In this week’s interview, Lacey Burke, U.S. Brand Ambassador for Ruinart, discusses the legendary Champagne house. Ms. Burke worked in the restaurant business for over ten years, including sommelier positions in a few of NYC’s finest establishments including Grayz, Del Posto and Gotham Bar and Grill. In addition to working the floor as a sommelier, she also conducted educational seminars for private clients, and participated in tasting panels for Wine & Spirits magazine, and Eric Asimov’s New York Times column.
How and when did Ruinart begin and how has its style evolved over the generations?
Ruinart was founded in 1729 and although they have adjusted their winemaking techniques with the times, have always remained a house focused on fresh, elegant Champagne.
What is unique about its vineyard(s), soils, etc., compared to other Champagne houses?
We are known for our Blanc de Blancs, which is a very rare style of Champagne, since Chardonnay represents only about 30% Champagne vineyards. Over 55% of our supply is Chardonnay and a majority of our Chardonnay comes from Premiers Crus and Grands Crus vineyards.
What current styles does Ruinart make? Are they all available in Chicago (any exclusive to restaurants?)
In the US you’ll find our NV Blanc de Blancs, Rose and vintage Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Dom Ruinart rosé.
Do you produce vintage Champagnes every year? What are some of the most memorable vintages for Ruinart?
We only produce vintage Champagnes in years that are not only great, but great for Chardonnay. 2002 is showing particularly well right now!
I have to ask, what happened in 2013? How devastating were the storms in Champagne to the vineyards?
Growing vines in 2013 was no easy task in France as many wine regions got hit by poor weather conditions, hail, diseases, resulting in sometimes devastating results in terms of crop size and quality. But Champagne remained largely unscathed, thanks to a perfect summer and a equally nice fall. And despite the unusually late harvest, the wines, especially those made from chardonnay, are very promising, according to our Chef de Caves. There might even be a 2013 Ruinart vintage!
Now let’s talk about you for a moment. How does one prepare to take on the role of brand ambassador for such a famous brand? What are the roles you take on to promote Ruinart?
I spent about five years as a sommelier in two of the best New York City fine dining restaurants. My passion and knowledge for Champagne grew in these environments. I focus on education, consumer tastings, staff trainings and events to create awareness and excitement about Ruinart.
Have you discovered any unique pairings with Ruinart Champagnes?
I tend to lean towards classic pairings, but some personal favorites are sushi and Asian cuisine in general, and of course, French fries! A specific paring I particularly liked, was a beautiful duck confit cassoulet by Michelle Bernstein, with our 1998 Dom Ruinart rose’. I wasn’t sure if it could stand up to such a rich dish, but the results were phenomenal!
Thank you for those great answers, Ms. Burke! And good luck to all sommeliers in the Chicago edition of the Ruinart Challenge, taking place May 13 here in Chicago – someone will win a trip to Champagne (can you take me with you?)