Cellar Master Hervé Deschamps passes on enduring heritage of savoir-faire to Séverine Frerson
The transmission from one cellar master to the next is a key event for any champagne house, but for Maison Perrier-Jouët, which has had just seven cellar masters in over 200 years, it is truly a historic moment. In October 2020, Séverine Frerson will become the eighth cellar master – and the first woman to hold the position – in the history of the House, which was famously founded from the union of Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and Rose-Adélaïde Jouët in 1811.
She succeeds Hervé Deschamps, whose retirement brings to an end a transition period during which he and Séverine Frerson have worked side by side, welcoming wine critics, sommeliers and friends of the House, touring international markets, tasting the rare cuvées in the Oenothèque Perrier-Jouët, and blending the wines from the 2019 harvest, which promises to be an excellent year. Along with the historic cellar books containing the notes and observations of all his predecessors, and the key to the legendary Eden cellar, where the most precious vintages are kept, Hervé Deschamps will hand over to his successor the responsibility for perpetuating the unique intricate floral style of Maison Perrier-Jouët – and for taking it forward into the future.
Hervé Deschamps: keeping Perrier-Jouët where it belongs
For the retiring cellar master, this is a particularly poignant moment, evoking memories of the close relationship he forged with his own predecessor, André Baveret, who spotted his talent and encouraged him to develop it. He vividly remembers the older man’s parting advice, when he left Hervé Deschamps in sole charge back in 1993: “Keep Perrier-Jouët where it belongs. It’s easy to make good wines with good grapes.”
Easy – probably not, but Hervé Deschamps has certainly kept Maison Perrier-Jouët right at the forefront of champagne houses, and indeed enhanced its renown in many ways. It is a legacy he can look back upon with pride, particularly since he has roots deep in the limestone soils of the Champagne region. “My grandparents were winegrowers in the Côte des Blancs,” he recalls. “I loved to help my grandfather with the vines and taste the grape juice fresh from the press at harvest time. My attachment to the land and my passion for champagne were formed early on.”
Hervé Deschamps joined Maison Perrier-Jouët at the age of 26, following his military service and studies in oenology at the University of Dijon. He recalls being received by André Baveret in his office, where the smell of wine always lingered – his first encounter with the man who would become his mentor. He credits André Baveret with instilling in him the visionary dimension of a cellar master’s expertise.
Séverine Frerson: a woman at the pinnacle of her profession
Passion. Memory. Intuition. For Séverine Frerson, these three words have an almost talismanic significance. Passion, first of all – a passion for wine, which led her, when she was barely 15, to choose oenology as her future career… and to stick by her decision in defiance of those who told her it was a man’s world. That same passion – not to mention a fair measure of talent and determination – has seen her reach the pinnacle of her profession, as one of the first female cellar masters at a leading champagne house.
Memory, next – and some of Séverine Frerson’s earliest recollections are bound up with champagne. A native of the region, yet not from a family of winegrowers, she has vivid memories of days spent with friends who tended vineyards in Verzenay. She recalls the excitement of the grape harvest and the odour of the presses, just as she remembers the smell of her grandmother’s homemade strawberry jam – of which she was strikingly reminded the first time she tasted Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé, with its luscious aromas of red fruit.
Lastly, intuition, which guides her in both her personal and her professional life. Professionally, when she is selecting the clear wines that will become part of a blend, she will often choose one without first looking at its cru, in order to taste it without preconception. A single tasting is all Séverine Frerson needs to remember a wine, after which she classifies it in one of the myriad tiny drawers that make up her mental library.