Earlier this year, Champagne Charles Heidsieck announced that Elise Losfelt would be replacing Cyril Brun as Chef de Cave. We sat down with her to talk about her journey and why patience is most certainly a virtue when it comes to crafting fine Champagne
Making Champagne is different. More than any other wine, it’s a long-term game. The region’s cellar masters don’t see the fruits of their labour for years, even decades, depending on the wine; their work closer to that of a master distiller rather than most winemakers.
“It humbles you – you are not the superstar. The superstar is definitely the Champagne,” Elise Losfelt – who took over as Cellar Master at Champagne Charles Heidsieck earlier this year – tells me. She has just done her first blends for the prestigious House, with wines selected by her predecessor, Cyril Brun – and those blends won’t be tasted by the rest of the world for as long as eight years, when it comes to the vintage wine.
With three young children (ages three, four and six), Losfelt’s home life is very much about the here and now, but the world of Champagne gives her the chance to slow down; “Putting myself in a timeline – not just in today,” she explains.
Losfelt has big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of Brun, who arrived at Charles Heidsieck in 2015 and helped steer the House into a new, more prosperous era, including the re-introduction of the property’s Champagne Charlie cuvée. He has since caused a stir in the world of sparkling wine by being the first Champenois ex-pat to move to Italy, taking on a new role at Ferrari (one of the top names in Trento DOC).
Similarly to Brun (who came from Veuve Clicquot), Losfelt arrives from one of the Moët Hennessy properties, Moët & Chandon. Also like Brun, wine runs in her blood – she’s the seventh generation to make wine, with her mother at the helm of the family estate, Château de l’Engarran in the Languedoc.
Losfelt spent over a decade at Moët & Chandon, a business which became “a place that feels like family”; but when the phone rang and it was a job offer from Charles Heidsieck… “I had to grab it,” she tells me. Not only has she always loved the Charles Heidsieck Champagnes, but it was over a glass of 1995 Blanc des Millénaires that she and her husband first connected, back in 2014.
For the majority of her time at Moët & Chandon she was the Head of Vinfication, preparing the wines for the cellar master, responsible for much of the winemaking – almost everything but the final blend. It was the scientific side of winemaking that had attracted her originally, but the lure of this unexplored artistic side of the job, combined with her emotional tie to the wines, made the opportunity impossible to resist. It was, as she told me, time to leave her “first family” to take on a new challenge.
For her, Charles Heidsieck stands apart from others for its endless complexity. “It’s a Champagne that doesn’t offer you just one facet, doesn’t offer you just one aroma, or just one characteristic of aromas… it’s everything together,” she explains. While the brief for something like Moët Impérial is to craft a consistent and fresh, vibrant wine, her brief at Charles Heidsieck is for “profoundness”. Even at the non-vintage level, she is looking for wine that would meet many Houses’ vintage standards; the aim is to consistently exceed quality expectations.
Talking about trends in the region today, I inquired whether there were any plans for Charles Heidsieck to follow in the footsteps of Louis Roederer, Krug or Jacquesson – creating numbered non-vintage releases, highlighting the base vintage and variation between years, rather than the consistency historically seen as desirable. There are no plans for imminent changes, but the House has – since the 1990s, under Chef de Cave Daniel Thibaut – had the “mis en cave” date, the year in which the bottle was laid down in the cellar for secondary fermentation to get underway. As for adding tirage or disgorgement dates: “This is a question for me in five years,” Losfelt says, with an unrushed shrug.
For this new Chef de Cave, it is only the beginning – with much to learn, test and try before any changes are made. Losfelt’s job is a little like the now-famous Patek Philippe advert, she tells me; she’s just keeping the seat warm for the next generation, inheriting the work of her predecessors and creating the tools for those that will follow her. As she tells me, “Every step of the way, one choice makes a difference.”
As we await the first releases bearing her fingerprint, there’s no doubt she’ll be working tirelessly to preserve and further Charles Heidsieck’s legacy. “Until it’s tasted, and it’s good, I will not rest,” she says, a clear sense of responsibility for the weight on her shoulders. We, like Losfelt, will just have to wait and see.