All Eyes On Ludovic Du Plessis – A Champagne With A Conscience

9th January 2024

All Eyes On Ludovic Du Plessis A Champagne With A Conscience

As He Puts More Skin In The Sustainability Game With Telmont – A Champagne With A Conscience.

Certified’ably … Made In Nature!

Parisian-born Ludovic du Plessis has spent more than two decades building an impressive career in the world of luxury wines and spirits, with notable tenures on his resume featuring Dom Pérignon, Moët & Chandon, and LOUIS XIII cognac. But the visionary mover and shaker hadn’t yet gotten his hands dirty, and his fingers firmly clenched on the pulse of the rhythmic nature of Mother Earth. Now, he is putting a whole lot more skin in the game at the helm of Champagne Telmont.

The adventure commenced in 2019 when du Plessis heard the sparkling call of the wild some 150 km away from Paris, namely Champagne. It was love at first sight and at first sip when he crossed path with Maison Telmont. Founded in 1912 by Henri Lhôpital, the family run house opened a new chapter in its genesis, when it was acquired by the Remy Cointreau Group in 2020. An initiative that was instigated by du Plessis who rallied all parties around three core values: Terroir, Time, and People. Sustaining its original grandeur, Champagne Telmont blends the timeless luxury, patrimony and ancestral savoir-faire of a bygone era with the modern technology and more ethically responsible and environmentally conscious sensibilities that today’s champagne aficionados and wine lovers’ alike seek.

A historic Maison that carries on a grand tradition some could argue that Champagne Telmont may be what is putting Damery in the Marne Valley on the ‘sparkling’ map. Regardless, no one can dispute the significant transformation Telmont CEO, du Plessis, is effectively imparting on Champagne, blazing a preeminent trail to sustainability. Certainly not a simple task considering that less than 4% of Champagne vineyards today are organically certified. But unity is strength, and du Plessis found a strong and loyal ally in Bertrand Lhôpital, great-grandson of the founder and head of Viticulture at Telmont. and current cellar master. Together they perpetuate the Maison’s legacy and perennially renew their faithful commitment to Telmont’s raison d’être: ‘Nec Pluribus Impar’ – ‘Unlike any other’.

In the crowded field of Champagne, Du Plessis is not only carving out a memorable space for Telmont’s stable of wines, but he is as well carving out a name for a new Champagne region – one with a conscience.

In a few short years, Telmont has enjoyed a meteoric rise, aggressively leading the charge in the ecological revolution bubbling up in Champagne. A self-described climate optimist, Du Plessis recruited the help of his friend, actor Leonardo Di Caprio in 2022 (a minority shareholder), to carry forth his most ambitious project to date: In Nomine Terrae (in the Name of Mother Nature).

“A great wine must be a gift from nature, intimately cherished and protected. Its abundance and its singularity, the expression of a year. This is how we create the very best of Champagne. In Nomine.”

Laser-focused on having 100% of Telmont Estate’s vines certified in organic agriculture by 2025, 100% of their winegrower partners certified in organic agriculture by 2031 and becoming the first climate positive champagne house by 2030 and Net Positive in 2050, Champagne Telmont is continuously bringing its a-game to Champagne’s green agenda cementing its leadership in organic agriculture.

Telmont snatched its first organic certification in 2017, and in 2021 launched its first certified organic cuvée: Réserve de la Terre.

Telmont didn’t skip a beat when it came to embracing significant new measures to reduce its carbon footprint. Getting back to the essentials, transparent bottles, packaging, and gift boxes were discontinued. Setting new standards, Telmont is all about transparency in the bottle and on the label, which is why every bottle is individually numbered with the new labels revealing all the elements and methods applied to craft Telmont Champagnes.

With one foot in tradition and the other in contemporaneity, Telmont is bridging the chasm between older and younger generations showing that Champagne’s history continues to be written. The Maison is steeped in stories and has now been re-imagined for generations to come.

Champagne Telmont continues to be the star of the sustainability show, ushering the Champagne region into a new and better future – one that is environmentally sensitive and conscious.

I couldn’t be more elated for an opportunity to interact with a man of such creativity, optimism, and a strong commitment to preserving our planet. Who can say no to an enhanced champagne experience dictated by quality driven cuvées that are the authentic expression of nature?

How does a true Parisian with an innate passion for hand-made cigars embark on such an impressive wine adventure – from Dom Pérignon, Moët et Chandon, Louis XIII Cognac to now Telmont? Can you briefly take us through your wine journey?

