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  • Writer's pictureMona Elyafi

Champagne Royalty Virginie Taittinger On Establishing A Champagne Label With Her Own Name...

Updated: Jan 28, 2023


The story of Virginie Taittinger is indisputably one of legacy, transmission, and true passion.

The name Taittinger needs no introduction. There are champagne family businesses, and then there are champagne family dynasties. Taittinger is one of the latter. With 289 years of champagne making tradition under its belt, it carries great royal prestige in Champagne.

A patrimony that Virginie Taittinger certainly continues to uphold. The champagne heiress continuously perpetuates the captivating bubbly narrative that has marked the Champagne world it, along many other historic Maisons de Champagne, came to define - world-renown, bold, elegant and pétillant – only now she does so under her own marquee: Virginie T.

The daughter of Claude Taittinger, CEO of TAITTINGER for 46 years, and Catherine de Suarez d’Aulan, whose family-owned PIPER-HEIDSIECK from 1851 to 1988, Virginie Taittinger was naturally inclined to take the champagne torch. Born and raised in Champagne, France, the prestigious frothing wine runs in her DNA. With well over two decades working side by side with her father Claude Taittinger at the famed Maison and honing the champagne making skills from vine to bottle, following the sale of the group, the bold female entrepreneur broke out as a solo act in 2008 to launch her own namesake champagne house.

Joined by her son Ferdinand Pougatch, since 2015, the pair has been successfully carving out its own niche choosing a system of exclusively on-line distribution via its own platform to favor direct sales, which guarantees ongoing direct dialogue to provide a ‘Haute Couture’ level of customer service.

“It is a rare and beautiful privilege for a mother to have the opportunity to share her savoir-faire with her son,” says Virginie Taittinger.

The mother-son duo prides itself on crafting cuvées from grapes harvested at the heart of one of the finest vineyards in Sillery located at the foot of the Montagne Reims. Virginie T produces modern and innovative Grandes Cuvées, each with its own identity and style, like a perfumer craftsman!

Virginie Taittinger, who has dual French-Belgian citizenship, operates the business from her home in Etterbeek, Belgium, where she also serves as a local councilor.

Nurtured by nearly 200 years of Champagne family history, suffice it to say Virginie Taittinger has a rich past filled with fascinating stories and events. It is quite an immense pleasure to be able to chat with her and hear her share HERstory.

You come from a long line of prestigious winemakers in Champagne.

Can you tell us more about your lineage & legacy?

It is true that I come from two great Champagne Houses by my father but also by my mother. Indeed, my mother is Catherine de Suarez d'Aulan, whose family-owned PIPER-HEIDSIECK from 1851 to 1988, and my father was Claude Taittinger, former president of Champagne Taittinger. I was born in Reims, grew up there, then studied there, and finally worked in the family group for more than 20 years, so I was immersed in the Champagne heritage you mentioned.

You made your champagne debut working alongside your father, Claude Taittinger - such an iconic figure in Champagne.

What has that experience brought you? What are the most valuable lessons you learned?

My father taught me the tools that I use to build my own legacy. If he had given me recipes, they might have been useless! Along with time, the wines and the soil change. This is especially relevant with climate change that strongly affects our crops. Back then, my father was the master and I, the apprentice. Today, working with my son is a wonderful opportunity for the transmission of the love for Champagne, and the love for the Champagne region.

Understanding a wine, observing the vine and nature, developing one's taste, finding one's style are all lessons that are passed on from one generation to the next. We make everything together, with Ferdinand, which brings an exceptional diversity and symbiosis to each champagne and to our House.

With such a rich & history-filled heritage being a family member of two prominent champagne empires, Piper-Heidsieck & the third-oldest champagne house Taittinger, what was your reaction when Taittinger was sold to Starwood Capital Group? Did you feel like a long family- tradition had abruptly ended?

No, quite the contrary. Each generation is a pioneer: starting with my grandmother after the war because the Piper House had been sequestered by the Germans due to weapons hidden in the cellars by the resistance. After the war, there was nothing left. My grandmother, as a widow, set up her own house all by herself.

My father developed Champagne Taittinger with his brothers in 1948. Then, thanks to the sale, I was able to create my own house with my son. Together, we are true craftsmen. We elaborate each of our vintages in limited series with priority to the taste.

Was that the motivating factor for you to launch your own champagne brand, Virginie T., in 2007?

In a way, yes. Because today I am passing on to my son Ferdinand the courage, the sense of entrepreneurship and the passion for Champagne that my father, Claude, taught me for over 21 years at Champagne Taittinger. We are still moving forward according to our family motto, “Bien-faire, laisser dire”. We are proud to be the pioneers of a Champagne House dedicated to new and future generations of enlightened consumers who are thirsty for modernity.

