CHAMPAGNE IS A TERROIR
in conversation with
Philippe Jamesse
Head Sommelier, Les Crayères, Rheims.


Les Crayères Head Sommelier Philippe Jamesse is doing far more than overlooking the two Michelin stars restaurant 15,000 bottles cellar, managing relations with the numerous winemakers and advising the restaurant’s clients: he is a taste architect. His fine expertise and experience plays as a creative interface between the clients wishes, the gustative requirements of a highly subtle cuisine, and the winemakers qualitative approach of their products. All this makes he’s able to advise on the right wines, to the right person, drawing tastes synergies to build unique experiences, always leaving its part to surprise. rawness met up with Philippe Jamesse to understand the changes arising in both the winemaking style and the clients approach, and why Champagne is telling a new story, focussing on the terroir and the naked identity of its wines.


What is your experience in wine and in Champagne more specifically?
«I have quite quickly been immersed into wine after completing a degree in the catering field, and more specifically in this fantastic region of Burgundy , the land of Chardonnay, named Côte des Blancs. There, I’ve first learnt the ethos of what would become my profession, then trained and step-by-step built my own taste for wine and cuisine.»

What are the different facets of Champagne wines?
«Champagne wines are the major reason I always had a great pleasure being here at Les Crayères. They are multi-faceted wines one often have great difficulties to understand completely. Champagne are very complex and subtle wines. This is coming from their making process that gives them a third dimension: the sparkling. With the other wines, one can make ageing forecasts or anticipations. With Champagne, the making process offers a lot of diversity and makes this quite impossible: the winemaker hand steps in numerous times during the maturing process and completes this process with different timings for the same wine. The same wine can have different release dates on the market, therefore a different maturation and adjustment in the dosage, if any. All those elements make Champagne is a multi-faceted and complex product. There is always a surprise, nothing is set, what is very exciting and what gives Champagne wines an advantage on the taster. Another facet of Champagne comes from the word itself which resounds internationally as a wine of celebrations and pleasure, but also encapsulates the terroir values, as the hand of the winemaker plays a score on both the cepage and the terroir. Champagne winemaking is today focusing on precision and pureness as well as the climatic and geologic richnesses. There is a creation dimension,  there is a truly artistic feel in the Champagne making process.»

How do you work with the Chef, Philippe Mille?
«Philippe makes a very interesting, sophisticated and product-driven cuisine that offers a very progressive feel in the tastes release process. His cuisine pairs Champagne wines perfectly, revealing and enhancing them, the sparkling multiplying tastes indefinitely. Another thing is that I have this fantastic option -like the chef de cave who raises his wines for 3, 5, 8 years or more- to keep the wines in the cellar until I feel they are ready to be served. This is a philosophy I have chosen in order to respect and continue the vine-grower and winemaker labor, who have themselves chosen a qualitative production, sometimes  within an organic or biodynamic process. It may happen that even once released, the wines need some time to be carried to their best, and that’s what I do. A caring vine growing, winemaking and maturing process is obviously the best way to deliver a great wine. Champagne wine still has a great latitude until it wins its spurs in gastronomy, as it is too rarely considered as a gastronomic wine, a desired complement of fine cuisine. Yet, in many countries outside France, Champagne wines are already considered as such: in the Scandinavian countries, Austria, Japan, there is a quite impressive gastronomic-oriented Champagne culture.»

What is the trend in the Champagne making and consuming ?
«The Champagne appellation is changing. Generally speaking, the wines are going finer and finer with more precision in the blends and more purity in the final product. So on one hand, Champagne wines have never been as good as they are today. On the other hand, consumers are asking for more identity, what producers translate into better mirroring their terroir.»

Do you feel any change in the clients behaviours and requirements?
«We clearly see that clients tastes are changing and they’re asking for a clearer focus on the terroirs, the wines true identity. And these wines profiles are far more interesting if we consider the cuisine. The wines are naked, close to their real identity and their intrinsic nature, and this is splendid!»

What is a right and responsible wine?
«The vision of a fair, a true wine is all about allowing Nature do its work and step in as little as possible.»

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photo courtesy: les Crayères, Rheims/ CIVC, Epernay.
1.Philippe Jamesse © Les Crayères
2. 5. collection CIVC © Frederic Hadengue
3. 4. 7. collection CIVC © Michel Guillard
6. 8. 9. collection CIVC ©  Alain Cornu