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New Generation Winemaker #1 : Hugo Drappier

Nov 17, 2020 • 5 mins
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Digital & Sales Manager

Champagne is being rejuvenated! For a few years now, we have been seeing a transition to the next generation: now young adults, the kids are becoming more and more involved in the management of the family wine domaines. Eco-conscious and possessing greater marketing and social media savvy... Make way for the new generation!

For this first episode in the "New Generation Winemaker" series, Grappers met Hugo Drappier who joined the eponymous Champagne House in Urville in 2016.

He felt into the Champagne when he was little

Grandfather André passed on his love of the craft to Hugo when he was just a young boy. By the age of 10, Hugo was already studying the vine and learning the rudiments of the craft at his grandfather’s side. "I’ve had these memories since I was very young," he says. At around the age of 16, he began to learn more about the technical side of the business and ended up devoting himself to it full time. After obtaining a scientific baccalaureate, he studied viticulture and oenology before joining the family business.

I was the first of us siblings to want to work in the family business. At that time, I already enjoyed tasting the wines with my father, Michel, and learning everything I could. I started to develop a taste for distinctive and somewhat unusual wines...
Hugo Drappier

Fun fact: Hugo was born in 1991, said to have been one of the most catastrophic harvests of the last 50 years. His arrival on the domaine in 2016 marked the worst harvest year in 10 years, mainly due to disease and frost. "I told myself I had bad luck," he jokes. Happily, the wheel of fortune has turned in his favour since then as the harvests in Champagne have been just great!

A taste for challenge

In addition to an almost 300-year-old heritage and an all-consuming passion, Hugo has inherited a distinct taste for challenge. He actively participates in the crafting of the wines and, what with sulphur-free champagnes, champagnes with low dosages and champagnes produced from old varietals, etc., there is no shortage of challenges for this technical expert who likes to think outside the box!

Initially considered wines for connoisseurs, champagnes with little or no dosage are now increasingly common, sought after and appreciated for their less sweet and more natural character. With its Brut Nature, Drappier unintentionally established itself as a pioneer as this has been its philosophy for over 30 years now (since 1989 to be precise).

More than consumer trends, sales or marketing, I’m fascinated by technology. Producing a champagne with no dosage is a very delicate exercise, which is challenging yet always interesting. It's not like working on a more "classic" champagne, which you can correct with the dosage. A wine without any dosage is a wine without a spare wheel. You have to see the whole production process in this light. It’s an exciting challenge.
Hugo Drappier

More recently, over the last 20 years or so, the Champagne House has been growing some of Champagne’s forgotten grape varieties. This is a fabulous tribute to the region while reflecting the Champagne House’s desire to innovate using technical expertise. "It was my father’s idea originally and today I'm in charge of growing these old grape varieties. I particularly like Arbanne because it's the only grape variety that originates from the Côte des Bar".

Maybe a little bit biased, our Hugo?

A family story

You can’t talk about the new Drappier generation without mentioning Charline and Antoine. The 3 siblings make an amazing team! Charline is in charge of marketing and communication, while Hugo attends to the vines and the vinification. And two years ago, Antoine, the youngest of the siblings, joined them. A lover of nature and horses, he has built his own stable where he breeds the draft horses that plough the family vineyards. Things have come full circle!

Together, the Drappier siblings have great ambitions for the Champagne House. Eco-conscious Hugo has already converted 27 hectares of vines to organic growing (17 of which are now certified). The next step? 100% organic!

We want to convert all our vines to organic growing, but we want to go further by working with the lowest possible environmental impact and carbon footprint.
Hugo Drappier

A wonderful ethos espoused by this new generation of eco-conscious wine producers!

The joy of sharing

We were able to have a quick one-to-one with Hugo, in which he talked to us of his passions and motivations.

What type of Champagne Lover are you?

I'm an epicurean. Apart from the exploration side, I try to appreciate the moment and share it with others.

What’s your favourite champagne? What dish would you pair it with?

It’s hard to name just one... For an aperitif, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the sulphur-free Brut Nature paired with a lightly-spiced trout tartar or a platter of seafood. And for the main meal, the Grande Cendrée with poultry in a cream sauce. This champagne is more complex, better suited to gastronomy, and therefore ideal with a meal.

When is the perfect time to enjoy a glass of champagne?

For me, outside of the work context, champagne should always be a moment of pleasure and shared enjoyment. I would therefore say the end of the day with family or friends, people who matter to you.

Is there a winemaker you admire?

As you can see, I am a great fan of natural wines, which reflects the Drappier philosophy. I really like the work of Jean-Pierre Amoreau down at Château Le Puy in Bordeaux. He has great expertise in natural and sulphur-free wines and it's very interesting to talk to him. These wines provoke powerful emotions, they have a tremendous amount of energy. And what's more, the wine is affordable!

What do you like doing when not making champagne?

I'm passionate about aviation and flying. It requires a lot of skill and precision and I love that. It helps me to get away from it all, forget about work, and experience a thrill or two. I've been doing it since I was 14 years old.

Where are we likely to bump into you?

There's a place I quite like in Troyes: Les Crieurs de Vin. I go there regularly for a drink and a bite to eat.

The new generation of winegrowers is certainly bringing a breath of fresh air to the Champagne region. It is a generation full of ideas and resources, always ready to innovate and challenge itself. A generation worth following...