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Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque is the original Belle Epoque vintage cuvée, first appearing in 1964. Instantly recognisable throughout the world, its bottle is adorned with the graceful spray of Japanese white anemones created for Maison Perrier-Jouët by Art Nouveau master Emile Gallé in 1902.
Working at the vat, plot by plot, the Cellar Master tastes and tests time and again, finally isolating the wines, turning each cuvée into a unique wine that expresses all the characteristic elegance and finesse of the House of Perrier-Jouët. "I throw myself into each composition with one combined effort, like the creative flow of an artist, at that moment when intuition, sensitivity and skill somehow inexplicably come together." Hervé Deschamps.
In 1902, Emile Gallé designed a delicate spray of anemones to be engraved on the prestigious cuvées of Perrier-Jouët Champagnes. The House has remained loyal to this artistic heritage ever since.
For Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque, Séverine Frerson specifically selects Pinot Noir grapes from two crus, Verzy and Mailly-Champagne, in the north of the Montagne de Reims, both characterised by their chalky soils. “Pinot Noir grapes from Mailly-Champagne in particular have an elegance and finesse that harmonise perfectly with our signature Chardonnay from Grand Cru terroirs in the Côte des Blancs,” she says. “They therefore enhance, rather than overwhelm, the delicate floral structure of the wine.” The result is an elegantly structured cuvée with a clear floral dimension, making Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque an outstanding example of the art of blending in the Perrier-Jouët style.
One of innovative products which Perrier-Jouët could now develop was the luxurious champagne, Belle Epoque. In 1964 André Bavaret, cellar master, showed the four hand painted magnum bottles to Pierre Ernst, sales and marketing director of the house. Even after the 60 years under the dust of the cellar, the bottles brought alive the magnificent history of the house. The lilies reminded of the flowery elegance of the Chardonnay-based trademark wines of Perrier-Jouët.
Pierre Ernst began a project to finally enable the bottles to go into production. The enamelling techniques of the Belle Epoque era were largely forgotten, but the house needed an artisan who would provide the decorations at a reasonable price. After months of feverish search, a suitable family business was found in Argenteuil. They produce the bottles even today.
Meanwhile, Michel Budin and André Bavaret set to develop a champagne worthy of the bottles. Basis for the mixture was to be found from Perrier-Jouët’s own vineyards in the Grand Cru villages of Côte de Blanc. The first vintages had more Chardonnay from the village of Cramant than the present version. Only 5000 bottles were produced at first.
The legendary Maxim’s of Paris, founded in 1891, was the champagne enthusiasts’ paradise in the Belle Epoque era. Perrier-Jouët gave the restaurant exclusive rights for the new luxury champagne for two years – and a true reincarnation of the beautiful era was born. The immediate success of the enamelled bottles was echoed in the numerous customers’ requests that they would like to take the empty bottles home with them.
Since those early years, the production of Belle Epoque has grown year after year. Belle Epoque Rosé was created in 1976. The excellent vintage of Chardonnay in 1993 inspired Hervé Deschamps, cellar master at Perrier-Jouët, to produce a small quantity of Blanc de Blancs:
-“The production is very small-scale – only one per cent of all Belle Epoque champagnes. The grapes are grown almost exclusively in one of our top vineyards in Cramant. Rosé makes up 8 per cent of the sales, and we hope to see that figure grow. Despite the larger volume we now produce, the production is still expensive: high levels of humidity and the way the bottles are piled take their toll on the gilding. The cost of a bottle without any contents is 10 euros!”
A difficult start to the year led to early budbreak. There were some damaging hailstorms in early May, but the frost ultimately stayed away. The summer was overall warm and thanks to the hot and dry August, the grapes looked promising for the harvest. However, a damp September challenged producers and dilution was an issue for some. The 1999 harvest that started on September 15th produced a large yield (12,989 kg/ha) of sweet grapes that resulted in soft wines, low in acidity, which produced Champagnes that, in many cases, miss linearity and structure. Voluptuous and enjoyable with ripe, fruity, even exotic characters but in most cases for the medium-term only, even if the best seem to be maturing better than initially expected. The red wines of the year were exceptional and resulted in some outstanding prestige cuvée rosés, such as Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé and Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé.