Claude Taittinger, the visionary leader who brought his family’s Champagne to an international audience, died on 3 January in Paris at the age of 94.
Claude took over Champagne Taittinger in 1960 following the tragic death of his brother, Francois, and served as first managing director and then president of the company until 2005.
Under Claude’s stewardship, Champagne Taittinger grew from a niche label into a brand with international scale, while always maintaining its reputation for high quality.
He was one of the pioneers of the broader Champagne category’s international success during the 20th century, taking France’s unique sparkling wine into the modern era and cementing its position as a luxury product, emulating the reputation it enjoyed at Europe’s royal courts a century or more earlier.
When Claude joined the company in 1949, his brother sent him around the world to promote their family’s wines. He became not only an ambassador for the Taittinger label but also for the wider Champagne category, promoting the region and its wines in markets across the globe.
As well as his love of travel, Claude was also a gifted storyteller and communicator – in 1962, he commissioned a revolutionary survey into the French public’s attitudes towards Champagne.
The results led Taittinger to become one of the first Champagne houses to communicate with consumers directly through sophisticated and effective publicity campaigns.
That talent for storytelling shone through in the way he spoke to amateur wine lovers about the emotions behind Champagne, rather than focussing simply on the technicalities of production.
His gift for communication led Claude to also form links with the culinary and artistic worlds.
In 1967, he created the Pierre Taittinger International Culinary Prize in honour of his father – himself a knowledgeable food lover – and in 1983 he launched the Taittinger Collection, with world-renowned artists designing labels for the House’s vintage Champagnes.
Hungarian artist Vasarely was the first to contribute a design, with his label gracing the prestigious 1978 vintage.
In 1987, Claude led the family’s investment in Domaine Carneros at the foot of Napa Valley in California, a final international adventure that he shared with his nephew and successor as president, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger.
Champagne Taittinger joined UK distributor Hatch Mansfield in 1998.
Claude’s father, Pierre Taittinger, was stationed at Château de la Marquetterie near Reims in the Champagne region during the First World War and fell in love with the property and its vineyards.
Pierre bought the château in 1932 and subsequently the Forest-Fourneaux Champagne house, bringing the two together to create his family’s sparkling wine business.
Forest-Fourneaux traces its roots to 1734, when Jacques Fourneaux founded the house.