It’s November 2020 when I receive a message from Fiona Perrin on Instagram. “Hello, happy to connect! I’m super surprised to see someone else promoting natural champagne!” Fiona tells me she owns a champagne business that sells and promotes natural champagne in the United States. Her enthusiasm is contagious and I instantly know I need to learn more about this young entrepreneur. Later, in February of 2021, we sit down for a (poor connected) Zoom meeting, where she tells me all about her brand Rendez-Vous champagne, her adventures in the United States and the day she discovered the world of natural champagne. Which, so she realised, is a magical world without alcohol-induced headaches.
The supernatural accident
It’s the headaches and side effects that make Fiona discover her sensitivity for additives in champagne and wine. “A couple of glasses could really floor me, you probably know the feeling,” Fiona says, laughing. We’ve never met before and just started a bumpy Zoom call, yet it feels like we’re two old friends catching up. Fiona is in Lyon, where she lived before moving to the U.S. to work as a wine and champagne ambassador. There, she learned she has a strong reaction to additives and a talent for recognising terroir in wine. “I represented wine houses in the U.S.,” Fiona says, “and I discovered natural wine by accident.” Suddenly, the headaches where gone, and what remained was an almost supernatural experience. The rest is history.
No such thing as natural champagne
At the time, Fiona works in New York City. After her discovery, she starts specialising in natural wines and learns what the unfiltered and SO2-free production process looks like. “I got into it 24/7,” Fiona says. “I learned a lot about natural wine, yet, I didn’t know much about natural champagne.” She asks people about it, but they all tell her there’s no such thing. “Most people believe you can’t make natural champagne, as champagne requires both sugar and a second fermentation process,” Fiona explains. She starts her own search and finds out natural champagne does exist, but only as a very small niche. Along with her (also French) boyfriend Jean-Michel, who she met oversees, she decides there’s room for improvement.
Setting up a business
Fiona and Jean-Michel fly back to France to meet up with organic and biodynamic champagne growers. After a lot of talking and tasting, they select a producer that owns 35 plots of organic vineyards in Montage de Reims. “It matched so well and we also really connected,” Fiona says. “Our producer has an organic label. He works with biodynamic principles in the vineyards and with natural processes in the cellar. He uses native yeast for a natural fermentation process, organic raw sugar cane for the dosage, and he doesn’t filter the champagne to get more complexity. What’s more, he doesn’t use any animal products for fining, such as egg whites or gelatine. It’s all natural clay.” And good news for the headache-fearing people: the producer limits the use of sulphites to an absolute minimum. “As an organic champagne producer, you can still use up to 150 grams of sulphites,” says Fiona. “Our producer doesn’t go over 45. Instead, he uses native yeasts to stabilise the fermentation process. It’s quite unique!”
No more Prosecco
It’s the young Americans that inspire Fiona and Jean-Michel to create an accessible, affordable natural champagne. “Most people in the U.S. are used to sweet Californian wines and Prosecco,” Fiona explains, “so we created a product that would gently introduce them to the world of natural champagne.” The couple comes up with the name “Rendez-Vous champagne”, which expresses the meeting of two worlds: France and the United States, youth and natural champagne, and innovative entrepreneurs and the ancient champagne production process. In her enthusiasm, Fiona switches to French: “C’est un Rendez-Vous avec le monde et des millions des gens,” she beams.
The three Rendez-Vous champagnes
Hearing Fiona talk about her line of champagnes, I never felt worse about not being able to travel to France (thanks corona). Normally I’d order them all (you know, for research purposes) but as Rendez-Vous champagne is only available in the U.S., I’ll have to make do with her vivid descriptions. Here we go:
Chardonnay/ Pinot Meunier/ Pinot Noir
Dosage : 7 grams
Fiona: “This is our crowd pleaser as it’s very approachable. Our Brut champagne eases the transition for people that are used to sweet wine as it does have added sugar, but way more subtle. What I love about it, is the dominant role of the Pinot Noir, which really hits you in the aftertaste. There’s a purity in this champagne that allows for a lot of food pairing options. It goes with everything! The alcohol doesn’t take over the food, which is one of the things I like most about natural champagne.
Fiona: “Compared to our Brut, Rendez-Vous Extra Brut requires a more specific mood and setting. One of the main differences is the dosage, which changes everything! There’s more minerality and more depth, which I love. All of our champagnes age 4 to 5 years, which creates a toastiness that’s very apparent in this champagne. Rendez-Vous Extra Brut has a very aromatic profile of flowers and stone fruits, along with spices such as white pepper. Thanks to its low sugar levels, this champagne is very compatible with sea food such as oysters and sushi, and it also goes very well with veggies. This makes Rendez-Vous Extra Brut a star match for vegetarians.
Chardonnay/ Pinot Meunier/ Pinot Noir
Dosage : 7 grams
Fiona: “This Rosé is super interesting! I like to call it the “All Year Rosé” as it’s not your typical summer wine. In Champagne, traditionally rosés are created by “rosé d’assemblage”, which means you mix white and red grapes. In other wine regions, and more and more in Champagne too, growers produce rosé by soaking the skin of dark grapes exclusively, which is called rosé de saignée. As we mix dark grapes with the more elegant Chardonnay, our Rendez-Vous Rosé has an elegance that you don’t usually find in rosé wines. It’s not sweet, but not too stiff either, so that the sweet tooth people among us can enjoy it too. You’ll immediately notice the fine bubbles, and you’ll get loads of spices, saffron, red fruits and berries. It’s the most aromatic and complex champagne we have, and I suggest you combine it with spicy foods, shrimps and risotto.
…So where can we order?
Having heard the descriptions above, I only have one question: how can I get myself some Rendez-Vous? “I’m so sorry but you can’t!” Fiona says. “At least, not yet. We’re shipping to the U.S. exclusively, but we’re planning on going international very soon.” Fiona and Jean-Michel have big future plans, which includes a second business that imports all sorts of natural champagne to the United States. “Natural champagne used to be a niche market there, but there’s more and more people demanding more wholesome foods. This includes wine and champagne,” Fiona explains. Clearly, Rendez-Vous is ready to conquer the world. starting with young America. They are however planning on staying in France, Fiona says. “With corona going on, we can’t travel to the U.S. anyway. It feels good, though. We’re going back to our roots!”
Are you a fortunate American? Go and order Rendez-Vous here. Not so fortunate? Fiona is a big fan of Marie Courtin, Vouette et Sorbée and Ruppert-Leroy. Their champagnes are available online, and they’ll keep you satisfied until the Rendez-Vous movement has gone international. Enjoy!