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  • Writer's pictureMona Elyafi

Champagne Diebolt-Vallois: The Quintessential Expression Of Some Of The Côte Des Blancs’...


Located in the in the grand cru village of Cramant in the famed Côte des Blancs, Diebolt-Vallois is a family-owned Champagne house that has successfully cemented its reputation and standing on the world stage with the help of their very own single superstar: Chardonnay.

While the Diebolt-Valllois’ winemaking history dates to the 1500s, the Champagne House as we know it today, was born out of the union of Jacques Diebolt and Nadia Vallois in 1959. A family heritage, Diebolt-Vallois has been a family-run operation for three generations.

The house’s magnificent vineyards are predominantly situated in the prestigious Grand Cru village of Cramant and the premier cru village of Cuis – home to outstanding chardonnay, the house’s emblematic grape variety. Their collection of vineyards extends as well to Chouilly and the Côteaux d’Epernay which shelter some very old vines. Champagne Diebolt-Vallois also grows black grapes, both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, sourced from the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bars for their outstanding House Style cuvée, Tradition.

The magic of Champagne Diebolt-Vallois is resting underground in the stunning wine cellars Jacques Diebolt built in 1978 which are carved into Cramant’s iconic chalky hillsides.

It is home to the Maison’s reserve wines that are aged in vats and/or casks and craft exceptional chardonnay-centric champagnes known for their authenticity, character, energy, creaminess, and elegance.

Each plot on the estate is vinified separately. Fermentation varies depending on the cuvée and is typically executed in thermostatically controlled vats or wooden barrels.

All their wines go through malolactic fermentation apart from the house’s Prestige Cuvée, the Fleur de Passion.

One of the most respected and iconic producers in the Côte des Blancs, Jacques Diebolt along with his wife Nadia, his children Arnaud and Isabelle, and grandchildren Ophélie, Philippine and Guillaume is still, with great panache and gusto, steering the house into an exciting and promising future, leaving a legacy unmatched in the industry.

Today Champagne Diebolt-Vallois continues to put the Côte des Blancs on the map in the world of Champagne. Their highly coveted range of exquisite champagnes elicits the quintessence of the best chardonnay-led terroirs. The emblematic white grape remains distinctively engraved in the house’s DNA and history.

I originally discovered Diebolt-Vallois’ champagne, Tradition Extra Brut, when I first ventured into Cary’s MUST-GO-TO local wine store, Great Grapes. It was love at first sip!

I cannot recommend it more enthusiastically. Blending elegance, refinement, minerality with aromatic finesse loaded with notes of nuts, honey, ginger, and marzipan, this highly expressive champagne is an absolute gem.

It was pure joy to conduct this interview with the Diebolt-Vallois family.

My eyes light up immediately when I see their champagnes. The label itself has become a seal of quality and the guarantor of an exceptional champagne moment.

Diebolt-Vallois is the beautiful union of two families. Can you retrace the history of the House?

The union between Jacques Diebolt and Nadia Vallois gave birth to Champagne Diebolt-Vallois.

Nadia is from Cuis and Jacques from Cramant. Nadia’s ancestors were winegrowers in Cuis as far back as the 1500s. Jacques is the son of a carpenter whose Alsatian ancestors were as well carpenters for more than 200 years. The first Diebolt member arrived in Cramant in 1871.

Jacques’ mother was the daughter of a winegrower in Cramant and they owned 2 hectares of vines. That inspired him to become a winegrower. His grandfather showed him the ropes.

Family-owned champagne houses are becoming scarce nowadays. How hard is it to run the family business? From Jacques and Nadia to their children, Arnaud, and Isabelle, how does each generation shape the reputation, image, and future of the house?

Nadia and Jacques had their first harvest in 1959, then Arnaud joined them followed by his sister Isabelle. Thereafter the family expanded their vineyards and the number of bottles produced witnessed an incredible evolution. Today, and for some time now, the third generation is in place with Ophélie and Philippine, the daughters of Arnaud. Their cousin Guillaume (son of Isabelle) is still in school studying viticulture and will come back to Champagne soon. Each new generation is beneficial to the house; it brings new ideas, ambition, motivation, desire, professionalism and above all joy and happiness while respecting the image and tradition of the maison.

Diebolt-Vallois is also the expression of two villages Cramant (Grand Cru) and Cuis (Premier Cru) located in the Côte des Blancs, heartland of Chardonnay. How does the identity of these historical terroirs express itself in your champagnes?