Let’s say I have always been driven by passion, passion for products that make life greater, and that I’ve been lucky enough to meet wonderful people who gave me opportunities to turn around my career; and I seized these opportunities. As for my passion for cigars and spirits, I was born on Saint Marteen Island, in the Caribbean Sea. My grandfather had created the first restaurant on the island, and I spent many summers there when I was a teenager. It was an incredible, life-changing experience, which led me to take my first job in the cigar business. And then, out of pure luck, I met Richard Geoffroy… And that was the start of something completely different.

Here’s the story: one day, I decided to organize for my top cigar clients the best pairing experience ever: Cuban cigars with Champagne… two of my greatest passions! As I wanted excellence, I reached out to the Dom Pérignon House, and they were seduced by the idea. They sent me 6 bottles, and the winemaker himself: Richard Geoffroy, the pope of Champagne.

I instantly fell in love with the man. He had such charisma when he talked about his creations! I immediately told him that I was going to quit my job and work for him. At first, he was surprised, a bit shocked even, he said that he didn’t have a job for me… But I was determined, and a bit lucky! 3 months later, I was in charge of Dom Pérignon for the French market. The love story lasted for 10 years. During the last 5 years, I was based in New York, in charge of the US market for Moet & Chandon. I really had a blast. Then I got a call from the Remy Cointreau group, and they offered me to run the Louis XIII House… This Maison had such an appeal that I could not refuse, and I decided to jump into what proved to be a great new adventure and came back to Paris. I did that for 7 years. Then, 3 years ago, I decided to go back to Champagne; but this time, I wanted to invest in the ‘terroir’… so I started looking for a Champagne house to buy. This is how I found Telmont.

Let’s talk about the life-changing power of mentors. You always name Richard Geoffroy, the cellar master of Dom Pérignon, as your mentor. How has he transformed your life and how are you paying it forward?

Definitely meeting Richard was one of the best things that ever happened to me. And for 20 years, Richard has been an inspiration. He taught me so much and passed on so much… starting with his passion for Champagne. The way he talks about wine, about his work, has been really inspiring for me. And one essential learning I took away from working with him is that there are no limits, except those we put on ourselves. And through the friendship we have developed, he has pushed me to push back my own limits too!

In 2019 you traveled to Champagne with the specific goal to be at one with nature. What motivated this desire to reconnect and recommit to Mother Earth, and why has it become your badge of honor?

My motivation came from a growing awareness about the urgency to act up to protect the environment, which was the result of a personal evolution, and numerous conversations, including with Leonardo DiCaprio, who has been a vocal climate activist for a long time. At one point, the need to do something becomes self-evident. Because there is no Planet B!

This personal path had a strong influence on my project to take over, as a shareholder in a Champagne house. I had a very strong vision of how I wanted to do it, with an absolute respect for the terroir, in the most sustainable way. I often say that the wine is good if the Earth is healthy… There is a very deep truth to that. We, winegrowers, have to do with what Mother Nature provides us with. We have to make the most of it, but we are completely dependent on what Nature will give us any given year… It is a very intimate relationship that we have with our terroir, which makes all our sustainability choices even more obvious!

You also set your mind on investing in a Champagne House. What was it about the century-old house of Champagne J. de Telmont that drew you in?

It was really love at first sight: I had visited 30 houses in Champagne, but when I discovered Telmont, and when I went there, I immediately knew that was it. It was a Sleeping Beauty!

It had absolutely everything I was looking for. It was a very old House, founded over a century ago, with a long and prestigious story: it was founded just after the Champagne Riots, by Henri Lhôpital, who was one of the leaders of these protests… “No one cheats with Champagne!” It was a family-run business, with the fourth Lhôpital generation still at the helm of the company; and that means a lot to me, in terms of values. It had amazing wines, which in my eyes were vastly undervalued.

And last but not least, Bertrand Lhôpital shared the same vision as me on the importance of protecting the terroir and acting in the most sustainable manner, and Telmont had already initiated its conversion to organic agriculture. It was the perfect match!

Injecting new life into the Champagne house, did you change the name from J. de Telmont to Telmont? Why?

It was not a big renaming. I liked the name ‘Telmont’ a lot, and it was the core of the identity of the House; but the ‘J. de’ part was difficult to understand and pronounce, outside of France. ‘Telmont’, it’s easy to pronounce, it’s simple… a no-brainer.

Champagne Telmont has four shareholders: the group Rémy Cointreau, Bertrand Lhôpital (the fourth-generation family winemaker), Leonardo DiCaprio and yourself. What does a major corporation like Rémy Cointreau bring to the table considering Telmont is a family-owned house?

The support of Rémy Cointreau (main shareholder today) has been essential for the transformation that we have launched for Telmont. First, and I am stating the obvious here, we have made a lot of investments, which were only possible with the support of the group. Sustainability comes at a cost.

Being part of the group is like being part of a great family; there is a lot of experience being shared, and a lot of competence that is available to us in a great many different domains.

