How would you define the style of Pol Roger champagnes in general?
In a bottle of Pol Roger wine, you will find complexity but also finesse. The complexity stems from its blending. Our non-vintage brut wine is composed of a third of each of the Champagne grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, 70-75% from the current harvest and 25-30% reserve wines from the 3 previous years.
Today (2017), we sell the 2011 base, bottled early 2012 which represents a long stay in the cellar for a non-vintage wine.
The fact that we use a lot of grapes issued from the best terroirs (Grand and Premiers Crus) also gives a lot of complexity to our non-vintage wines. Add to this our quality cellars that have a rather low temperature resulting in a slower second fermentation and you will get smaller bubbles.
The use of the first pressing is as well key to the final quality.
Pol Roger is one of few remarkable champagne brands which still remains to a family business. To which extent this situation favors the process of winemaking and marketing?
I am the Chairman of the Board at Pol Roger. Hubert de Billy, member of the board, is part of the fifth generation of descendants. His father, Christian de Billy is the Chairman of the supervisory Board and his sister, Evelyne de Billy is in charge of the vineyard.
These people live in the company, they pass their values to their children, to their brothers and sisters, to their cousins. This way, at Pol Roger we keep striving for excellence, to the extent of our means and by following a profitable model. Family shareholders can understand that a human size for a company is a good size.
But if we wanted to expand later, we would need access to more quality grapes. Today everyone in Champagne is looking for Grands Crus and Premiers Crus in the Côte des Blancs and in the Montagne de Reims. This is the reason why it is difficult to find grapes that would enhance to produce more High-End Champagne. Expansion should not be done at the expense of quality.
We have to be careful not to go above our means and our capabilities. If we do, we will need to change our distribution network, our sales people, our communication and probably change customers too. Eventually I think we can grow at the same pace as our industry.
We do not want to be the best known but to be known by the best. All decisions although carefully though have an immediate effect.cIn addition, our sourcing is extremely stable with over 90 hectares or 55% of the grapes coming from our own vineyards (or our family shareholders’ vineyards).
The rest coming from long term contracts (we sometime source the grapes from the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those who already supplied Pol Roger 50 or 60 years ago).
All decisions are taken very quickly and are… easy to implement. Family environment, means that we are not having the daily pressure of financial markets to develop the brand at the level of a commodity. Pol Roger is a Champagne for “Connaisseurs” and for “Wine lovers”.
Is there a minimum of knowledge needed to understand champagne as a customer? If so, which keywords you would name?
The most important is that our customers do enjoy our champagnes when they drink them. It is our duty to please them with a style they like and they recognize!
It is our duty to produce a style which is consistent year after year! The only knowledge should be the knowledge of us as producer, to aim for the excellence.
Which differences regarding the preferences in taste you could observe between continents?
Great Britain and north of Europe may prefer Champagne with more time after disgorgement (6 months to 1 year). South of Europe (Italy, Spain, Switzerland…) may prefer Champagne with less time after disgorgement.
Some new markets may prefer higher dosage (sweeter taste). As far Pol Roger is concerned, all our Cuvées are exactly the same with the same dosage, and post disgorgement ageing wherever is the destination (i.e. France or one of the more than 90 countries where we export to).
LVMH diversifies now and will establish an online shop for their products. Although distributors and agents still are important, would an online shop makes sense for the future?
I do not think it does make sense for us. We still strongly believe that the Wine Trade is a “People Business” and that Pol Roger’s success couldn’t exist if we do not have the ambassadors who are our sales people, importers, distributors, sommeliers, retailers. They are communicating the Pol Roger spirit, they are part of the Success Story!
With whom would you really like to open up a bottle?
With anybody who is in the mood of taking the time to enjoy a shared pleasure.
Winston Churchill is deeply integrated into Pol Roger´s brand image. Each new vintage of the Sir Winston Churchill Cuvée is submitted to the family for their approval. Which requirements are essential to fulfill the families expectations?
It is right! Every new vintage of the Cuvée is presented to the Churchill family for their approval. Their expectations are our expectations!
We do our utmost to reproduce a style of Champagne which would have pleased Sir Winston Churchill if he was still alive, using grapes coming only from Grand Crus which were under vine at his time, predominantly from Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay.
As Churchill said (borrowing the words from Oscar Wilde) : “My tastes are simple, I’m easily satisfied with the best!”
Since the very first vintage (1975 released in 1984) until the current vintage (2006 which is the 16thvintage of the Cuvée), the Churchill family has always been giving their blessing!
To elaborate champagne is every single year a challenging and exciting moment. Every decision made, set another variables free to get to the final champagne. Tell us what do you associate in terms of disgorgment and dosage related to Pol Roger?
After a long ageing on lees, the disgorgement is a critical point. At Pol Roger, we process a mechanical disgorgement for the 75cl bottles and a disgorgement by hand (à la volée) for the other sizes. In every case you can find the disgorgement date on the outer case.
We release our champagnes after a minimum of 3 to 6 months after the disgorgement for the Brut and the vintages and 6 months to 1 year for the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
The dosage is 8 to 9 gr/l for the Brut Réserve, 7 to 8 gr/l for the Vintage Cuvées and the Churchill , 0 gr/l for the Pure and 34 gr/l for the Rich Non Vintage.
What has been your biggest surprise and success since you are the president of Pol Roger?
Definitely when Pol Roger’ Brut Réserve has been selected to be the Champagne served for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
What is in personal terms your perfect champagne / wine moment?
Any new occasion of opening and sharing a bottle with friends, family…
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