Cramant produces a chardonnay that differs depending on where the plots are situated – these are wines that are balanced, mineral, creamy, with a non-threatening acidity and with a real charming character. Cuis is situated North-East on soils that are deeper and produce fine wines, sometimes with an acidity that commands a longer ageing time, but bring a youthfulness and freshness to the cuvée, especially in the part of Cuis planted on the South-West side where the minerality derives from the soils where chalk abounds.

Your elaboration process remains extremely natural with a very artisanal approach. How far the human intervention is necessary in the champagne making process to remain respectful of the vineyard’s identity and the grapes it delivers?

To respect the typicity of a terroir it is important to perform a cool fermentation at 15 degrees, which we master with our thermos-regulated tanks and barrels, especially when the volume of our cuvées is important. The same applies when it comes to malolactic fermentation which is not systematically performed but rather according to how sunny the year was. It is never done on our prestige cuvée “Fleur de Passion”. The choice should never mask the diversity of the terroirs. New barrels and wooden casks that are too tannic are not recommended. That is why we use second-hand barrels that have vinified three white wines in reputed areas of Burgundy. We also pay extreme attention of our parcels. We separate at harvest time, at the pressing phase and through the vinification process. It is only during the blending process that we blend all the different clear wines. This is an extremely crucial point for us as we’re in perpetual pursuit of quality and excellence.

Let’s talk about your prestige cuvée “Fleur de Passion”. How do you define this unique cuvée which you nicknamed the “Jewel” of the house?

It is 100% chardonnay using grapes from our oldest vines in Cramant (55-75 years old). They are pressed and put in oak barrels for the first fermentation (from September til March). No malolactic fermentation and filtration are done on this cuvée. The champagne ages on lees for a minimum period of seven years. Then we also have a few family secrets we of course won’t reveal. This cuvée is produced in very small and limited quantity. It is a vintage and the first one was vinified in 1995. Ever since we have not changed the recipe of this mythical champagne.

Your portfolio is primarily built on 100% chardonnay-based champagnes except for your emblematic cuvée, Tradition, which is composed of the 3 main grapes (Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). What dictated this choice?

It is not necessarily a choice. It is all about the production of our vineyards located outside the Côte des Blancs, planted with predominantly black variety grapes. We find it amusingly interesting to have elaborated a successful cuvée composed of the 3 grape varieties for our entry-level signature style champagne in contract with the rest of our range which is 100% chardonnay.

The charm and unicity of the Récoltants-Manipulants is in the diversity of their champagnes, as opposed to most of the Big Maisons that religiously produce their flagship cuvées (ie: a consistent style). How do you define the Diebolt-Vallois identity/philosophy?

Our goal is to always do better. The Diebolt-Vallois spirit and motto is to always fully invest ourselves to produce the best possible cuvées from our qualitative vines predominantly located in the prestigious Côte des Blancs. Also, our soil knowledge and expertise when it comes to vinification allow us to make the best choice and inform our decisions which is all reflected in our diverse cuvées.

You are committed to respecting the environment and practice the “Lutte Raisonnée” (sustainable viticulture). Can you elaborate on some of the methods you adhere to combat climate change and how it influences the quality and taste of your champagnes?

We are not certified organic because it is too constraining and most importantly it is impossible to put in place during the years when we must deal with mildew and/or other harsh/catastrophic climate vagaries. Also, high oidium make organic viticulture ineffective.

The philosophy is good and noble but not perfect. That said respecting the environment is our priority which is why we use organic products on almost the entirety of our vineyards; we stopped using pesticides and insecticides for the past 22 years and work our soil in all our plots.

To not be certified organic allows us the freedom to rapidly respond to the needs of our vineyards and take the necessary measures to save our harvest. It’s not always simple to work with the weather and nature.

80% of your champagne production is sold abroad. It’s easy to find your champagnes here in the USA (for my greatest pleasure). What is happening with the French market? How do you explain this disparity when you are known to be one of the best producers of the Côte des Blancs?

This disparity when it comes to export and the French market happened naturally. We work with distributor around the world. Our biggest markets are Scandinavian countries Sweden, Norway, Denmark. Italy is also promising market. Regarding France, our clients are primarily wine stores, restaurants, hotels- we don’t work with big commercial distributors.

Is there a question I have not asked you, and you wish I had. If yes, which one?

Jacques, founder, and grandfather took it to heart to answer this question and said:

The question I wish you had asked me is:

Is the Diebolt-Vallois legacy ensured?

The answer is YES.

If Isabelle and Arnaud are at the helm of the Maison, our grandchildren are already at their side: Ophélie (agro engineer), Philippine (Master Wine & Spirits) and Guillaume (three years of wine/Viticulture studies and currently in Tasmania).

Three generations work together in perfect harmony ensuring a promising future.

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