There’s no doubt about it. Champagne has experienced a massive popularity through all sections of the population during the past decade. To find out why – and how we should really enjoy the golden bubbles – I went to Grand Hotel in Stockholm to meet Mr. Richard Juhlin – today’s most famous and recognized champagne expert. And with more than 6.500 reviewed champagnes and several published books about the subject, he should know what he’s talking about. Read on and learn a thing or two about our favorite beverage…
Today, you’re the most recognized champagne expert in the world, but it wasn’t always so. When did you realize you had an extraordinary gift?
When I was a child my parents enjoyed good wine and we often travelled to Germany, for example the Mosel region, where my interest for wine was evoked. But I was very young at that time and it was only later on that I was able to do something about my interest, which grew stronger over the years. But already from a very early age I realized I could smell things other children couldn’t. Now, this doesn’t run in my family genes, but my mother has this amazing 6th sense, which involves a strong sensitivity, for example towards smells. She also has a very well-developed sense of taste. I’ve got that part from her! My father, on the other hand, has a skill of remembering everything and everyone, and I believe I have inherited that part from him. So all in all, this combination is quite good! But, as I mentioned before, I could smell and taste things other children my age couldn’t and I’ve always been extremely picky with food. I guess I realized all this when I was quite young…
When did you decide to work with champagne?
I’m a physical education teacher by training, so for a long time wine and champagne was just a strong interest. I’ve always wanted to be the best at whatever I’m doing and because of that I didn’t want to go deeper into the field without being 100% committed. So at the age of 24 I began reading books about champagne and I traveled to the Champagne region in France with a group of friends. We visited the different houses and has a taste of some of the most amazing champagnes! Apparently I made quite an impression on the the house of Eric Legrand, whom I still have a good contact with today, but it wasn’t until my 30’s, when I wrote a book about the subject, that I had a ‘break through’. My passion was so strong and I simply knew that I had to quit everything to focus 100% on my future career as a champagne expert.
How much of your everyday life is occupied by champagne today?
It’s obviously still a great passion of mine, but I tend to work with it less and less actually. For me it’s extremely important to uphold the passion and I wouldn’t allow myself to get bored with it. In the beginning of my career I had so much to learn, as the world of champagne is quite complex really, but today I’ve reached another point of my life. Today I spend a lot of time being creative and thinking ‘out of the box’. Twice a year I travel to Champagne with a group of paying guests, who want to explore this intriguing world, and apart from that I host tastings, lectures etc.
And what do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Drinking champagne, haha. I love to travel with my family and I still enjoy exercising quite a lot. I also play the guitar!
You travel a lot?
Well, I really don’t like the Nordic climate too much, so if it wasn’t for my friends and family I’d definitely move somewhere warmer! I love Italy and France for their food culture, and I always enjoy going there even when I’m not working.
How do you think the champagne culture has developed through the past 10-15 years?
There’s no doubt that things have changed rapidly through the past decade. People are more educated in the field of both wine and champagne – ‘a new world’ has emerged! It’s quite common to enjoy champagne with your dinner now a days, something that was formerly unheard of! The production of champagne has also exploded through the past 10-15 years, and it’s changing all the time. Today, biodynamic champagne is a growing trend even though it’s quite expensive.
What is the most common mistake people do when drinking champagne?
I have to say the glasses! Most champagne glasses are in poor quality and they don’t do any good for a wonderful champagne. Even the great champagne-lovers, whom I meet quite often, tend to use wrong glasses for their champagne. Furthermore, many people enjoy champagne which has been in the fridge for too long. It’s simply too cold.
Is there someone who you’d really like to share a bottle with yourself?
That has to be Sir John Cleese! He has always been my idol because of his great sense of humor and intelligence. I’m sure we would get along very well! It would also be a pleasure to enjoy a glass with Christiano Ronaldo!
What are you future career plans? And what can we expect of you?
Obviously, I will never stop working with champagne, but new things are developing all the time. I have just invented the Richard Juhlin ‘blanc de blanc’ – a non-alcoholic sparkling wine! Many people already love it. Furthermore, I’m working on a great book on French wine, as I believe many of the books which has already been published in this field are not informative or detailed enough. It will be a large book with beautiful photos and illustrations.
Tell me more about the Richard Juhlin glasses. Why did you decide to create them?
In my opinion, most glasses were terrible! They didn’t do any good for the wine or champagne, which was just a shame. I decided to create my range of glasses as I needed something that would lift the experience of drinking an amazing champagne to even higher levels, and when I launched them in 1999, they were an immediate success! We made some prototypes of the glasses of which I tasted champagne approximately 10 times. We did that about three times in total, so that the glasses improved from time to time. Every time one particular glass would make it to the final round, and that’s the glass we’re selling today!
Are they available for purchase in Denmark yet?
We’re working on it! Søllerød Kro north of Copenhagen are using them, and both Leisner Wine and Erik Sørensen Vin sells them through their shop.
You’ve established the Richard Juhlin Champagne Club. Tell me about the concept. Who can join?
The Richard Juhlin Champagne Club is an international, online champagne club with members from all over the world. Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to meet all of them, but it’s a committed and vibrant group of people who share their great love of champagne! It began around 15 years ago and we’re still growing. On the website our reader’s can stay up to date with all brands and types of champagne, and I publish articles about my own personal experiences as well. We’re actually developing a champagne app for smartphones as well. There’s an increasing demand of information no matter where you are.
Last but not least, where do you think champagne is heading? Will it develop even further through the next decades?
More and more people want to drink champagne. Both people who are passionate about it and people who just want to follow a trend. It’s really two groups of people and their view on champagne is quite diverse. My goal is to spread the right information about champagne and make people understand what it is they’re drinking. Champagne should be appreciated and understood, it shouldn’t just be a ‘trend’.
The demand for champagne is also exploding at the moment due to the growing segments of wealthy people. We’re talking about a champagne revolution. I believe champagne will always be something magical though. It will continue to intrigue people – and it should.
For more information on Richard Juhlin go to www.champagneclub.com.
Just two days after this interview took place in Stockholm, Mr. Juhlin received the prestigious légion d’honneur for his great work with champagne through the past 25 years.