In front of a crackling fireplace sat an 87-year-old Champagne maker and his son. We were at Champagne Drappier, in the country village of
Urville, where this family has been making fine champagne and other wines since 1808, seven generations of family business. They’re one of the biggest family-owned producers in the region, but their size is dwarfed by the Moets and the other corporate producers who make many thousands more bottles. They are still small enough to count family members as owners, no one has taken them over and they’re content making fine Champagne, which they produce with more than 150 hectares of grapes in production
I asked Michele, the son, about his father’s legacy and the continuation of the family line in the years ahead. He said he was pleased to have three children who have all become interested in the family’s bubbly business. Charline, the oldest, studies at a business school in Paris and is poised to jump into the marketing and business side of Drappier when she finishes her studies in a few years. Son Hugo, 21, is interested in winemaking and is working as an engineer in Switzerland. And the youngest son, Antoine, 16, has taken to raising horses, and has helped out at the vineyard with draft horses, giant Percherons used to till between the rows.
It looks good for Michele, handsome and well-dressed and clearly the right man to sell his high class Champagne to clients like Malaysia and TAM airlines, and to hundreds of importers around the world. I asked Michele how the business was faring, and he said the brightest spots are Korea, Japan, and the US was picking up. “In France people would borrow money to buy Champagne,” he said with a smile.
His father, Andre sat with us and smiled, not venturing to speak to us in English, sipping some of his favorite beverage. He drinks Champagne every day, and at his age 87, he still comes into the office daily to check the mail and then read the newspapers. He developed a special Champagne named after the most famous local resident, French President Charles De Gaulle, who is buried over in Colombey-des-Deux-Eglise, marked by a gigantic double cross that you can see from miles around. “The family never bought a bottle of that Champagne,” Michele explained. “They didn’t want to drink it and have the stern face of their grandfather staring out at them.”
The Drappier company is famous too for their gigantic bottles of Champagne, called Melchisedechs, which are about four feet tall and hold a whopping 40 bottles of bubbly. And it’s aged in the giant specially made bottles, not poured in from other bottles like some producers. They’re bringing some of these big babies down to the Bordeaux Wine Show later this month, along with a machine that pours the big bottles mechanically called a Vicanter.
We sampled all of their fine Champagnes from the famous yellow label standby to the Quattuor, an unusual mix made with four different grapes. It was nice sitting by the fire and as the samples kept on coming we didn’t want to leave. But then a group of Japanese customers were coming in, and they were going to grill andouliettes, local sausages, on the fire for lunch. It was a good time to say goodbye to father and son and make our way on this sunny morning to the old city of Troyes.