Wine on Starchefs DUVAL-LEROY

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Interview with Carol Duval-Leroy
By Jim Clarke

Jim Clarke:
How has the company changed since you took over in 1991?
Carol Duval-Leroy: We have focused much more on the quality projection of the Duval-Leroy name. Previously, we were heavily "weighted" to BOB (Buyer's Own Brand) labels. That is not the case now. We have also introduced new cuvees like our tête de cuvée “Femme,” and will be introducing a single vineyard "Clos" cuvée in the next 18 months.

JC: Do you feel a particular awareness or responsibility being that you are the most recent of the long line of women running Champagne houses?
CD-L: Most of the other women were figureheads, not down in the trenches, working the vineyards and the winery. I am. It makes a good story to talk about the women who "ran" the houses, and there were a few who truly did.

I don't think about others’ fame...I run my business.

JC: Your website is very informative about the history and production techniques of Champagne. How important a factor is this kind of consumer knowledge for promoting Champagne?
CD-L: Knowledge is power, and the more the consumer really understands, the more power it gives her (or him) to make informed choices. Production techniques, appellations, and cellar practices heavily influence a Champagne's style, and the more education, the more understanding of what style a consumer prefers and why.

How valuable to you is promoting Champagne as an appellation, and how do you insure that your own cuvees stand out in the field?
CD-L: I stand out in the field frequently (ha ha), but I do so because we are a house seated in the heart of the Côte de Blancs, in Vertus, surrounded by the finest Chardonnay vineyards in the world. A high percentage of our cuvees start with our estate fruit, and that ensures our quality.

As you become more involved with the American market, what differences to European sales are you encountering, and how are you approaching them?
CD-L: Americans don't have the same understanding of Champagne as a wine for all occasions; before meals, during meals, after meals.

They know Champagne as primarily a wine to be drunk for a celebration. They don't understand that opening a bottle of Champagne IS a celebration - of life and of taste - and makes a celebration out of the most ordinary hamburger or omelette. So we are working productively with our US marketing company to stress the message of Champagne and food, Champagne on the beach, Champagne and life. It’s not just for weddings anymore.

What effect has the growth of Californian and Spanish sparkling wines had on Duval-Leroy, and the Champagne region in general?
CD-L: Well, they are not Champagnes, and at best they are pleasant wines with bubbles. And different. And not bound by the very strict laws of the Appellation Controlee. I don't know how much affect they have had on the region in general, but I do believe they have only made people understand how good true Champagne and specifically Duval-Leroy is by comparison.

You recently introduced a cuvée specifically designed to pair with desserts. What unique qualities can champagne bring with food over other wines?
CD-L: Champagne is actually the perfect food wine. Styles of cuvees range from delicate, tart and freshly acidic to big broad and robust. And our Rosé de Saignée is 100% Pinot Noir and a perfect match for rare lamb and duck. Champagne has a palate-cleansing quality, an effervescence that keeps the taste receptors keen and aware, and beautifully developed grape flavors that knit with food flavors without overpowering them like some over-muscled Cabernets and Syrahs do. It is truly the ideal food match.

What goals are you setting for the next few years?
CD-L: I am not varying from my philosophic goal of promoting the QUALITY of Duval-Leroy, not the brand. That will take care of itself if we continue to commit ourselves to producing the finest Champagnes available and bring them to market at a reasonable price. We are not in the perfume business; we are not in the leather or garment business, we do not have racing yachts. We are a small, family Champagne house producing fine wines, period. That is our goal. And, judging from our gains in major world markets, especially the US, the message seems to be ringing true.

Champagne's history is littered with stories of bottles exploding at inopportune moments and similar mishaps; do you have any recent misadventures you'd like to share?
CD-L: The only recent story I can share happened last month in Boston, where Jack Jelenko, the president of our US importer, Partners Wine Marketing Group, was pouring our Champagne at a consumer event, and as he was switching hands on the bottle after removing the cage, he momentarily released the cork. As soon as he did, the cork flew out, straight up at least 40-50 feet and out of sight. Jack continued talking to the large crowd surrounding the table, oblivious to the trajectory of the cork, when the cork rocketed directly back down and conked him square on the top of his head, bounced up 15 feet again, and fell back down on his head again. Needless to say, the crowd was thrilled and roared with delight. Being the proverbial wine pro, Jack laughed it off, but there were a few degrees of red curling around his ears. But then that's Champagne.

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