Claude Thibaut was born into a champagne-producing family in the Champagne region of France and began working in the family business at a young age. Now 25 years into his career, Claude has been producing sparkling wine in France, Australia, California and Virginia. After working in Virginia for 2 years Claude realized the potential for producing sparkling wine in the region and teamed up with his friend Manuel Janisson to open the Thibaut-Janisson Winery. Claude uses his expertise in “methode champenoise” to produce 3 highly acclaimed sparkling wines using Virginia-grown chardonnay grapes. When Thibaut arrived in Virginia in 2003 there were only around 60 or 70 wineries. Today the wine business in Virginia is booming and the number has increased to around 200. We checked in with Claude to learn more about producing wine in Virginia and to see what wine he will be sipping on New Year’s Eve.
TLP: What lead you to move to Virginia?
Claude Thibaut (CT): I was in California working for Kendall Jackson developing a sparkling wine for them and was looking for another project. I moved to Virginia to consult at the Kluge Estate Winery. After a couple of years, I decided to start my own.
TLP: What are the challenges and benefits of making wine in Virginia?
CT: I am originally from Champagne and that region has a challenging climate. Sometimes we would have to pick fruit that was not quite ripe due to weather or fungus. Virginia has a similar climate to Champagne. Chardonnay grapes grow well and can be picked in the last few weeks in August. The difference is the chemistry in Virginia grapes. The fruit is picked when there is less acid so the wine doesn’t need malolactic aging. The flavor of the fruit and the flavor gained from the yeast results in wine that is very similar to wine from Champagne.
TLP: People in America tend to reserve sparkling wine for special occasions. You have talked about how food friendly sparkling wine is and encourage people to enjoy wine as a daily pleasure. What are your favorite foods to pair with sparkling wine?
CT: Believe it or not, champagne pairs well with fried chicken but so much of pairing depends on the style of the wine. Mine pairs well with shellfish and clams and cheese dishes like quiche Lorraine. Start with a wine like the Blanc de Blanc that is young and fresh and then as courses change, progress into wine that has more oak and yeastiness that will go well with meat. On Christmas Eve we served Capon that went very well with champagne. The acid in the wine cut through the richness of the meat.
Do you have any new projects you are working on?
CT: I am working on another blend called Côte Est that will combine the best of the East Coast grapes. I am working to blend Virginia grapes with grapes from the New York Finger Lakes. Look for it to be released at the end of 2016.
What wine will you be sipping on New Year’s Eve?
CT: I recommend Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay N.V. for New Year’s Eve. My favorite champagne cocktail is made by my friend Todd Thrasher, mixologist and sommelier at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. The cocktail is called PX Champagne Cocktail and it uses our Thibaut-Janisson Virginia Fizz.
Toast the arrival of 2016 with the PX Champagne Cocktail from Restaurant Eve.
PX Champagne Cocktail
From Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia
½ ounce Grand Marnier liqueur
½ ounce Bacardi 151 rum
1 large sugar cube
1 bar-spoon of cherry juice
2 liberal dashes of cherry bitters
Thibaut-Janisson Virginia Fizz
In a flame resistant cup or dish, add Grand Marnier, Bacardi, and sugar cube. Light on fire for 1 minute. Put fire out by adding cherry juice, and bitters and covering. Add one large piece of ice, and stir until dissolved, and cold. Add mixture to a champagne flute, and fill with Virginia fizz. Garnish with one boozy cherry.