Rodolphe Frerejean Taittinger was born to be a champagne maker. He was literally baptised in the stuff. And by eight years old, he’d already tried his first cuvée – a taste that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
He spent much of his childhood with his brothers, Guillaume and Richard, riding bicycles through the vineyards of Champagne.
Fast forward to 2005, and the trio took their love of the region and the wine to its natural conclusion – launching Frerejean Frères. Originally, the plan was simply to make champagne for friends and family. But they didn't stop there.
The boutique champagne maison produces cuvées using only premier and grand cru chardonnay and pinot noir vines. The results are so impressive there was no way they could keep it all for themselves, and by 2012 the first bottles hit the market.
Today, at 35 years old and as CEO of the business, Rodolphe lives with his family between Paris and Champagne. He may be considered young for such a role – but he has a lifetime of experience behind him, not to mention a great team…
When did you decide that you wanted to start making champagne?
Wine and champagne have always been close to my heart, but it wasn’t until my brothers and I met Didier Pearson in 2005 that we really thought about creating our own maison.
Didier is a hugely talented fifth-generation winemaker with highly skilled craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail. His unwavering expertise and passion inspired us to create a new, unconventional champagne maison, one that was artisan and pure, focussed on producing small quantities of the world’s best quality cuvées – Frerejean Frères was founded that same year and Didier is still at the helm as our Chef de Caves to this day.
Did you ever consider another career? And if so, what?
Although winemaking always felt like a natural path for me, my father encouraged me to work in finance. I studied and worked in NYC for several months, before being offered a job at a private equity firm in Paris.
Although I had come this far, I knew in my gut that the finance world wasn’t for me – and the story of Frerejean Frères was well underway by this point.
Together with my brothers, we threw ourselves into the venture full time and started selling our first bottles of champagne in 2012.
What was the first wine you tasted which really caught your attention?
There’s not really one particular wine that springs to mind, but the first wines that really stood out to me are Burgundies.
My father’s family is from the region, and I’ve always been enamoured with the Burgundy winemaking approach – the growers have a huge influence on the final product, the grape takes centre stage, and the utmost care is taken at each step of production.
It’s this approach that inspired our vision for Frerejean Frères – we knew that we wanted to create characterful and distinctive wines that reflect the love and care put in.
How has the industry changed since you started in it?
The industry is drastically different now compared to how it was when we met Didier in 2005. Back then, almost all the vineyards in Champagne were sending their grapes to large maisons selling huge numbers of bottles.
The growers who used to sell to the big champagne houses are now creating and launching their own products, with a focus on craftsmanship. It really feels like a new generation of winemakers and we call this the quiet revolution.
The consumer has also changed – more people are keen to venture off the beaten track and discover new independent brands. We’ve also seen a shift towards a younger generation of discerning wine lovers, who are looking to enjoy champagne as a wine, not just for the brand or label.
The pandemic has obviously changed the industry too – one of the biggest themes to emerge from Covid was a culture of drinking less, but drinking better. We saw a wave of new customers who were more curious about the products they were consuming and willing to spend more to discover premium, independent cuvées.
Explain what qualifies as a ‘craft’ champagne?
There’s not really a set definition, but it encompasses the artistry, detail and individuality of our cuvées. Each of the nine or ten cuvées we have available at any point in time are individually created and crafted.
We use the best vines and only grand cru and premier cru grapes, age the champagne for at least five years, production steps are done by hand, and everything is implemented at a controlled level.
And what sets Frerejean Frères apart?
My brothers and I were inspired to create our own, unconventional maison in 2005 when we met Didier – we were aligned in our passion to create artisanal champagnes driven by terroir and character.
The dedication to quality and distinction is what sets us apart. Frerejean Frères cuvées are produced using only premier and grand cru chardonnay and pinot noir vines, the two highest grades. While champagne producers are required to age their cuvées for a minimum of 15 months, the Frerejean Frères aging process takes a minimum of five years, to ensure added complexity and finesse, and production steps are still done by hand.
Where are the grapes from?
We exclusively use pinot noir and chardonnay grapes from the Côte des Blancs and the Montagne de Reims. We like to work with growers and vineyards from villages close to Frerejean Frères in Avize, such as Cramant, Grauves and Oger.
We own just under half of our vineyards, and buy in grapes from other growers, which allows us to choose and curate the best grapes for our champagnes.
We have five hectares of our own vineyards and are well supplied by trusted friends from another seven hectares.
Was 2020 a good vintage?
2020 was an excellent year thanks to spring, summer and late autumn all being sunny and warm. We harvested not only really good quality grapes, but also managed to get really good quantities. Unfortunately, the quota was super low owing to the Covid crisis and the fear of not selling stocks.
And how’s 2021 shaping up?
2021 was an extremely complicated year.
There was a late frost in April, where the temperatures were between -6° and -8°, which affected 90% of our harvest in the areas affected. In the Côte des Blancs sector the buds came out early, so late frosts really influence the plots.
Then the summer was also quite complicated – a mixture of warm, sunny and rainy periods. The consequences of the humid weather included mildew and powdery mildew diseases. Fortunately, the Côte des Blancs was fairly unaffected. The soils are chalky, therefore permeable and filtering, resulting in less damage.
Despite the frost and diseases, we have a very good quality of grapes. Didier took the decision to postpone the harvest to maximise maturity, and we had eight days of good weather just before the harvest, resulting in a beautiful vintage.
What are you working on next – anything new in the pipeline?
We have some exciting developments over the next year. We’re looking forward to expanding our presence in the UK and introducing the maison to the new generation of champagne drinker here.
We will also be unveiling a collection of cuvées inspired by the natural elements that contribute to champagne making. These champagnes represent the values of Frerejean Frères and we’re all really excited about them. Watch this space.
We were aligned in our passion to create artisanal champagnes driven by terroir and character.
Who is your wine making hero, and why?
One of our neighbours in Avize, Anselme Selosse – one of the icons of champagne making. Anselme was at the forefront of the grower revolution and the shift towards craft champagnes.
He demonstrated that small producers could create their own wines, and has therefore always been a massive inspiration to me. His particular type of wine is known as Grower Champagne, where grapes used to produce the wines are grown in vineyards owned by the Selosse family.
Anselme is also considered a pioneer of biodynamics in Champagne and uses organic methods to grow his grapes. In 1994, he was named France’s best winemaker in every category by the Gault-Millau.
If you could only drink one grape for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
Chardonnay, of course. It’s the grape of Avize, where the maison is based, and is champagne’s primary grape. I would be happy to drink it for the rest of my life. It’s our signature grape at Frerejean Frères – we mainly produce Blanc de Blancs.
What’s your death-row bottle?
Our Cuvée des Hussards 2007. It was one of our best vintages – beautifully layered with elegant roasted notes cut through with a powerful freshness. You could taste the quality of the grapes and it really encapsulated what we stand for. Unfortunately we’ve now drunk it all – there are only four or five bottles left around the world and I recently managed to locate one in Australia.
For more information, see frerejeanfreres.co.uk