caps rather than capsules as in the past, but it is expensive and more delicate.

It would also be ideal if the bottles were transported by holding them upside down, straight, and then shaking them a moment before opening. It would prevent the wine from being shaken too much during the trip, but it is very complicated to manage a cardboard thus conceived and therefore, you have to find real samples for disgorgement!

10- Global warming is also affecting seasonal trends in Champagne inevitably. What has changed, how do you expect Champagne to change and what are the measures you take to limit the damage?

For me, we should speak more correctly of climate regulation rather than heating. On a human scale we see changes, but I think that "on a scale" of the planet could represent a cycle.

Yes, change to Champagne. In this regard, I find that PDOs make serious mistakes by not letting the vines evolve hand in hand. Both in terms of diseases and in terms of climate change. We remain on the vines that become senile. When you transplant a vine plant, you stay on the same genome that is over one hundred years old. It is like always cloning the same human. It would have been necessary to work with anomalies and be able to find the same style and, suddenly, we would have witnessed the evolution of diseases and climate. It's a great job, but it's the natural evolution of things

11- Definitely "politically incorrect" question: every time I speak with any French producer, I realize that there is a rather limited knowledge of Italian wines (except for iconic wines such as Barolo and Amarone). Why do you think honestly? Assuming that they are different wines that reflect a different territory, in your opinion: does the classic method convince you? Which Italian sparkling wine producer do you find most similar to your palate, your style?

Yes, knowledge is very limited. I learn gradually, except that sometimes I forget the names of the wines. When I came to Rome, I tasted many Italian wines and enjoyed Calabrian and Sicilian wines very much. Obviously I already knew Brunello di Montalcino, Barbera d'Asti and Barolo.

There is a profound difference from the style of French wines, regardless of the different grape varieties. What surprises me most often is the freshness of many Italian red wines. On the other hand, I have only tasted an Italian sparkling wine in Colmar once ... A really low quality Prosecco, but they told me that they produce excellent ones, but I have not yet had the opportunity to taste them.

I think you can make good wine both with the classic method and with the ancestral method. It has already happened to me with hot vintages to make a semi-ancestral, or even an ancestral with residual sugars for Le Petit Beaufort. The wine doesn't change much.

12-Tell me an anecdote that comes to your mind of the last years spent in the vineyard. A memory linked to a vintage. Or if you went through one of those moments when you say to yourself: "My job is tiring, but I would make this choice a thousand more times!", Or that you said to yourself: "It was better to live in a big city..."

No, I will never be able to live in a big city. It's nice to spend some time there, more in Rome than in Paris personally, but if I had to change I would be in the countryside and would prefer to work on the roofs, it would be very pleasant and perhaps I would feel more free. I am quite wild.

I often want to quit. Very often. What I appreciate most about my job are the people I meet: fanatical customers (perhaps even too much), farmers who work in the vineyards and often live in their trucks ... And the view of my vineyard on the plain, the landscape .. .

Once a green lizard looked at me as I passed the plow. We stayed a few minutes looking at each other. It was the first time I saw one and we are on the territorial border where it is possible to see one. My stepfather told me that he saw some during his childhood, but now no longer. Apparently, it was a female who stayed in an old Roman wall that passed right over our vineyard. It must have been in 2014 or 2015. I saw another one at the 2019 harvest in an empty grape box.

Alice e Quentin Beaufort




 

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