Parisian Ludovic du Plessis never intended to work in wine and spirits, yet he has two luxury houses on his resume: Dom Pérignon Champagne and Louis XIII Cognac. His most recent passion project, Telmont, is his love letter to Champagne and Mother Nature. Ludovic, along with investors from Rémy Cointreau (Louis XIII’s owner), has set the bar high to create the best sustainable Champagne in the world. In the three years since its relaunch, the relatively unknown Champagne house has received acclaim from industry pros and A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio, the brand’s latest investor.
Du Plessis received his wine education from his grandfather on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, where he opened the restaurant Le Mini Club. The Kennedys, Jasper Jones, and other famous names frequented the shabby palm palapa. Du Plessis took to selling Cuban cigars as his first job, and it was when he decided to host a cigar and Champagne pairing for his top clients that he really fell in love with bubbly wine. In fact, it was Dom Pérignon and the renowned chef de cave (cellar master) Richard Geoffroy that changed the trajectory of du Plessis’ life.
This time, du Plessis’ approach is focused on sustainability, yet his expectations for the wine itself remain high. Every Monday, he takes his bike on the train from Paris to Champagne and rides across the estate, no matter the weather. He often talks about his 17 team members at Telmont and the advantages of running a smaller team.
Born in 1912 in Damery, Champagne, during the Champagne Riots, Telmont is now spearheading the ecological revolution in Champagne. “We have one foot in tradition and one foot in modernity, but both feet down in the Earth and the soil, big time!” says du Plessis. “We believe in everything we do because we believe that wine is good if the Earth is beautiful — as simple as that.” The brand’s devotion to sustainability is seen through its viticulture and transparency. This ethos culminated in Telmont’s 2021 project “Au Nom de la Terre,” “In The Name of Mother Nature,” with each effort directed toward protecting the place we call home — especially the region of Champagne.
But what does Telmont mean for Champagne? Du Plessis spoke to VinePair about his journey back to the region, the importance of sustainability, and his vision for Telmont’s future.
1. What made Telmont such a special Champagne house for you and one you saw potential in?
Three years ago, I told myself, “Ludo, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” I said, “I love Champagne, and I have a dream to buy a Champagne house.” And then, I started to go on my bicycle to the vineyards in Champagne on the weekends. I visited 30 houses, and I always told myself that when I found the one that checks the four boxes, I dive in no matter what.
These four boxes were that, for one, I wanted a Champagne house with an amazing history and at least a century-old house. Two, I wanted a family business, and I wanted the family to still be there and involved. Three, I wanted a house with amazing Champagne. And four, I wanted a house that has already started an organic agriculture conversion. It was very difficult because only 4 percent of Champagne is certified organic today.
And then this Champagne house that I didn’t know about checked all four boxes for me. So I said, “That’s for me. I can’t escape. This is my moment.” So I introduced the idea to the CEO of the group that owned Rémy Cointreau and the family that owns the group. I told them I would like to make the most sustainable Champagne house. They loved the project and proposed that we do it within Rémy Cointreau. They offered that I become an intrapreneur, an entrepreneur inside the group of Rémy Cointreau. So now, we are four shareholders: the group Rémy Cointreau, Bertrand Lhôpital (the fourth-generation family winemaker and the wine grower whom I call The Grapefather), myself, and, as you know, I introduced the idea to Leonardo DiCaprio.
2. What does the actor’s participation in the project add to the brand’s ethos?
Leo [DiCaprio] did not invest because he is my friend; he invested because he believed in the project. He believes that something is happening here in Champagne, and that’s why today I call it the Green Revolution. The commitments that we are taking are bold and have never been made before.
I introduced the project to him during Covid. We did virtual tastings, and he loved the idea. He loved the project we named Au Nom de la Terre. He’s the one who actually started to put this sustainability seed in my mind a couple of years ago. And I didn’t want a celebrity to be the face of the brand; I wanted a man who could help me spread the good word about sustainability. I said it had to be Leo because he’s a spokesperson for climate change in the United Nations, and my project is after sustainability. So it was a perfect match.
3. “In the Name of Mother Nature” is Telmont’s main ethos, and it is indeed now an organic- certified house. Could you expand upon your sustainable efforts?
