Régis Camus - Winemaker Series:
How do you introduce arguably the most acclaimed Master Champagne 'Chef de Cave' - Régis Camus is the director of winemaking at Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck, and has been named 8-times the ‘Sparkling Winemaker of the Year’ in 2004, 2007 - 2013 by the International Wine Challenge.
It must be remembered that Régis stepped into some very big shoes when he took over as ‘Chef de Cave’ at Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck back in 2002, following the untimely death of Daniel Thibault, who had revitalised both Champagne expressions, turning the Houses into world renowned names - with Piper-Heidsieck being the most awarded brand* this century.
Though it did seem however that Régis had the necessary understanding and talent - after studying oenology in Reims, he then joined Piper & Charles Heidsieck to work with Daniel Thibault in 1994. The two formed a remarkable partnership, so it could be said that Régis has in fact already played his part in the development, and it was perhaps only right that he should make his own name as he put his hand on the tiller and decided on the best direction to head.
When a great winemaker is trained by another great winemaker, when their understanding runs so deep that the absence of one fails to weaken the other, when this constancy finds resonance in the wine, year after year, something very special happens - something that our restless, fickle times forget to value, but something that is 'essential' for a great champagne house and a great champagne - is continuity.
I have had the honour and pleasure to be good friends with Régis since 2009, when he generously guided me through a vin-clair tasting that I will never forget. An experience that made all my years of wine appreciation make sense - and gave me a confidence and clarity that has assisted me since when leaning and tasting new wines from across the globe. In 2018 Régis announced his *partial retirement, moving to lead the Champagne house’s exclusive cuvée - Rare Champagne.
I recently had the pleasure to spend some quality time with Régis and I thought it a good time to share a little about his background, influences, philosophies and insights, during his time with these iconic Champagne expressions - so here are some of his brief thoughts
• What first attracted you to the wine industry and as a winemaker?
"I first studied food sciences in Reims and it was here that I met some very interesting people from the Wine Industry. I then decided to move onto ‘Oenological’ studies. Since 1979 I have been working as part of a winemaking team, and I became the Winemaker - ‘Chef de Caves’ of Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck in 2002..."
• When and where did you study winemaking?
"I studied in 1974 and 1975 at the Faculté d’Oenologie in Reims - France. After obtaining my Oenological Diploma - my first winemaking experience was in 1976..."
• Which person has influenced you the most as a winemaker and why?
"There have been 2 key influences: Jacques Peters, who was my tutor during my internship in 1976. He also helped me find my first job in Champagne. Daniel Thibault who trusted me - chose me and allowed me to reach the position of ‘Chef de Caves’ of Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck..."
• What is your favourite grape varietal(s) to work with and why?
"Chardonnay is my favourite for the complexity in the ageing and Pinot Noir which is the predominant grape variety in the Piper-Heidsieck range..."
• With each new vintage what do you most look forward to?
"Every vintage has its own characteristics. I look out for its personality, what makes it specific so as to see if it bears the style that I look for in Piper-Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck...and Rare..."
• To date what has been you most interesting/challenging vintage and why?
"The challenge is not really on vintage making, but on NV making. We have to make the Brut Cuvée every year and we have to create a constant wine of quality and style. The first years of the 2000’s were quite demanding - with 2001 and so much rain... - and then 2003 with so much sun... - and in the middle of all this was the excellent 2002 season..."
• Which person ‘past’ or ‘present’ would you most like to meet and why?
"Life is a long journey and obviously you meet a lot of different people... They share their know-how, their knowledge... I have met ‘anciens’ (old) ‘Chefs de Caves’ and Grandes Maison's Head Managers, all very famous and knowledgeable in Champagne...you can learn something from them all..."
• For your next birthday dinner - if you could open and enjoy any bottle of wine in the world ever-made - what would it be and why?
"I am afraid it would not be a bottle, but a Magnum (he states with a generous smile). As of today..., it will be a magnum of Piper-Heidsieck Rare 1998..."
• Which grape variety would you most like to work with in the future and why?
"In Champagne we are very lucky to have 3 grapes varietals acclimatised to our unique temperatures. Example: in 1985 we experienced -35°C in winter & then in 2003 we had +45°C in the summer..."
• If you could make wine anywhere else in the world - where would it be and why?
"The place wouldn’t be what matters! But it would be somewhere without the daily struggles of the world these days. If possible a place with lots of light. ‘Luminous’."
• What advice would you give a young person starting out as a winemaker?
"To be curious, passionate and to persevere."
• When you are ‘not’ making wine - what is one of your favourite things to do to relax?
With a warm smile - "Working in the garden, DIY, cinema - and looking after my grand-children…"
• In the future, what exciting changes can you see, or would like to see for your Champagnes, vineyard or winery?
"We have to be the guardians of the Piper-Heidsieck style and I have to listen, to look at what is happening around me - and in the world - to work on the evolution of the cuvée's for the pleasure of our consumers and Champagne Lovers..."
Where can you find Rare Champagne:
Rare Champagne 'an invitation to indulge' - is available in New Zealand and around the world from quality wine retailers, restaurants / wine bars and hotels. Or visit the Rare Champagne website - CLICK HERE.