Where were you born and do you originate from a wine background?
I am from Champagne and extremely proud of my heritage. My ancestors have been in the region for several generations. I come from a very rural, agricultural family, and once again I am very proud of my roots.
How did you come to be in this role and was there anything in particular that triggered this career move?
In fact it was all down to a succession of choices. Firstly, agricultural college, followed by a Diploma in Agronomy (BTS). When I then decided to go to business school in Paris, it was with a view to taking on a managerial role in the agricultural sector. However, having completed two placements in different Champagne Houses, I realised that it was the production side that I really enjoyed, rather than the commercial side of the business. I have a lot of respect for wine and I felt that a Diploma in Winemaking would take me right to the heart of this universe, where it all happens. In 1999, with Diploma in hand, it was a new life chapter for me.
Your career path is quite different from the classic approach of other Cellar Masters in Champagne. You have worked almost everywhere in the world, in Morocco, Australia and the US – what have you gained from this experience?
You could say that I journeyed to the “Beyond”, to come back to Champagne a better person! The experience abroad gave me a much wider outlook, and exposure to other cultures and lifestyles. From a professional point of view, I was able to study different consumer behaviour and consumption patterns
Why did you choose Nicolas Feuillatte for your ’homecoming’? You don’t choose Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte; it chooses you! At the time I was living in Morocco. On January 2nd 2004, I signed a contract to work with a château in Morocco. Just before this, I had been headhunted for the role of assistant to Jean-Pierre Vincent, and on January 6th, I found out that I was on the final shortlist of three candidates. I met Dominique Pierre and Jean-Pierre Vincent, and they told me I was due to start the following week. With no regrets, I severed the contract in Morocco and chose Nicolas Feuillatte without a second thought.
What drives me is making wine and the important structure of this Champagne brand gives me the means to do this well. Once again, I am a man of the soil, and here I am in the best possible situation to rediscover this side of my character.
You are evidently at home at Nicolas Feuillatte as you have been part of the winemaking team since 2004. But as you step out of the shadows into the limelight, what exactly changes for you?
One thing certainly hasn’t changed and that is the job itself. Since 2006, I have already had a lot of autonomy in my work, particularly in blending. But today it is my seal of approval on the different Champagnes and I find that particularly motivating.
Jean-Pierre Vincent created the Nicolas Feuillatte style, to widely acclaimed success. If you had to define this style in just four words, how would you do this?
The Nicolas Feuillatte style is both simple and complex. We should even go so far as to say simple because of its complexity. For us, complex means rich in aromas, and the aromas must be perfectly integrated, which imparts balance, elegance and simplicity. The remaining two words are fresh and light. We achieve the freshness through optimum acidity. Our wines are subtle, radiant, clean and upfront. These Champagnes are of broad appeal, and we want them to be accessible to consumers. The Nicolas Feuillatte style appeals to everyone, connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike.
And your job is to maintain this style. The brand must meet the expectations of its loyal customer base and at the same time continue to keep your audience on their toes. What in your view is the perfect balance between loyalty and innovation? I am not looking to alter the wines, just to make them irreproachable, and to continually improve quality. If the Champagnes in the Nicolas Feuillatte range must continue to surprise, it will be through their consistently fresh character. We maintain this consistency of style through strategic choices in terms of fruit supplies, blending and ageing. Every step counts.
With its cooperative structure, the Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte counts more than 5,000 growers. How do you see your role in relation to these growers? It’s a fundamental part of my remit. Our member growers are not just suppliers; the on-going contact that we have is an integral part of my role. We advise and support the growers at every stage in the process of managing the vineyards and I am involved very early on in the process. This is essential if I wish to guarantee the quality of the fruit, which is all part of the job. We will never make fine wines with grapes of mediocre quality. The primary materials must be absolutely flawless.
In terms of winemaking, do you foresee any particular technical developments or are you focusing your research in any specific direction to safeguard and further improve quality? I am responsible for all strategic decisions relating to winemaking. Of course I am always on the lookout for new developments, and I take part in the regional grower meetings. But in my view, quality is not dependent on technology alone; there are other fundamental elements that necessitate a great deal of attention, because every stage counts, from harvesting, through to grape selection, clarification and careful pressing. The primary step for me is “back to basics”.
Other than your career, what else do you enjoy doing?
Travel, of course. Sport – I enjoy running, swimming, walking and cycling. And I also have an extensive collection of wine-related objects, and barrel-making in particular, chiefly from the XIXth and XXth centuries. Some of the pieces are quite amazing.
Are you a good cook? And do you have a favourite recipe?
I have been cooking with my mother since the age of 13, and I have a good memory for flavours. At the moment I enjoy preparing traditional French dishes just as much as Thai, Japanese and world cuisine.
How would you describe your particular art de vivre in a nutshell?
I love simple pleasures – that’s what luxury is all about! Enjoying a glass of wine, stretched out by the river, with a gentle breeze in the air… gazing up at the sky.
To learn more about David Henault, and Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, visit: http://www.nicolas-feuillatte.com
Photos and information provided by Millissime PR & Marketing Services.