Fabrice, you are crazy!’ came the response when Deutz President Fabrice Rosset joined the house in 1996 and set a mandate to grow sales from 576,000 bottles to 1.5 million in just six years. No easy task in a region where quality grapes are highly sought after and houses offer ever-spiralling prices to secure supply. ‘As long as I could find the grapes, I could do it,’ he reflects. ‘And not only did we do it, we exceeded it!’
Deutz continued to grow like a mad thing, more than tripling production to more than 2 million bottles every year from 2004 to 2008, dipping only slightly in response to the global economy and reaching 2.2 million bottles today. For such a breathtaking pace of expansion, the standards it has maintained are not only admirable, they’re downright remarkable. There isn’t one wine out of place in this line of crisp, pure champagnes, impeccably crafted in a style of elegant finesse.
The Deutz Champagne house was founded in 1838 by William Deutz and Pierre-Hubert Geldermann and has since been run by successive generations of the Deutz and Geldermann families; and is based in the historic Aÿ region of Champagne.
Deutz is still setting a cracking pace. The main press house in Aÿ was razed in 2010 and two new layers of cellars dug underneath. An investment of some €20 million was made in the winery alone, with a completely new press house erected just in time for vintage 2011, with new four- and eight-tonne presses, a new bottling line and increased capacity for reserve wines. These extensions increased cellar capacity from 8 million to 11.5 million bottles, and Deutz is now bottling its annual production target of 2.5 million bottles, having secured the grape supply to sustain it.
Owned by Louis Roederer, the house lays claim to just 42 of the total 200 hectares from which it sources fruit, all in grand and premier cru villages in the central Champagne district of the Marne. Chardonnay and pinot noir are the focus for Deutz, with meunier comprising just 5% of its fruit.
‘We are looking for vineyards to buy, but the availability of good vineyards is not high,’ reveals Rosset, still very much the dynamic powerhouse behind the house. Most of the supply increase in recent years has come from purchased fruit. ‘There is as much rivalry and fighting upstream in searching for good grapes as there is downstream in our markets!’ he discloses.
To reward quality, growers are paid based not only on the standard of their village, but the quality of grapes delivered. Growers are hearing of Deutz’s reputation and calling the company to offer their grapes. ‘This is the highest compliment we could be paid!’ exclaims Rosset.
Can the house continue to maintain quality while following such a steep trajectory of growth? ‘It is crucial that we maintain the same quality of supplies,’ chef de cave Michel Davesne emphasises. The intention is to uphold the same suppliers, continuing to source from within 35 kilometres of our village of Aÿ. He is confident the investments in the new winery and cellars will only aid the pursuit of quality.
Assuming the house can maintain reliable supply channels, Deutz will be well equipped to uphold its production target. Recently modernised disgorgement and warehousing facilities are already in operation, and 10 million bottles wait in anticipation for between three and 12 or more years in three kilometres of cellars extending into the hill, up to 65 metres deep beneath the vineyard behind Aÿ.
Rosset personally joins the winemaking team at every blending session throughout the year, tasting every vat. Any batches not up to scratch are discarded, but even these are tasted four times, to ascertain which to sell.
‘We must uphold our integrity and standards by selling off any parcel not up to standard,’ he emphasises. When I visited during blending tastings in February 2016, Rosset and his team had already identified 776hL to sell off (from a total production of 17,000hL). It is such exacting attention to detail that defines the purity and precision of the house.
Fabrice is an inspiration in his ambition, leadership and tenacity. Over more than two decades he has driven one of the most phenomenal success stories of the modern era of champagne. ‘The key to Deutz is elegance,’ expounds Rosset. ‘The Deutz style is made on refinement and harmony – this is the quintessence of champagne.’ Then he checks himself and grins warmly. ‘I am exaggerating!’
But he’s right. In its classic, eloquently labelled bottles, Deutz has upheld its air of consistently refreshing, pure lemon sunshine.
Deutz does not yet enjoy the popularity in Australia that its refined champagnes deserve. At my invitation, Fabrice is travelling to Australia from Champagne to host three intimate dinners in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in October. He is bringing with him a very special selection of champagne magnums and bottles from the depth of his cellar, including the prestige cuvées William Deutz 2000 and 2006, Amour de Deutz 2002 and the remarkable old vintage of 1990 Brut Millésimé, otherwise unavailable.
Read more at Deutz.