And maybe the most important thing that Rémy Cointreau brings to the table is the international distribution channels from which Telmont benefits overseas, in the United States, and in Japan… It gives us the international reach of a large international corporation, while we are merely a team of 17 women and men working out of a small village in Champagne!

And similarly, how does Leonardo DiCaprio contribute to the raison d’être of the house?

Leonardo has joined Telmont as an investor, and a shareholder; he does not hold any executive position in the operational management of the company. He nevertheless has a very strong interest in the actions carried out by Telmont, and is very involved, in an organic way, in its development. For sure, the announcement of his investment in Telmont immediately raised awareness about our House, and our commitment to sustainability, our project ‘In the Name of Mother Nature’…

And clearly, being one of the most influential individuals worldwide advocating for the protection of the environment, Leonardo’s public support is very meaningful and will accelerate the pace of our transformation project.

As the chairman of the Maison, in 2021 you repositioned Telmont around a specific line of conduct: ‘In Nomine Terrae’ (In the Name of Mother Nature). Can you explain the ideology behind this modus operandi and how it is put into practice?

Our project ‘In the Name of Mother Nature’ is very simple, yet very bold: we try to make the best Champagne while reducing its environmental footprint as much as possible… with no compromise. This vision has been implemented since June 2021, and it is radically transforming the way Telmont produces, packages and ships its Champagne wine. Our actions under ‘In the Name of Mother Nature’ encompass initiatives playing on many different dimensions: basically, everything that contributes to reducing our impact on the environment. This started with the preservation of biodiversity and the conversion to organic viticulture of our estate, totally stopping the use of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers in our own estate, and encouraging our wine growers’ partners to follow this path. The second step was a radical review of our packaging policy, of our logistics, and of our energy supplies, to curb our carbon emissions.

For example, we have completely stopped using gift boxes; even if it goes against the standards of our business, it reduces our carbon footprint without changing the quality of the wine or the tasting experience. So, we decided to do it… Because our job is to make great wine, not gift boxes! And the best packaging is no packaging.
We also stopped the bespoke bottles, elegant but super heavy – 900 grams or more –, we only use the classic Champagne bottle weighing 835 grams… and we are working with our glassmaker partner Verallia to trim off additional weight from the bottle, and produce the lightest Champagne bottle ever! We stopped using transparent bottles, because they are made of 0% recycled glass, and use only green bottles that are made of 87% recycled glass. We also banned airfreight, even for the most distant destinations. Our bottles spend years in our caves, they can spend a few weeks at sea!

‘In the Name of Mother Nature’ also means being radically transparent about our wines. Each of our bottles is numbered, with a front label containing all information on the composition of the vintage, the sourcing of the grapes, and many details on how the wine was produced. This complete traceability is indissociable from our commitment to sustainability, and our clients are asking for it.

Last but not least, this project is also about creating of collective of like-minded professionals from the food and drinks business who, like us, want to combine excellence and preservation of the environment. The spirit of partnership, of collective work, is an essential component of our project.

Telmont has been successfully leading the ‘green’ charge in Champagne, effectively meeting the challenges posed by Climate Change What, in your opinion, made this possible? What do you attribute this incredible success to?

First I want to say that our project is not perfect. We challenge ourselves every day, there is lots of room for improvement… People are listening to us because we really believe in what we do. Here at Telmont, we are like a family, and all the women and men who work here share the same vision, and the same pride to be leading the change on sustainability in Champagne. Our project, “’n the Name of Mother Nature’, is fully owned and supported by everyone, we act in complete alignment with our beliefs, and that gives us strength. We know that it is a lifetime project – it takes time to implement sustainability – and we are all willing to go the extra mile to make sure we reach our ambitious objectives. I think that this collective dimension is our main strength… It even goes beyond the border of our company: we have always tried to strengthen the ties we have with our business partners, and with all those in the food and drinks industry that share our vision. I believe that together, we can go both faster and further.

Can you tell us more about your partnership with Verallia and how earlier this year you were able to create a ground-breaking new bottle that is 35 grams lighter than today’s standard bottles of Champagne?

Indeed, this is something we are very proud of! When we broke down the sources of our carbon emissions, relying on the SBTI science-based methodology, we understood that the glass used for bottles was one of our major sources of carbon emissions: about 24% of total emissions. So, first we switched to green bottles, made up of 87% of recycled glass; and we also discussed with our partner Verallia about the possibility to reduce the weight of the bottles. Because lighter bottles mean less glass, and therefore less carbon emissions. With 35 grams trimmed off, we reduce CO2 emissions by around 4% per bottle produced. Plus, these ultra-light-weight bottles require less fuel for transport, upstream and downstream, ensuring additional energy savings and environmental benefits.

