Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to enjoy a magnificent meeting in Barcelona with Frédéric Panaïotis, a prestigious chef de cave of Ruinart. The Maison presented the cuvée Dom Ruinart Rosé 2002, elected last year ‘2015 Best Champagne’ by the only specialized magazine: Fine Champagne. A small group of journalists were invited to the lunch held at the Hotel The Serras 5GL, owned by Jordi Serra with whom I had the honor of sharing his company. The pairing was designed by the young chef Marc Gascons.
Maison Ruinart is the first champagne house in history and since its founding in 1729, has partnered mastery and boldness to create exceptional champagnes, whose purity and taste are based on the domain of the variety Chardonnay. The Maison has developed several projects with artists such as Piet Hein Eek, Hervé van der Straeten, Georgia Russell, José María Ciria, Abraham Lacalle or Hubert Le Gallamong many others.
Frédéric Panaïotis arrived to the position of chef de cave of Ruinart in 2007, whose most important responsibility is to create blends of champagne (assemblages) from vintages like Blanc de Blancs, R and Rosé until cuvées great prestige, Dom Ruinart and Dom Ruinart Rosé.
Frédéric spent much of his childhood in the vineyards owned by his grandparents in the region of Champagne, discovering a world that later would become his true vocation. His professional career began with a training period in the Interprofessionnel Committee of Champagne, where he studied the method of making champagne.
Frédéric continued his training at the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon, specializing in Viticulture-Oenology followed by a degree in École Superieure d’Oenologie l’Montpellier.
After more than 12 years as a winemaker in Veuve Clicquot, where he really learned his trade with the cellar master Jacques Petersand his team, he was presented this unique opportunity to represent Ruinart, after the departure of his predecessor to a large cooperative. Over coffee we share in the terrace of Hotel TheSerras, on a rainy day in May, we talked for a few minutes, I transcribe some of the questions:
Isabel Chuecos-Ruiz: Big houses, like you represent, have managed to turn the champagne into a concept. I like to make parallels between literature and wine, I wanted to put three questions around the same issue, which have haunted the great writers of history, and is the subject of style. We could say that the great obsession of every writer is ‘the pursuit of the perfect style’, are you involved in the pursuit of the perfect Ruinart style?
Frédéric Panaïotis: Of course, a figure like the chef de cave (master cellar) pursues, in its day, the excellence of a product such as champagne. To me I obsess about my job, because consumers have high expectations in our wines which is a challenge that means we are always in the pursuit a precise style.
IC-R: The writer Claudio Magris, described by Sanchez-Mesa as the brightest European humanist intellectual at the moment, said that for Magris’ Travel and writing mean disassemble, adjust, combine again«, do you think that is precisely what you do year after year, to give continuity to that style of Ruinart?
FP: True, champagne writers are like explorers, since the construction of a bottle is a long and complex process. You walk into an unknown territory where there are not always answers to all the questions but you always have to try that each bottle is a summary of the history of that style.
IC-R: To create a Millésimé bottle could be considered an excuse to get away from that fixed point representing the consistent style of the non vintage cuvées, do you think that is true?
FP: Well, to actually make a champagne is extremely complex. But to me, in any case, it seems more fun to blend classic styles perpetuating Ruinart, representing the spearhead of the Maison. In both cases: in a blend such as a Millésimé you work the same but with different ingredients. In a cuvée blend we have a palette of 250 wines from 3 different vintages so, the real wealth is to reach the champagne that represents the house, above all, not disapointing customers. Finally a Millésimé is to respect what this exceptional vintage has given us.
For me it is very important to get feedback with the consumer directly and now here has been a great day in that sense.