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Interview with Bertrand Lhôpital – cellar master [Champagne Telmont]

Björnstierne Antonsson

Björnstierne Antonsson

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Every bottle tells a story. What’s Yours? Every week we interview people in the world of Champagne on their iconic bottles. Now & then TheChampagneSommelier will interview some of the true people of Champagne. He will ask a few questions about their company, their profession, current trends, etc.

We had a bubbly chat with Bertrand Lhôpital, Cellar Master from Champagne Telmont in Damery. Merci Bertrand

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

BIO

Bertrand Lhôpital

Head of Viticulture and Cellar Master

Over twenty years ago, in 1999, Bertrand Lhôpital was given the keys to the century-old family house by his father Serge. He has since devoted his life to his legacy with a strong conviction: his viticulture will be green and virtuous, respectful of the environment and its winegrowers.

Bertrand Lhôpital is determined to preserve the quality of his champagne rather than focus on the quantity of his production. His attention remains on the vines of the Telmont estate, protecting its soil and respecting the terroir. His research is directed by his ecological and environmental awareness, which is premature in the champagne world : Bertrand stops the use of herbicides within the estate and, in 2014, starts the organic conversion of some the it’s plots.

Bertrand inherited his family’s passion, know-how and visionary ambition. The Lhôpital family values are what captured the attention of the Rémy Cointreau group, which recently acquired a majority share of the house of Telmont and will be accompanied by Bertrand, who remains Head of Viticulture and Cellar Master in order to lead together this virtuous mission.

CHAMPAGNE TELMONT

according to Richard Juhlin

Henri Lhopital started selling champagne in 1920, but house status was not obtained until 1952. Until very recently, the company was run by the Lhopital family, but in 2021 Rémy Cointreau took over and the portfolio is just changing with new president Ludovic du Plessis. They are now making a conversion to 100 % organic.The company owns 25 hectares in Cumières, Damery, Romery and Fleury, but buys most of the grapes. The company has a very varied set of wines and several prestige champagnes. The prestigious champagne Blanc de Blancs Vinothèque is a pure Grand cru from Avize, Mesnil and Chouilly. 100% oak barrel and cork wrapped with string in Dom Pérignon fashion. Classic elegant and clean with charming sweet yellow pineapple-like basic notes. Long and juicy fresh except in the slightly dry 2005. The new portfolio will be different but for a start its mostly repackaging under the wings of part owner Leonardo di Caprio. A serieous house indeed to follow in the future.

The interview

Describe yourself in a few sentences!

‘As Cellar Master and Head of Viticulture at Champagne Telmont, I oversee the vinification and elaboration of our House’s champagne from vine to bottle. I believe that to be an accomplished Cellar Master, it’s essential to be a good winegrower first. I was handed the reins of the House by my father Serge Lhôpital in 1998 – I represent the fourth generation of the founding family of Champagne Telmont. It was important for me to carry on the values of my family and their respect for their terroir while following my personal intuitions. With a focus on the earth and prioritizing quality over quantity, I began the house’s conversion toward organic agriculture, and this is one our main objectives today.’

How did you get into the champagne profession?

‘From an early age I was inspired by my father and grandfather’s passion for wine. It was a passion that I quickly came to share and pushed me to pursue my studies in agronomy and oenology.’

Since Your Champagne company started, how many chef de caves have Your company had ?

‘My family has always felt fiercely protective of our vines, our terroir, and our “Champenois” heritage. Henri Lhôpital, my great-grandfather,founded his own champagne house in 1912, following the 1911 champagne riots. During theriots, Henri penned the hymn “Gloire au Champagne”, urging wine growers to uphold the high-quality standards of Champagne. Three generations of winemakers and cellar masters have since carried on the torch: my grandfather, my father and myself.’

How would You describe Your ’house/producer style’ and how do You achieve it

‘My objective is to create beautiful wines that remain true to the Telmont style, while remaining a constant reflection of our terroir, different year to year. I seek to create wines that are characterized by their finesse and elegance. The quality of our wine starts with the quality of our grape. That’s why we choose to spend more time in our vineyards than in our cellars. As I learned from my predecessors, I am constantly assessing how I can ensure the highest quality of grape – a question that involves both loyalty to my terroir and humility in the face of nature. I am affectionally called the ‘grapefather’ by members of my team! At Champagne Telmont, we believe that the wine will be good if the earth is true.’

What role do grape varieties play in creating Your style ?

‘Chardonnay helps to bring the characteristic elegance and finesse to our champagnes, whereas we turn to Pinot Noir to add structure and bring out crisp fruit aromas.  Pinot Meunier is the grape variety renowned in our region, (Vallée de la Marne) and an integral part of our wines. It adds to the roundness of the champagne blend, tempering any overpowering acidity and helping to produce a supple, balanced wine.’

What do You think of the current trend of ’terroir champagnes’ made of single parcels ?

‘I think the creation of ‘parcellaire’ or single parcel wines is a very interesting exercise. Though important not forget that champagne making is unique in the art of blending, ‘parcellaire’ cuvées can give us the opportunity to express the virtues of one specific plot of land through a cuvée.’

2020 was a very special year. What’s Your idea of the near future for Champagne in general ? 

‘To us, sustainability is a priority. We wish to preserve and protect our terroir, our grape quality and keep perpetuating the century-old traditions of champagne making. Fortunately, it is a vital subject that is being discussed, addressed, and researched by the players of the Champagne region. We are encouraged by the current shift of mindset in the region with the key players starting to adhere to stricter regulations and stronger sustainability ambitions.’

‘In June of 2021, the House of Telmont unveiled our environmental ambitions ‘In the Name of Mother Nature’: carving an exemplary path towards a 100% organic house and reassessing our production methods to reduce impact on our natural surroundings. We are passionate about each one of our commitments as we believe they all will contribute to the preservation of our planet for generations to come. Stopping the use and production of gift boxes (the best packaging is no packaging), ceasing the use of transparent bottles which are made of 0% of recycled glass in favor of only classic green champagne bottle made of 85%of recycled glass, the transition to 100% renewable electricity, the evolution of our value-chain to reduce emissions, the intensification of transparency and the preservation of terroir and biodiversity …’

What else do You drink apart from Your own Champagnes ?

‘I appreciate different types of wine. For instance, I can enjoy a beautiful wine from Bordeaux or Burgundy, but also enjoy discovering other wine regions.’

Which Champagne would You treat a dream guest, and why ?

‘A guest of the House of Telmont is either a supporter already or is generally keen to discover our wine and our key sustainability objectives, including our plan to convert all cultivated areas to organic agriculture by 2031 (our vineyard and those of our partners). Therefore my choice would be to open our Réserve de la Terre cuvée, the first organic champagne of the House released in 2021, as it is the result of over a decade of commitment, dedication and hard work. I carry a lot of pride for each individual bottle of Réserve de la Terre and enjoy sharing it with our friends of the House. Our Réserve Brut is also one of my favorite cuvées, and systematically open a bottle with all of my guests, which we enjoy on its own or accompanied by a selected a food pairing.’

PS2 [ what piece of music would you listen to drinking Champagne with Your dream guest ? ] 

‘Nabucco de Verdi’

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