What is the meaning behind the name Virginie T? Other than the T being the initial of your last name, is that a play on word for “virginity” or in French, “virginité”?

The pun was not intended, but the reference to my whole history in the Champagne region was obvious and somewhere along the line a new story began.

As a female-owned champagne brand what were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in launching your house?

I believe we, as women, cruelly lack self-confidence! I seriously asked myself many times: “Am I capable for this?”. I was lucky to work with a captain who was called Monsieur Claude Taittinger. Following the captain isn’t the same thing as being the captain. Today, my son gives me wings, and we take decisions as a duo. I’ve always had faith in the power within the duo. I think that together we take better decisions than alone. Man and woman makes a complete duo. And, mixing generations brings diversity, it’s rich.

Carrying a famous family name and being a woman is an obstacle. Bankers, investors, will tell you that building your own company is a very difficult task, that you’re not aware of what’s coming. And it’s true. But in the end, thank God that I didn’t know exactly what challenge lay ahead. Otherwise, I would’ve never gotten started! We need courage and little naivety. But courage is essential, otherwise you don’t take the leap of faith.

But the first obstacle is me. In a way, the presence of my son reassures me. I knew I could help him create the maison de Champagne of tomorrow. My goal is also to address the consumers of tomorrow: the young, new consumer has changed a lot since my generation.

I read that legal restrictions established during the sale of Taittinger, prevented you from using your last name; but after you engaged in a legal battle, the courts ruled in your favor. What was that experience like, and how important is the name Taittinger for you? Is it a curse or a blessing as an independent champagne brand?

It’s hard to live. To be sued by a family relative. And it’s costly. The time you could spend to build your business. Well, I guess building your business also means renouncing many hours of sleep! However, I never really understood this legal battle. My activity is that of an artist, “un artisan”, which is so much smaller than a large group. And the law made me justice: no one can prevent me of putting forward my own curriculum. 21 years at TAITTINGER alongside my father… no one can take it away from me.

This legal battle was very trying for me morally and financially but now it's behind me. What's important is the credibility that the 21 years of apprenticeship with my father at TAITTINGER gave me. “Le champagne c’est ma vie!”

What was your reaction when Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger (your cousin) aligned with Crédit Agricole du Nord Est to buy back the Taittinger Champagne House? That move that took the wine world by surprise, putting the house back in control of a Taittinger family member. Did you have any desire to join back the family enterprise?

Those banks help maintain a certain equilibrium in Champagne. It would have been terrible to have the house sold to an obscure character overseas… So Credit Agricole was responsive to the demand of my cousin. He who has had a great career at Champagne Taittinger. I have a lot of admiration for the steps Pierre Emmanuel has made. He modernized the house for a new era and has intelligently paved the path for the transmission to his legacy. But Pierre Emmanuel did not want to have other family members in Taittinger champagne, he preferred to take on non-family shareholders. And finally, I thank him for having dismissed me because without that I am not sure I would have created my own company.

You’re quoted as saying that your main goal in launching your champagne house was to move away from the traditional distribution channels and become the pioneer of “champagne 3.0”, meaning existing strictly online adhering to a direct-to-consumer approach. What inspired you to make that move?

We can’t deny going online is a new way to sell and get known. We still have a lot of progress to undergo. It’s not easy. And, as a craftsman in Champagne, it feels natural to get in touch with the consumer in a more direct manner. We do niche work and try to offer a service of collaborations and especially vintages with a particular style and taste.

It's a niche to which I address my champagne. For most, partying with a bottle branded with a big name is enough. But the consumer I’m targeting is more subtle. Everything I do is subtle. When you produce millions of bottles per year, your wine has to taste “normal”. But my cuvées are not comparable. I work with the grapes the soil gives, so what is in the bottle is limited. There might not be any more next year! Because every “vendange” is different. And that’s fair. At least the one who enjoyed a specific Blanc de Blanc, have enjoyed it while it lasted.

You ship within Europe (the UK, Belgium, Germany and France) but recently I noticed that here in the US Total Wine carries your brand. How did that expansion come about?

This expansion was born out of an opportunity that we seized, and today we have been recognized by Wine Enthusiast and intend to maintain our presence in the United States. The originality of our wines and the story of VIRGINIE T. seduce the American market and we are proud of it. Without forgetting that in America we are also present in Mexico where we are developing in the “haute gastronomie” sector.

During your time at Taittinger you were in charge of the house’s international Public Relations department. How have you been able to parley your PR skills into your new business venture especially with the development of social media? Has it proven to be helpful in reaching new demographics and markets?

We were a small team. 7 or 8 people. I was the marketing director. Everyone was involved in the decision making, from l’étiquette to the blends. For my father, the opinion of everyone had value. We all shared the management of the company, and every monday, we had a dégustation with a certain theme. In the end, I believe I had to forge my own role at TAITTINGER. If the company was a plant, my father was the trunk and I was a branch. And it’s not easy to find some space as a branch. I once had the opportunity to get to grips with exports, travelling, animating wine saloons, etc. And I had a lot of fun talking and making passionate people smile. This activity came with great freedom too.

