New Generation Winemaker #3 : Antonin Michel

Nov 23, 2020 • 5 mins
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!

The subject of this third episode of the "New Generation Winemaker" series is Antonin Michel, a young producer from Moussy.

A double challenge

There is no doubt that winegrowing has been coursing through the veins of the Michel family for generations. Champagne José Michel? That's them. Champagne Wirth-Michel? Them too! A double challenge for Antonin, who has been working on the two family domaines in Moussy since 2018.

With four wine-producing grandparents, it would have been surprising if Antonin had let his vocation (which, incidentally, has not always been one) pass him by. He didn't join the Wirth-Michel estate, then run by his mother, until 2018, before working alongside his grandfather José. "It takes up an awful lot of time working on two domaines at the same time. I try to apply the same ethos at each domaine to create and cultivate a consistency between the two," he explains.

This ethos is primarily reflected in the way the vineyards are managed, which is as eco-friendly and as natural as possible. On the José Michel and Wirth-Michel domaines, "alternative methods", as Antonin likes to call them, are preferred. We encourage the development of the vine's ecosystem as much as possible so that the biodiversity can regulate itself, without any chemical products.

The Champagne region is becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues. My grandfather José had already understood this when he started to manage the vineyards more respectfully. Today, we are conscientiously developing this approach.
Antonin Michel

If champagne and the wine world are the obvious choice of career for Antonin today, this was not always the case. Just a few years ago, this wine producer with multiple responsibilities was on the other side of the world.

A quest for knowledge

Before settling down in Champagne and taking over the family domaine, Antonin went to business school. He then moved to Mexico where he worked for two years during which time he was able to work as Assistant Brand Manager for the Roederer importer. This experience enabled him to develop his sales and marketing skills and discover other cultures.

Back in France, he specialised in international wine commerce in Dijon and continued to pursue his passion. It was in Burgundy where he met the man he calls his "spiritual father" - Olivier Lamy, winemaker at Domaine Hubert Lamy in Saint-Aubin.

Olivier is someone I admire a lot and who is keen to help the younger generation. It was he who taught me how to be a wine producer. He taught me discipline and to pursue a quest for constant improvement and experimentation.
Antonin Michel

A taste for experimentation

Antonin constantly experimented from then on. And since he joined the domaine, it seems this approach has worked out rather well for him!

Last year, I wanted to carry out a test on a wine that we have been producing at José Michel's since 2010, the Clos Saint Jean. I wanted to find out how this wine, originating from a single plot and a single press, would behave if we changed its fermentation and ageing process. So, we carried out three trials: the first with fermentation in vats and ageing in casks (as we usually do), the second with fermentation and ageing in new casks, and the third in old casks. Well, it was a good idea, because we went for the third option! Which just goes to show that you have to experiment in order to move forward.
Antonin Michel

For Antonin, many challenges still lie ahead before he can fully achieve the ambitions he has set himself. For Wirth-Michel, he wants to grow exports - as his grandfather had already done for the Domaine José Michel through initiatives such as the Trésors de Champagne club. For José Michel, he wants to continue to nurture a mindset that values nature and respects the environment. And who knows... converting to organic growing one day?

One thing is certain, Antonin will continue to apply this ambitious and meticulous ethos on both domaines. It will be interesting to follow his progress!

An enjoyment of life

In Antonin, you feel there is a real desire to appreciate each moment. In a private one-to-one conversation, he told us of his interests and his desire to enjoy life.

What type of Champagne Lover are you?

Epicurean! I like the good things in life, to give and to take pleasure.

Which José Michel champagnes would you recommend?

I really like the Pinot Meunier and the Blanc de Blancs, two champagnes in the classic range. They are unique single varietals that are very easy-to-drink and appreciate.

And which Wirth-Michel?

Les Meuniers de Raoul... A slightly higher-end champagne, with a history and a strong identity. These Meuniers come from very old vines planted by my great-grandfather Raoul.

Is there a particular chef you’d love to work with?

Arnaud Lallement at the L'Assiette Champenoise. He’s a true ambassador of Champagne wines, very attached to the region and its products. It's important to have someone like that, with an international reputation, to promote our craftsmanship.

It’s now incumbent on me to make wines that will appeal to him, to pique his interest and make him want to try them. Game on!

What does a “Champagne moment” mean to you?

A “Champagne moment” is above all a moment when you feel good. Wine is sometimes made to be laid down, but I think it’s mostly meant to be enjoyed immediately. Life is short, you have to make the most of it, and these moments of shared enjoyment are precious.

What do you like doing when not making champagne?

Football! I’ve always loved sport, especially football. I’ve been a lifelong supporter of the Stade de Reims and Olympique de Marseille.

Where are we likely to bump into you?

On the domaine of course! But if not, you’re likely to bump into me at the Bistrot de la Gare in Prunay or at Le Wine Bar in Reims.

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...