Meet the woman who tastes wine and champagne for a living
She has the enviable job of tasting some of the best drinks around but make no assumption that it's a walk in the park. Marie-Christine Osselin works as the Wine Quality Manager of Moët & Chandon where she deals with winemaking and wine management. Together with her team, she is responsible for ensuring the excellence of Moët & Chandon is maintained and consistent throughout its releases. This year, we're privileged to get a sip of the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2008. Read on for how this bottle of vintage came about and the role of Marie-Christine Osselin as an oenologist in producing the champagne.
Hi Marie! Can you tell us how did you actually end up in the wine industry?
I joined the Moët & Chandon team last May 2016 as the quality manager and winemaker. Prior to this, I worked in the south of France, where I was born, as a quality manager in the cellar. The area here has stringent control of wine, so I was always interested to know more about winemaking and wine management. I first learned the ropes as a quality manager in the F&B industry and I learned winemaking from my job in the cellar. I'm a précised person so I wanted to check the quality for the consumers. I'm happy to be in the Moët team because the spirit of precision is really in the DNA of the brand.
So is your job – work or pleasure?
More pleasure. But it's hard work because we are the picture of excellence, so we want to give you all the pleasure you can have with a glass of champagne. To make a good bottle of wine, first you need passion then excellence and precision. When you have the three points, you have the best wine, and subsequently, best champagne.
What goes into the making of a bottle of Moët & Chandon bubbly?
We have two different approaches. First, we have the approach of the Moët & Chandon Impérial, which is the flagship product of the brand. With this, we want to be précised, we have to produce the same taste every year. We blend almost 100 different wines to produce the Moët & Chandon Impérial. With the Grand Vintage, it's about creation; the cellar master wants to show something special. So we blend different wines to create something special as we want to show you a particular story of a particular year in the Grand Vintage.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the Grand Vintage 2008?
The Grand Vintage is really about creation. When you take a look at 2008, it was a particular cool and dry season where we had two weeks of sun before the harvest, so we had the perfect ripeness of the grapes. We tasted some 800 different wines from this harvest and we discovered that 2008 was a particular year with dry acidity because of the cold weather. We were able to create a special champagne with a limited profile but with really smooth and silky sensation. It is fresh on the citrusy side with white flower aromas, so it's précised and it evolved well due to the structures of the chardonnay and pinot noir. For the rosé version, it's dry on acidity as well but you have an additional 20% of red wine from high quality pinot noir. So you have something different, it is more spicy.
How do you decide if a harvest can be made into a Grand Vintage?
To declare a Grand Vintage, we have to answer three things – do we have a particular year, is there something special in the year and do we have high quality of wine? Because a Grand Vintage is aged seven years in the cellars, we have wines with structures. When we have high quality of wine, there is a possibility for us to make it a vintage. The last question that we also have to ask is – does the cellar master want to? Because Grand Vintage is an act of freedom, the master decides if it's a vintage or not. Every decision in Moët & Chandon is taken with precision and spirit of excellence.
What is the process like to produce a bottle of Moët & Chandon? How long does it take?
A typical harvest starts in the beginning or middle of September (depending on the year), then we get the juice at the end of the harvest before we do the fermentation for two weeks and after that, we have still wines. We have nearly one to two months to taste some 800 base wines where we screen the quality – all the wine are tasted twice so that we can select the best. This is done every day and we have some 20 wines per tasting! It's a hard job! With every tasting, we have to look out for a more refined taste. By the middle to end of September, we begin to do the blending where we try different blends, then we taste and decide again what is Moët. We create a new blending in middle of January and the bottling happens in Spring for the Moët Imperial. The bottles then go into the cellar for 24 months, after that we dislodge and the bottle is kept again in the cellar for six months before launch.
For the Grand Vintage, we have a little bit more time. We take our time to taste the wines and the cellar master decides if he wants to launch it. If he decides to do the blending, then we'll do the tasting. While every oenologist must agree with the blending for the Moët Imperial, in the Grand Vintage, just the chef decides. After we bottle the new blending with yeast and sugar to create the bubbles, we keep the bottles for seven years in a dark cellar. During those seven years period, we taste the wine consistently to control the quality. After that, we dislodge to review the bottle and keep it again in the cellar for between six months and one year before putting on the label for launch. It takes around eight years to create a Grand Vintage and two years to create the Moët Imperial. We also have the Grand Vintage Collection where we keep the Grand Vintage for 15 years. A little part of 2008 is still in our cellars and these will be launched 15 years after being kept.