In 1680 the young Benedictine monk Dom Thierry Ruinart made the journey from his native Champagne to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés near Paris. Although a curious, scholarly, young man, Dom Thierry surely could not have expected that over 300 years later the name Ruinart would be synonymous with luxury and class the world over.
It was, in fact, his nephew Nicolas who would establish the world’s first champagne house
Today, that is exactly what Ruinart represents. As the oldest champagne house of all, it is a brand beloved by enthusiasts who remain loyal to the Maison for its unwavering belief that the oldest methods are still very much the greatest. With an operation spearheaded by visionary chef de cave Frédéric Panaïotis, present-day Ruinart combines heritage production techniques with a modern business outlook that keeps the company at the forefront of the champagne industry.
A Brief History of Maison Ruinart
Although Dom Thierry undoubtedly laid the foundations for the realization of Ruinart, it was, in fact, his nephew Nicolas who would establish the world’s first champagne house, thus cementing the family name in history. When in 1728 Louis XV passed a royal decree permitting the shipping of sparkling wines in groups of 50 to 100 bottles, it was only a matter of time before Europe woke up to the pleasures of what was then known as vin de mousse from the Champagne region.
Less than a year later Nicolas Ruinart began producing wine, at first distributing it as a gift to friends and business partners. By 1735, however, tens of thousands of bottles had been sold as word spread across both France and the wider continent as to the charms of this extra special product. This led to the closure of the Ruinart family cloth business, with Nicolas instead choosing to focus all of his energy on the production of champagne.
It should come as no surprise then that this particular wine represents the very essence of the Maison
The operation continued to enjoy exponential growth and before long Ruinart had acquired a network of Gallo-Roman chalk quarries just outside the city of Reims, a location ideal for storing the brand’s prized “wine with bubbles.” These are the very same underground caves used by the company today, where bottles of Ruinart’s liquid gold undergo vital aging in consistently cool temperatures of 11 degrees Celsius.
The Chardonnay Grape and Frédéric Panaïotis
Whilst today the house of Ruinart is owned by parent company Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (LVMH), it should be stressed that the soul of the brand remains very much intact. With only 1.7 million bottles produced annually, the operation is small in comparison with other grand marques de champagne.
Chardonnay is both the golden thread of the Ruinart taste but also the soul of the house
A hallmark of house Ruinart is the company’s belief in the preeminence of the Chardonnay grape, featured in all of its wines. Indeed, the company’s famed Blanc de Blancs cuvée uses 100 percent Chardonnay harvested from the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims terroirs. It should come as no surprise then that this particular wine represents the very essence of the Maison, with its intensely aromatic flavors and clean palate, which set it apart from other champagnes.
According to Ruinart cellar master Frédéric Panaïotis: “Chardonnay is both the golden thread of the Ruinart taste but also the soul of the house. It really explains why Ruinart is so unique… It is a very elegant, very graceful variety that also brings a lot of freshness. What we try to capture at Ruinart is the aromatic freshness of the Chardonnay grape, but also the freshness on the palate.”
All of Ruinart’s wines—not just the Blanc de Blancs cuvée—champion the sprightly flavors of the Chardonnay grape. As a result, it is essential for each variety to undergo an aging process to truly bring out its potential. As Panaïotis points out: “Chardonnay needs quite a bit of aging to really express itself. Typically our nonvintage cuvée spend two to three years in the cellars before they are released.” For Ruinart’s vintage cuvée, made only from grapes harvested from Grand Cru vineyards, this time frame can sometimes be much longer. “Usually the wine spends eight to ten years, sometimes even more, in the cellar. Typically, Chardonnay brings a signature to all of the Ruinart cuvée, making them truly unique,” explains Panaïotis.
As Panaïotis points out: “Chardonnay needs quite a bit of ageing to really express itself.”
By now Panaïotis has been cellar master at Ruinart since 2007. Bringing years of expertise to the role, he has managed to subtly interweave Ruinart’s unmatched history with a forward thinking, flexible philosophy. He oversees the production of three core cuvée at Ruinart: the flagship Blanc de Blancs; the balanced “R” de Ruinart, which is made up of Chardonnay (40%), Pinot Noir (50–55%), and Meunier (5–10%) grapes; as well as the Ruinart Rosé (45–55%) blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In addition, the house also offers two limited edition, vintage cuvées: the 2004 Dom Ruinart and the 2002 Dom Ruinart Rosé.
Ruinart and the Arts
The creative and entrepreneurial spirit of Panaïotis is perhaps best displayed in his efforts to align the historic name of Ruinart with cutting edge modern art. Working in collaboration with internationally renowned art fairs such as Frieze London and Art Basel, Ruinart seeks to preserve and emphasize the inextricable link between this historic brand and the quest for beauty in a multitude of forms.
In its latest venture, the Maison has collaborated with revered Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf to create a series of photographs highlighting the beauty of Ruinart’s ancient wine cellars, a UNESCO-classified historical monument. Explaining the inspiration behind the exclusive collaboration. Olaf said “I was very fascinated when I was for the first time in the cellars. I started to focus on the walls and what was interesting was that not only has nature left its traces, but also human beings.”
Certainly, it is this kind of sensitivity, this attention to detail, that defines both Ruinart and those talented enough to collaborate with the brand. Just like the images produced by Olaf, the wines created at Ruinart are an example of the glorious possibilities that arise when natural splendor and human ingenuity come together as one.