Founded in 1920, the family-owned Champagne AR Lenoble is celebrating its centenary this year. It’s among a few still independent and family-owned estates in Champagne while many of its neighbors are being snatched up by big insurance companies or larger houses. In this interview, Christian Holthausen, export and international communications director of AR Lenoble and a talented wine writer in his own right, shares how his career took an accidental turn from being a comparative literature professor to a career in wine. After spending much of his 20 years in wine working with Veuve Clicquot, Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck and now AR Lenoble, he bemoans about “disrespectful” Champagne flutes and why he would recommend the house’s ‘mag’ series, “the heart and soul” of the estate to world leaders.
How many years have you been aged so far?
I was born in 1974, which was a very poor vintage in Champagne. Fortunately, I was lucky to be born in May just as the excellent Vintage 1973 was being bottled so I usually just pretend I am one year older than I really am and tell people I was born in 1973. When you live in Champagne, that works to your advantage!
What led you to wine?
I am fortunate to be both French and American. My earliest academic studies were in literature and philosophy, and as an adolescent I always imagined that I would end up as a professor of comparative literature in a university somewhere. But back in 1999, I was asked by a friend if I wouldn’t mind helping out at Champagne Veuve Clicquot for a couple of months – and somehow that decision tuned into a career span of more than 20 years in the wine industry. I joined Champagne AR Lenoble in late 2014 and am very proud to be the house’s first export and international communications director. AR Lenoble is one of the last 100% family-owned, 100% independent houses in Champagne. We are a very small team of only 11 people, and all of us are based in Champagne at the estate. 2020 is a very special year for us since as our beloved house was founded in 1920, we are celebrating our centenary this year!
What’s your pet peeves about wine?
I hate champagne flutes. They’re just terrible – and so disrespectful to the great wines of Champagne. Champagne should always be served in a white wine glass. Always.
Describe what’s an alcohol-free day like for you?
Like so many of us, I like to eat and drink surrounded by friends and loved ones. But I also like to exercise and drink lots of water!
What’s your secret passion?
It’s not really a secret but I love scuba diving.
What kind of wines are in your wine fridge?
Of course I love the wines of Champagne but I also like wines from all over the world. At the moment, I have a bottle of Riesling from the beautiful Domaine Weinbach in my fridge as well as a bottle of Jurançon sec from Clos Uroulat and a bottle of Raventós i Blanc Sparkling Rosé from the Penedès region of Spain. I love the wines of Piedmont in Italy and both Vietti and Ceretto have a special place in my heart.
What’s the weirdest wine you’ve tasted so far that you actually liked?
I taste a lot of things that some people might consider weird but I don’t believe in false dichotomies or in pigeonholing wines or regions or categories. Every wine has its own story, every winery has its own values and convictions. Some wines are better than others but I’m a gentleman.
If you can recommend one wine to any leader in the world, who would it be and what would you recommend?
I would have to recommend our own Champagne AR Lenoble Intense mag 16, a blend of different wines based on the 2016 vintage and including 40% of reserve wines from our perpetual reserve, many of which were aged in magnums under natural cork and staple for four years before blending in order to preserve their freshness. The final wine then aged for an additional three years before disgorgement. AR Lenoble is committed to making even better wines in the face of climate change – and we’re really focused on the preservation of freshness. The ‘mag’ series is really the heart and soul of what we are doing at the estate and it’s obviously a subject of great importance, now more than ever. Anything we can do or say to get people to talk about climate change is a very good thing!
If you can drink any wine in the world, which wine would you like to have?
As long as I am surrounded by family and friends, we will always find something nice to enjoy together.
If you are a wine, how would you imagine your tasting note would be like?
“Pleasant in general, not at all pretentious, an easygoing personality quietly supported by a character with strong values and convictions.”
What makes you happy?
Noodles and dumplings of all kinds, as many and as often as possible!
If you can only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I love our Champagne AR Lenoble Rosé Terroirs Chouilly-Bisseuil. It’s a beautiful wine, 92% chardonnay from Chouilly-Grand Cru and 8% pinot noir from Bisseuil Premier Cru, 40% reserve wines, six years of ageing on the lees, 2g/l dosage. All the grapes used to craft this wine come from our own vineyards, all of which have been certified Haute Valeur Environnementale since 2012. It’s delicious on its own – but it’s gorgeous with everything from Prosciutto di Parma to Xiaolongbao to tuna sashimi to roasted veal tenderloin and more. It’s such a versatile wine – and it’s my absolute favorite!