“In the Name of Mother Nature” is a five-leg project. We have not reinvented the wheel. We are just making common-sense decisions. The first leg starts with the soil, the Earth, and the vineyards. We want biodiversity, so we plant some cover crops and trees. We take care of the soil because we want it to be alive. But we go one step [further]: We are converting to organic agriculture, which means no herbicides, no pesticides, and no chemical fertilizers. We are doing this on our vineyards of 25 hectares and also with all the partner winegrowers. At Telmont, we are very transparent. Eighty percent of our 25 hectares are certified or in conversion [to become] organic today. For the winegrower partners of 55 hectares, almost 50 percent are certified or in conversion. It will take time: 10 years for our winegrowing partners and until 2025 for our own estate to convert completely to organic. Some people might think it’s too long, but I think it’s a sprint because it requires three years of conversion and at least three years of aging in the cellars. So it requires at least six years to get your first bottle of certified organic wine. This is the first leg: biodiversity plus organic conversion.
But then, we don’t stop there. We looked at our carbon footprint. Much of it is coming from packaging and the bottle. So, we got rid of all unnecessary packaging. The best packaging is no packaging. You will never see a gift box from us. Instead, I will release the No Giftbox, Unlimited Edition, no compromise. By just removing the packaging, we’ve succeeded in reducing 8 percent of CO2 emissions from each bottle. Another thing that we did was address the bottle. We did three things: first, we got rid of all the bespoke bottles (they are too heavy), and all our production is moving back to the classic Champagne bottle of 835 grams: the lightest Champagne bottle of today. But we did not stop there. I worked with Verallia to reduce the weight even more. We did some research and came up with a bottle of 800 grams. I have 3,000 bottles that are on their way to Singapore today, testing the transportation for the new weight. The third thing was that we got rid of the beautiful transparent bottle because it’s not made from recycled glass. The opaque bottle is made from 87 percent recycled glass.
Then, we said we would go with 100 percent renewable energy. We also decided to also stop the airfreight of the bottles. Then our last commitment is transparency in everything that we do. It starts with the bottle. For the first time, you have everything that you need to know on the front label. We don’t hide anything. This is the idea of the wine, and it’s a first in Champagne. For example, we also revealed the results of our project “In the Name of Mother Nature,” what we have achieved and what we have missed. At the end of the day, I define ourselves as a “century startup.” We are this century-old house born in 1912 during the Champagne Revolution.
4. Since launching the “In the Name of Mother Earth” project, you’ve seen an entire collective grow. Could you tell me about your new partners?
Everything we do is organic: from our grapes to our relationships with people. It’s an organic adventure. We have a lot of new winegrowers coming to us. It’s like a “Collective Au Nom de la Terre.” We also have some chefs, like the Green Star Michelins, who are knocking at our doors to do things together. We even have a fisherman, Mathieu Chapel, the most sustainable fisherman in the Mediterranean. And then we have a sailor, Romain Pillard, who bought a trimaran from Ellen McArthur and revamped it. And so he took the most sustainable Champagne onboard. Telmont was also the official Champagne for the Cannes Film Festival. It’s just giving you some examples of a collective created in a very organic way.
5. What makes Champagne Telmont such a special wine?
It’s a wine that is very elegant. You have very, very tiny bubbles. I strongly believe that the wine is amazing! You have the Réserve Brut, the Blanc de Blancs 100 percent Chardonnay, the Blanc de Noir 100 percent Pinot Noir and Meunier, and then you have the vintages. The Réserve de la Terre is our organic Champagne. The oldest vintage that we have in our cellars is from 1964, and it’s a róse. This is priceless.
6. Especially with such rapid growth, can Telmont change the region’s trajectory to a more ecologically conscious one?
We are seen as very disruptive in a very positive way. We have a size that allows us to take on these commitments, and we are not here to judge the other Champagne houses. I believe all Champagne houses are moving in the right direction, but our size allows us to go faster. I also think that in Champagne, we don’t compete against each other. There is a place for everybody. The Champagne market produces 320 million bottles worldwide per year. Sparkling wine produces more than 3 billion. We are at a loss, so there is a place for everybody, and we all have our own style in wine and communication.
One thing I was very proud of is that when Leonardo DiCaprio decided to invest, he came to Champagne four months later. It says a lot that it’s not just an investment — he had a lot of questions about the project, and he’s very into it. I’m very proud, as the head of Telmont, of the Champagne region — and I am very proud of France.