Growing up surrounded by champagne vineyards it was perhaps inevitable Charline Drappier became a champagnoise. Now the house’s North American Sales Manager she chats with our Big Apple champers man
Article by Kyle Riddington courtesy of Kyle’s champaganemademedoit blog
Raised in a tiny village, living and working with three family generations where the playground was the vineyard and the plough horses were the family pets, meant Charline has earned a professional degree in champagne by merely living there for just over two decades. However, don’t let her upbringing fool you. Charline, 26, is one of the most cultured, well-travelled, approachable and knowledgeable champagnoise one could hope to meet. She has been living abroad in New York City as Drappier‘s Creative Director and North America’s Sales Manager. Throughout the past year and a half the visibility of Drappier and its creative direction with new labels and cuvées has under gone a renaissance. This ladies and gentlemen is the future generation of champagne.
What was it like growing up in the southern reaches of Champagne in the village of Urville?
I grew up in a village of 139 people with very few children. I was a part of a small champagne business. There was nothing in our village. A truck would drop off baguettes every morning to people’s houses. I went to two different schools each day, 15km from Urville. The daily travelling helped me become very familiar with the land.
I grew up in my grandparents house with my family. When I was young my grandfather would babysit me in his office and take me around in his jeep through the vineyards. I learned the importance, significance and style of wine that comes from our vineyard holdings.
When did you begin to officially work for the family business and did you think this would be your career path?
I officially began in 2014 as the Sales Manager for North America and Creative Manager. Working for Drappier was an obvious choice for me. My education was in Humanities and my Master’s was in Geography.
I had been tasting champagne since I was nine years old. When I graduated high school I decided that I needed to have a different perspective on life. That’s why I chose to study Humanities and Geography. My Master’s thesis was on the future of Drappier and its development in the US market. I worked for Diago in Paris and earned my WSET Level 3 in London. After these experiences, I presented my Master’s thesis to my father and he gave me full responsibility for the US market and carte blanche on promoting the domaine at the age of 24.
I moved to New York City to work with importers, train the distributors and to take part in the field work. I found new distributors in Canada and key accounts throughout the major cities in the US to represent our brand. Currently, I dedicate 40 per cent of my time in NYC and in the field to represent Drappier.
Will your brothers Hugo & Antoine be next in line to take over the everyday operations at the domaine?
Hugo, 24, has studied in Beaune, which is unusually for a champagne winemaker. He is the scientist of the family. He works closely with my father Michel. Hugo loves winemaking decisions, experimenting with blends, creating new cuvèes and everything related to production. Antoine, 19, is passionate about horses. He is working on building a horse program for Drappier. His closest goal is to plough of all 15 hectares of the organic vineyards with horses. Antoine loves to be local and work with the land.
Andre, 90, my grandfather still works every day. He was a peasant who started Drappier. He is still the President and is the only one technically allowed to sign a check. He opens all the mail and his office is located in the middle of the administration building so he knows and sees everything.
Can you describe the characteristics and style of Champagne Drappier with its Pinot Noir dominance?
Pinot Noir was brought to us 800 years ago by the monk Saint Bernard in 1100. Saint Bernard also built our cellar and made no sparkling wine out of it. It was always important to keep that heritage. Later on pinot noir would vanish in the Aube, southern region of Champagne, because it posed a difficulty in the vineyard. Farmers started planting gamay because of its higher yields and better resistance to disease. My great grandfather, known as ‘Père Pinot’, reintroduced pinot noir to the estate and dedicated 70 per cent of the holdings to it.
Pinot noir is aromatic, structured and viscous. It is planted on kimmeridgian soil, which is different from the soils of northern part of Champagne. My father Michel started to really appreciate pinot noir and in 1998 he launched a new cuvèe named ‘Brut Nature’ that encompasses 100 per cent pinot noir. We get natural ripeness in our grapes. Due to our southern location in Champagne, the southeast exposure it allows us to get a high ripeness level so we don’t have to apply a dosage at the final bottling.
Cuvee Quattuor (four latin) changes gears completely for the typical blend of Drappier Champagne? No red grapes with some rare varieties. Whose idea was it and how did this come about?
Michel gets very excited about new challenges. Arbanne and pinot meunier have low yields, different aromas and display a new perspective of champagne. He didn’t want to use chardonnay but realized he needed to use it to connect all the varieties to make a deeper and more complex wine. It was first released in 2011 with an annual production of 4,000 bottles in the years that it is made. This is due to the fact that arbanne and pinot meunier are shit with bad weather.
Can you explain why Drappier doesn’t age their wine in one format like most houses? It seems like it would be a pain to age wine in several different formats. What is the logic behind this?
It is more interesting from a champagne making aspect. It is a challenge to see the wine fermenting at different speeds depending on the formats. We also had to research and build a thicker glass for smaller formats to hold the pressure of a fermentation.
What is going on with the current status of the 2016 vintage? How is Drappier going to address what seems to be the start of a very difficult year?
My grandfather hasn’t seen a start to the season this bad since 1957. The rain just stopped last week. In Urville 40 to 60 per cent of our vineyards were hit with frost on April 25nd. We have undergone hail, frost, rain and snow, which has led to leafy mildew. This summer is going to be very critical. As long as the weather isn’t too hot it shouldn’t be a complete disaster.