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Taittinger Collection—series of champagne bottles wrapped in art – is an invention of the former Chairman of Champagne Taittinger, Claude Taittinger.
As a tribute to his father, he had established The Pierre Taittinger Culinary Prize in 1967. The competing masters of culinary arts, whom he deemed craftsmen and imaginative artists, sparked inspiration in him as they managed to turn something as commonplace as cooking into an art. He thought the same passion the chefs applied to their craft could be applied to champagne: “Even in a conservative profession like ours, it should be possible to be innovative, to introduce changes, and to stamp our own style on the wines we produced.”
“Like any great wine, champagne is produced by a combination of nature and human skill. And as the first pleasure one experiences when tasting a wine is in its appearance, there seemed no reason why we should not bring our creativity to bear on the bottle, as well as on the wine,” Claude Taittinger muses. The idea had been materialised into a strong tradition by Philippe de Rothschild, who first in 1945 commissioned Philippe Jullian to create the year’s Mouton label, a tradition built on each year by a different artist and one that carries onto present day. Claude Taittinger wanted to do the same in Champagne, but in a freshly inspired and original way that would tie suitable level of creativity to the drink of all things sublime. Thus, he endeavoured to include the whole bottle in the concept and invite contemporary artists of international stature with distinct ties to France and, particularly, a bond with champagne, to make the bottle their own. In order to provide a canvas for the artists, the house created a shell, which was to encapsulate the champagne bottle in the finished artwork.
Taittinger Collection wasn’t established merely to please the eye in a rococo fashion; the Collection’s ambition was to arouse real interest in the viewer. This is reflected in the artists chosen. Initially Chagal was to create the inaugural bottle of the collection, but he lost his sight before he had the chance to complete the assignment. Admirer of Victor Vasirely’s work, Claude Taittinger commissioned the spearheading geometrical abstractionist and father of Op-Art for the task. Bottle No. 1 displays a light blue Vega--a three dimensional geometric image--on the golden bottle surface. It symbolises, in the words of the patron, “the work of Nature which has no beginning and no end and is, as Paul Valéry so aptly said of the ocean, “constantly renewing itself””.
The Collection came into being in 1983 and has eleven inclusions to date, 2007 Rauchenberg being the latest. As Claude Taittinger intended, the collection presents unique visions of artists of a diverse array of nationalities. They all pay tribute to champagne through the myths or personal stories related to the wine. French André Masson is one.
Masson begun his affair with champagne when, deadly wounded in war, in a battlefield infirmary he was given the wine as a last comfort, queues to surgery being too long for him to withstand. The drink invigorated his body just so that he got the will to fight for his life. Eventually he got his surgery and went on to become the father of automatism and creator of the third addition to the Collection (in 1987). Champagne was a drink of love for Masson, the only drink worthy enough for serving a lady he was falling in love with. And--it has been told--the artist fell often. Themes of life’s basic forces being quintessential for Masson’s art, the 1987 creation depicts a couple rising from a stolen moment of rapture, in his fluid style.
Champagne arguably is a wine quite capable of providing bountiful myth and enigmatic symbolism for artists. This is not only because of the sensory dependency champagne houses like Taittinger succumb to each time they create a blend, but that surely does correlate with the process of creating art. Claude Taittinger believes they have established a bridge with Taittinger Collection, which enables the unifying of art and industry. No winemaker wants his wine called a ‘product’, and with the pressure of increased output of bottles, such a seal of unique work of art on a bottle does aptly do its share in highlighting the uniqueness of each blend (or even bottle). One has to weigh the options of indulging the sense of taste or the sense of vision, since the artist’s creation envelopes the whole bottle, thus requiring to be destroyed to be enjoyed. The bridging of art and industry ripples onto other areas too than that of mere sensory: Those who withhold the temptation of opening Vasarely’s creation, have in their hands one of the most valuable bottles of champagne in the world.
Severe winter temperatures and spring frosts did great damage, leaving many in the region unhopeful of a good year. The destruction was excessive especially in the northern Montagne de Reims, in the hillside vineyards west of Reims and in the Aube. The early summer weather did not raise the hopes, but finally fine September weather came to the rescue and yields ended up being better than feared (albeit tiny, 6,827 kg/ha) when picking commenced on September 30th. Champagnes from 1985 are typically beautifully balanced and intense with great length and character that is still improving today. Dom Pérignon, Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie and Blanc des Millénaires, Krug Vintage and Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque excelled, to name a few.