Of course, it was Verallia that designed and produced the bottles, based on their glassmaking know-how – they were already the ones that had initiated, ten years ago, a first reduction of Champagne bottles’ weight, from 900 to 835 grams. Reducing the weight by an additional 35 grams, without weakening the bottles’ mechanical resistance to gas pressure – twice the pressure than in a car tire – was an incredible technical prowess.

And then we had to test these bottles, to make sure that they would withstand all the steps of our production process, and shipping. Hence the experimentation that we launched in early 2022, on 3,000 bottles. These tests being conclusive, we were able to launch a new, stage of this experimentation, with the expansion of production with a first batch of 30,000 bottles. We dedicated these first lightened bottles to our certified organic cuvée ‘Réserve de la Terre’, which ages for a minimum of 3 years. The first lightened bottles will thus be available to customers as of 2026.

Telmont Champagne has been an official supplier of the Cannes International Film Festival for 3 consecutive years. What was the impetus behind this alliance?

It’s a natural match because the Festival is dedicating huge efforts to be exemplary in its respect for the environment; this matches our own commitment to sustainability. Year after year, there is a warm relationship growing between the Festival’s team and that of the House: Personally, I have always been a great fan of the Seventh Art, so it’s a huge pride for me that Telmont should be an official supplier of such a great event, followed all around the world. It’s a recognition of the quality of our Champagne and of our commitment to sustainability.

Let’s talk about your cuvées. How many expressions of Telmont are available?

In the United States, we currently carry 11 cuvées: our Réserve Brut and Réserve Rosé, and the following single vintages wines: Blanc de Blancs 2013, Blanc de Noirs 2014, Vinothèque 2013, our higher aged single vintages such as Blanc de Blancs Vinothèque 2007, Vinothèque 1996, Vinothèque 1990, Vinothèque 1985 and our Organic Cuvée the Réserve de la Terre 2017.

The newest release is our new Collection ‘Lieux Dits’ Sur Adrien 2012: it’s a vintage cuvée grown on a single plot, located in our estate, just outside the village of Damery. This approach is completely exceptional in Champagne, where most wines are blends of different varieties of grapes, coming from many different plots, and most of the time several vintages. But that particular year, on this particular plot – which is planted with 100% Meunier grapes – the harvest was exceptional. We found everything we wanted in the wine produced with these grapes, and we had to recognize that we had come up with a little gem.

How would you describe your winemaking philosophy? And how does it elicit an authentic expression of your terroirs?

Our philosophy is very simple: it is based on a strong, direct and intimate relationship with our terroir. Every day, we live and work with both feet in the soil! We take care of our terroir: we take many initiatives to preserve biodiversity; we stopped using chemical pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers… So, our soils are much healthier, even if that means extra work for us, to compensate for the absence of chemical intrants – growing vines in Champagne is harder than in most other winegrowing regions. We do all this, and we are paid back in return: because – as I already said earlier – the wine will be good if the terroir is healthy.

But our approach also pushes us to humility. We are more exposed to the variations linked to climate, to the life of the vines… we take what Mother Nature gives us, and we try to make the most of it. We let the terroir express itself, and we employ our know-how to reveal the various facets of nature.

In terms of our wines, our cuvées are all different, but they all embody a unique style characteristic of the House: very tiny, elegant bubbles, Champagnes that are ethereal yet structured, with a perfect harmony and a perfect balance between tension and freshness. With a long lasting finish… You should taste it for yourself!

What is your most memorable Champagne moment?

Definitely, when I found Telmont, tasted the wines, and realized that this was the one. I had cycled through Champagne on my Brompton bicycle, trying to find the hidden gem I would buy. I had visited lots of them already the months before… But then, with Telmont, it was ‘love at first taste’ – the wines were amazing!

What legacy do you hope Champagne Telmont leaves?

I sometimes say that my mission is to make sure that our great-grandchildren, when they are of age, can drink the same Champagne wines as we do today, enjoy the same pleasures, and live the same life… We have a beautiful planet, an incredible Nature… We have to protect it. That’s my biggest dream, the legacy I want Telmont to leave: that complete sustainability becomes the new standard for Champagne.

What is the one question you wish I had asked you and didn’t? And why?

You could have asked me: “Are you a climate optimist?” Yes, I am, and I like to enjoy every opportunity to assert it. We have our future in our hands, and if we do things right today, if we change our behaviors now, then the future is bright. Let’s be positive! Fear doesn’t bring people together, but hope will.

For more information go to:

IG: @champagnetelmont

Mona Elyafi

Founder of ILDK Media, a boutique Public Relations and Digital Communications agency. Champagne specialist, educator, writer & consultant. She has WSET Level 2 Award in Wines certified and also Champagne Master Level by the Wine Scholar Guild.