Among the great Champagne houses, Taittinger stands apart. Undeniably one of the grandes marques, it doesn’t have the flashy allure of Louis Roederer’s Cristal, say, or Bollinger – even though it is the official World Cup Champagne, sponsors the BAFTAs, and was James Bond’s favourite fizz long before Bolly got in on the act. The family won a particular place in the hearts of British Champagne lovers with the 2015 announcement by the ardently anglophile Pierre- Emmanuel Taittinger that he had bought land in southern England for the making of a new English cuvée to be called Domaine Evremond.
In 2019 Taittinger announced that he was handing over the presidency of the family house to his daughter Vitalie; her brother Clovis was named general manager. For Pierre-Emmanuel, the decision to cede control was easy. He had always intended to step down at 65 or 66, ‘and I did it. It can be a disaster for a company when the boss wants to stay too long.’ As he tells it, sharing out the senior positions was no more difficult. The company structure is democratic. ‘No single role is more important than another; every decision is taken by six or seven people. Clovis is running the global business, [chef de cave] Damien [le Sueur] is in charge of production and finance, and Vitalie carries the general spirit of Taittinger.’
There is trauma in the history of Taittinger: this is a family that almost lost everything
The house sits on solid foundations – literally: it is one of the handful in Champagne to be built on the famous crayères cellars of Reims: 2.5 miles of tunnels hewn out of chalk by the Romans. With nearly 300ha of vineyard in every grand cru, it has some of the biggest holdings in the region and makes some 6m bottles a year, spearheaded by the great blanc de blancs, Comtes de Champagne.
Solid as it appears, there is trauma in the history of Taittinger: this is a family that almost lost everything, and the memory is still raw. The story of the sale of the group to investment firm Starwood, in 2005, and Pierre-Emmanuel’s triumph in buying back the Champagne and wine parts of the business two years later, is well known. ‘When the group was sold, we realised that we had this heritage,’ Vitalie says. ‘The company was part of our identity. That was when we understood the meaning of a family company.’ When their father’s bid to buy back the company was successful, she and Clovis asked him if they could come and work with him. ‘Every day we consider how lucky we are,’ she says. ‘We’ve never been as strong as we are today.’