I naturally like to be in the field, in contact with customers, tasting and presenting our house. I used to do it for Taittinger and today for our house. It's rare to have the head of the house, the person in charge of creating blends, to present his own cuvées to the customer. I am an authentic person. I love what I do and I love talking about what I love. And I can repeat myself… doesn’t matter! I can talk my talk for hours. I believe it’s a skill that I’ve trained too. Not many champagne directors are champenois. And even fewer can, or even want to, talk about their job!

It’s all in the family! Your son Ferdinand joined the Maison in 2015. How has the mother-son duo relationship made for a successful family business?

2015 was full of drama. An employee left with a bag of cash. He had all my confidence, but I got betrayed. That hit me hard. And I lost some motivation after that event. Thankfully, a short time after that, my son arrived and took the lead very quickly. What a blessing, and a great kick of motivation. Thanks to him, I remembered what I was doing and why. It was rock-bottom and his arrival it’s only upward.

I saw my son was taking pleasure, too. And I’m very proud he managed to make himself a space in the milieu. The champenois loved him and adopted him! His character, kindness, his humor… I didn’t intervene in that process, and it’s beautiful because he was loved from the start.

Like most parent and child relationships, it is about dialectic and balance, and those are also pillars of a business. We both have the passion of champagne, and me starting the business was meant to be joined by my children. We complete each other in business and in champagne. My son has the vision, the energy, and the business and technical skills, I have my experience, my vision and my taste. Together we agree, we discuss, and we work, all of it makes our strength and our success. Our personalities, our relation mother and son can also be founded in the flavors of our cuvées since we do them together.

What do you hope his legacy will be. How do you see his generation move Champagne toward a bright and exciting future?

A bright and exciting future, I can clearly see. Ferdinand arrived at VIRGINIE T. when it was probably at its all-time worst. Since then, it’s only been on the upside. Today, we have our own vines. We have foothold in champagne, can receive guests and present our savoir-faire, our products at the source. There is more to come, something big, for us in Champagne. I can’t tell you now but it’s very exciting.

Now let's talk about your champagnes! Can you tell us more about your cuvées? I know Pinot Noir is the dominant grape, but what would you say are your signature styles in the elaboration of your champagnes?

Our signature is long aging and the majority of Pinot Noirs. Each cuvée is thought out in terms of aromas, vintage, quality of the vintages and the bubbles. From one cuvée to the next, we highlight the brio of the Champagne know-how: the blend.

Let's illustrate my words with the complexity of our Brut. Produced from the 2008 to 2011 harvests, composed of 70% Pinot Noirs, 20% Chardonnays and 10% Meunier, it is also a blend of 12 crus, mostly Premier and Grand Crus. The vinification of each cuvée is done separately before blending and then aged for a minimum of 7 years on lees. This rigor is our trademark, it allows us to find the unctuousness of the pinot noirs and their structured side, the blend of several vintages gives it a lengthy finish, and the chardonnays bring a touch of freshness.

You craft your champagnes with grapes from some of the finest vineyards in the Montagne de Reims. Can you tell us more about these Grand Cru and Premier Cru classified vineyards?

We own vines on the Montagne de Reims in Verzenay and Verzy Grand Cru, and it is the particularity of the terroir that makes the appellation; indeed, the champagne vines are a world patrimony, and that thanks to the quality of the Champagne soil, you must have noticed that this year 2022 represents an abundant harvest whereas other appellations in France have suffered great damage because of the heat wave. The Champagne soil is characterized by its richness in chalk. The chalk plays a determining role in the exceptionality of our terroir. It retains moisture and reflects the sun's rays towards the grapes and stores heat during the day and releases it at night, which catalyzes the ripening of the grapes. Its mineral-rich and porous nature allows the roots of the vine to sink down to draw out the best minerals.

A wine classified as a Premier or Grand Cru is a guarantee of both quality and of origin.

Our job is to express its complexity and power. that is why we are so proud of the brut which is composed of Grand Crus and Premier Crus, it becomes the guarantee of the quality of a champagne house, the starting point of the Grandes Cuvées.

What is your favorite champagne moment?

I like all my champagne moments but there is always a more suitable champagne to drink depending on the time of day, the accompaniment, my mood... it's a bit like choosing a golf club for me, each club has its own place.

What is the one question I haven't asked, and you wish I had?

Which qualities do you need to make good champagne?

To make a good Champagne you need courage, taste, perseverance, savoir-faire, love of the product and its region, but above all you need to have a great “joie de vivre” because Champagne is all about loving life and its happy moments!

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