A Champenoise by heart, Emilien Boutillat is the new Chef de Cave behind one of Champagne’s most renowned houses, Piper-Heidsieck. Grew up in a winemaking family in Champagne, making Champagne as he describes seems like a natural calling. Prior to joining Champagne Piper-Heidsieck, Boutillat honed his skills with wineries in Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, California and Bordeaux. In his whirlwhind trip to Hong Kong to launch the full range of Piper-Heidsieck with local importer Northeast Wines and Spirits, the multi-talented winemaker revealed his other passion outside of wine – improve theatre. Over a glass of Piper, fittingly, the dynamic winemaker reveals his pet peeves about wine, the weirdest wine he’s drunk so far and the one wine he would gleefully drink for the rest of his life. Hint: its not Piper!
How long have you been aged so far?
I am still a very young vintage, and I can age for a long time I think. 32 years so far.
What led you to wine?
I grew up in a winemaking family and my father is a wine grower in Champagne, so I grew up with him pruning the vines, working in the cellar, riddling the wines and tasting wines for a long time. I always knew that I wanted to become a winemaker. Then after that I studied and travelled a lot in different wineries so I know I want to work in wine.
What’s your pet peeves about wine?
About winemaking, the most important thing is the grape, the balance of the grapes you harvest, so harvest time is very important. I am very particular about this. Harvest date and sustainability. Finding the right balance, not too early or too late especially in Champagne for Piper. Freshness and elegance is very important. You know the global warming is happening, so for the future it’s something to take care of. I often go to the vineyards to taste grapes. For consumption, I am not particular, the important thing is to be relaxed and just enjoy the wine. When you have a glass of wine, just enjoy the moment and the Champagne without feeling pressured.
Describe what’s an alcohol-free day like for you?
[laughing] It’s not very often. I taste almost every day because it’s my job but I spit. Sometimes over the weekend, I try not to have alcohol so I will stay on water and maybe juice. It’s not too easy, but moderation is key.
What’s your secret passion?
It’s not so secret. I have another passion aside from wine. I am passionate about improv theatre. I am part of an improv team. I am meeting with them every week and we do shows once a month at least. The first Thursday of every month, we perform in front of perhaps 200 people in Champagne. There are plenty of similarities between my job at Piper and improv theatre because it’s about team spirit and creativity. To create stories and blends, you need creativity to make it happen. You need to listen and react, it’s the same with winemaking and improv. A lot of similarities.
What kind of wines are in your fridge?
Different kinds, mainly from France. In my cellar, I have some wines from Bordeaux, from Champagne and from my father, and some wines from Piper always. Then I like still white wines as well. My good friend from Bordeaux always send me some wines, and I sent him Champagne in exchange. I really like Viognier right now.
What is the weirdest wine you’ve drunk so far that you liked in the end?
Not easy haha. Maybe a few weeks ago, I had an old Sekt from 92 vintage, a very old Sekt. I was in London, and at the end of the night, we went to a bar, and we saw that, and I never had it before. It was interesting because I never had something like that. Also, it has a good amount of nuttiness, still fresh, but aromas faded a bit. It was fun nonetheless.
If you can recommend one wine to any leader in the world, what wine would it be and who would it be?
Some Champagne for sure! It’s the best way to celebrate life, and good memory. I would recommend some Piper for sure!
If you can drink any wine in the world, what would you drink?
The wine I still don’t know. I really like to discover new wines, new grapes, probably some wines I don’t know. I am really looking forward to taste some wines from East Europe such as Croatia and Hungary.
If you are a wine, how would you imagine your tasting would be like?
Its not easy! I hope that I will be a nice and good looking wine. Nice complexity on the nose but not too complicated. It’s a wine that would make you smile. In the mouth, maybe good balance, with a lot of freshness, vitality. A wine that you want to enjoy easily with good quality. That’s what I would like it to be.
What makes you happy in general?
Sharing good moments. It can be sharing wine with my good friends, my family. Being able to see people happy as well, enjoying their life.
If you only drink one wine for the rest of your life, which wine would it be?
I think it would probably be a Champagne from my father because of the link, the emotional side of it. Probably cuvee Amedee from my father, the name of my great grandfather, the first one in the family to make Champagne. It’s a tribute to him. Its a 98 vintage. A lot of emotions. Made by my father as a tribute to his grandfather.