How did Agnès Vitteaut go from being a hard-nosed law student with no interest in wine to one of the most respected producers of Crémant in the hallowed French region of Burgundy? Meet the remarkable woman behind the Vitteaut-Alberti Blanc de Noirs in March’s Bubble Box.
It was 2004, and Agnès Vitteaut was facing a tough decision.
For as long as she could remember, her father Gérard had been running Vitteaut-Alberti, their family-owned and operated winery specialising in sparkling wines. Founded in 1951 by Agnès’s grandparents, the winery was both Gérard’s inheritance and his legacy – but he was getting ready to retire, and his daughter had absolutely no interest in taking the reins.
In fact, she was preparing for a high-flying career in law, one she had no intention of abandoning to go to work at the family winery.
“She really didn’t want to take control of the company,” says Sandie Deboissy, Head of Communications and Marketing at Vitteaut-Alberti. “She just wasn’t interested in wine. But right before her father retired she started thinking that it would be such a shame to let this company, which was working so well, just end.”
With so much to lose, Agnès decided to give winemaking a shot. She enrolled in winemaking courses and started studying business management. Much to her surprise, she absolutely loved it. And so, in 2004, she agreed to take over the business from her father.
But this intelligent, educated and adventurous woman had no desire to do things as they had always been done in the stuffy, rarefied world of Burgundy wines. She wanted to shake things up at Vitteaut-Alberti, maintaining the winery’s impeccable reputation whilst also pushing the envelope.
“Mr Vitteaut still comes to the winery almost every day,” Sandie says. “It’s hard for him to leave everything he built, be he is proud to see how the company evolve and come to see how what it built is changing. We still sell Crémant, but the image of the company has evolved a lot.”
The glorious bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Noirs is a testament to the success of Agnès and her vision.
As Sandie explains, “The company was born in 1951 and we’ve never made a Blanc de Noirs before. People just wanted Chardonnay! We decided to do it because we wanted to improve and be a little bit different.”
To make this wine, Agnès and her team took the best Pinot Noir grapes form the haute Côte de Beaune – the southern part of a famous limestone ridge called home by many of Burgundy’s best vineyards – and pressed them 50 hectolitres at a time, making sure that the dark skins had no contact with the freshly pressed juice. The wine underwent its secondary fermentation in the bottle, the method used to make Champagne, and was aged for up to a year and half to develop its rich aromas.
Sandie says, “We succeeded in making something really fruity, but it stayed fresh – we’re obsessed with freshness here. For me the wine is powerful, so it can be loved by men, but the fruity part is also very feminine. We call it gourmondaise – if you’re having food with it, it needs to be something flavourful, or the power of the wine will destroy the taste.”
Agnès and her team were initially unsure about this expression. All through its long history of winemaking, the Vitteaut-Alberti winemakers had focussed on fresher styles. But, after it racked up several illustrious medals in the first year after release, it became clear that this wine was something to shout about.
But, with the harvest of Pinot Noir struggling in recent years, it might not be around forever. As Sandie explains, “It isn’t something we’ll keep for a long time. It’s unusual that we can produce as much as we did this year; in two years, for example, we may not be able to produce any at all. In a way, it’s very exclusive.”
Producing a new style of wine isn’t the only way that Angès has changed things at Vitteaut-Alberti. She invested in her own vineyard, so that she can grow her own grapes rather than rely on buying them in as her father and grandfather had. And she’s empowered her winemaking staff, training them to do more complex tasks and encouraging them to experiment and expand their expertise. In the strictly hierarchical and traditional world of Burgundy wine, her adventurous spirit and willingness to do things differently is a breath of fresh air.
“We have a very different approach to everything,” Sandie says. “We’re very modern, but in Burgundy all of the winemakers really play on the old fashioned stuff – very traditional. Everybody is doing the same thing and it’s not fun at all. When you’re doing sparkling wine you can play so much more!”
Vitteaut-Alberti already sells every bottle of beautiful Crèmant it can produce, so Agnès isn’t worried about selling more of her wonderful wines. Instead, Sandie says, their team wants to sell better. Look for Vitteaut-Alberti in the best restaurants, most luxurious hotels and on the tables of sophisticated sparkling wine lovers across the world – and not just serious wine lovers with special cellars and big bucks to spend.
As Sandie says, “We’re making our wines for a new audience: more young people and more women. It’s not just men who buy wine from Burgundy anymore!”