A few weeks ago, we met with Hugues de Maisonneuve for a drink in the cosy atmosphere of the bar of Swedish Circle (Cercle Suedois) in Paris, not far from the Place de la Concorde, to share Hugues’ “delicious” passion: Champagnes.
Although we spent an hour or so chatting about Champagnes, gastronomy and history, we also discovered Hugues’ incredible and delightful personality and multiple passions such as philanthropy and even James Bond movies.
After working for more than 20 years in cultural and sports partnerships, dealing with world-class institutions and athletes, Hugues joined a fundraising consultancy firm and now actively works in several fundraising projects, mainly in education, health and culture: - “Philanthropy is for me a real passion and it is for me very satisfying to see an institution we support being able to move forward with a project we helped fund. Each project always takes time and it’s never easy to find the right donor for each project or each institution because donors want to see their donation can have a real impact”. When asked about what is the key driver for an individual to decide to make a philanthropic donation Hugues says: “The first element is how close the donors feel to the cause he is supporting.”
A fundraiser then, but also a gourmet: “I took cooking lessons during five years and then wrote two cookbooks for Editions L’Epure as part of their collection “10 Façons de” and then I became an “inspector” for a famous Parisian gastronomic guide” You get it, Hugues knows very well what he is talking about when it comes to gastronomy, but his main passion is Champagne wines and he is now a world expert and lecturer in several great French schools but also in selected clubs and has been a jury in several Champagne events such as the Plaisir Bettane and Desseauve Prize.
“As a child, I remember my mother saying you should always have a bottle of Champagne in the fridge. When I started discovering wines, I found myself being fascinated by the uniqueness of those wines of champagne. There is something magical in them” – He says.
“When we talk about Champagne, it is not only about the beverage. It’s also about history, geography, culture, lifestyle, vineyards, winemaking, gastronomy and, above all, art and joy which is for me what really matter.”
When it comes to tasting a Champagne, Hugues tell us for him it is always a great experience as it involves, not only all of your senses but also your emotions and your intellect.
As you can easily imagine Hugues knows a number of great Champagne producers and the people who really matter in the industry. With his passion and generosity, he told us so much about the famous Champagne names such as Dom Perignon, Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger but also about so many other small incredible producers. But what struck us most are his personal and incredible anecdotes like when he discovered Winston Churchill’s favourite Champagne for his son’s christening: Pol Roger. And then, years later: “one of the times I met with Pol Roger’s president, he told me amused that, while filming “Darkest Hour” (Joe Wright’s biopic of Winston Churchill released in 2017), the film producer asked him for some 1940’s bottles. This was for him the perfect opportunity to open one and taste it and -Hugues says – it was incredible how fresh that Champagne was after all those years”.
When we ask him about some advice so we could recommend some special bottles to some wine collectors among our members, Hugues smiles and tell us it is really hard to make such recommendation because of the incredible variety of Champagnes. Between Non-Vintage, Vintage and Special Cuvées there are so many great options that you need to know each collector’s personality in order to make a sensible recommendation. However, he mentions the 1928’s Krug collection (a bottle was sold US$21,200 in 2009) or a 1959 Dom Perignon, an extremely rare treasure. Other than those unique and rare bottles, Hugues recommends the Krug the Clos du Mesnil or Clos D'ambonnay, Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque, Comtes de Champagne by Taittinger, Bollinger’s La Grande Année, Bollinger RD or Vieilles Vignes Françaises or why not Cuvée Williams Deutz (Champagnes Deutz) and of course, the Pol Roger’s special Winston Churchill’s cuvée created in 1975.
As a great connoisseur and an expert, Hugues has visited countless times many of the producers of the region of Champagne and met with many of the incredible people creating and making those Champagnes. He says one of his greatest memories was visiting for the first time the Maison Bollinger (not open to the public). “Bollinger was created back in 1829 and visiting the cellars with the fermentation in oak barrels with artisan cooper. Discovering the conservation of its reserve wines in magnums under cork as well as the Galerie 1829 with all the ancient wines kept since its foundation was something incredible. On top of that, after the visit, I was invited for a magnificent lunch with outstanding champagnes. It was all magical. As it happens, because I’m also a James Bond fan (I wrote an article for the Bond Magazine about James Bond and the Champagne), I was particularly thrilled with that visit as, since 1973, Bollinger is Bond’s official Champagne”.
But how different is it to taste a Champagne before and after visiting a producer?
“Visiting a producer is, first of all, an incredibly rich human experience. It allows you to go behind the scenes of all the production stages. You will discover countless little secrets, touch, smell and feel the atmosphere of those cellars. While visiting a Champagne domain you can have the rare the opportunity to walk in the vineyards, to visit the storage tanks and the cellars which have silent and sort of religious special atmosphere. Then you can taste some Champagnes with a winemaker who will be guiding you through the different sensations… It is simply magical and a once in a lifetime experience”.
While we were leaving, we couldn’t resist asking him a last question: Is there a special Champagne you really love Huges? “Of course! I really love Bollinger’s cuvée “La Grande Année”. Drinking a glass of it is always a moment full of emotions for me”. So, there you have! Now you have to try it and let us know.