Women in Wine - Kaaren Palmer
Wednesday, March 06, 2019 in News
Women in Wine: Kaaren Palmer
Kaaren Palmer is one of Australia’s leading authorities on Champagne. A collector, educator and award-winning author, Kaaren is also a Dame-Chevalier of the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.
Winning the Best French Wine Book at the Gourmand International Food and Wine Book Awards 2016, Kaaren has received much praise for her book Champagne... a tasting journey, essential reading for Champagne obsessives. You can read Kaaren’s incredible work up with her Champagne Education session with the Queen Adelaide Club.
Collector, educator and award-winning author, Kaaren Palmer
While most people enjoy a glass of Champagne, it’s fair to say Kaaren has taken her interest in the wine far beyond most. What first drew you into the world of Champagne?
Well, of course, initially it was a nice glass of Champagne. In my early 20s, when I had my first glass, I thought if ever I could afford to drink, I shall! At the time I didn’t realise then that you collect it, store it, that it would improve. That it would such an utterly wonderful wine with so many varied styles. On top of that, the whole area of Champagne is utterly captivating. It’s got a long history, and quite a sad history if consider the wars that have gone through. But it has a fascinating history from when vines were first planted. The history of the monasteries. Originally still wines, before the dastardly sparkle was brought under control – it was not liked at first – and now known as Champagne.
There’s been many conversations around grower champagne versus the traditional great houses. We’re also seeing lower dosage and more expressions of zero-dosage wines. Are the growers driving this trend?
It’s partly fashion/partly to do with the ripening of the fruit in Champagne. Some Champagnes are creeping up from 12% to 12.5% Abv. There is also the school of natural wine that thinks the less you add the better and will even try to do without adding sulphur which isn’t always a great idea. Some do it successfully like Drapier. I have many bottles of their unsulphured Champagne, others are less successful.
Is this hands-off approach mostly the preserve of the growers?
Oh, absolutely. The bigger houses wouldn’t do it.
This non-interventionist approach from the growers is part of their aim to express terroir while the Maisons look to express a house style.
Yes, But if you look at a house like Jacequeson, they make a ‘house style’ but they simply try to make the best Champagne they can every year. They have some exceptional single vineyard Champagnes but they know that their flagship is their non-vintage blend.
“ Life’s full of pleasure when you drink Champagne. ”
You’re a noted collector of Champagne. How did you start?
I started mainly with grand marques. When I started out, in the 80s we could only get Pol [Roger], Bollinger and a few others. We have a luxury of Champagnes now and today we have some truly wonderful Champagnes coming through. I collect cellar staples like Charles Heidsieck, Bollinger and Pol. Louis Roederer is a particular favourite of mine. I also really like the wines in the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy stable. I mean, everyone loves Krug. I like Dom Ruinart particularly.
Veuve is going from strength-to-strength. Especially that old extra brut, it’s one-off, made using gorgeous old reserves from the 1988 Cramant. I’d highly recommend that you buy some and put them down. As old as those reserves are, the wine is complex and has a wonderful light refinement and terrific acidity in the balance. And it’s dosed sufficiently to keep. I’m going to have a go at keeping that for fifteen years. I wish I had bought more of the cuvées de prestige. As you get older you realise you have only so many drinking days and you want to drink wonderful things.
You’ve published your acclaimed book Champagne… a Tasting Journey. Before your success in business, you were a teacher early in your career, did you write the book out of a desire to teach?
I’ve always thought things need to be presented in a structured fashion. When I first started getting really serious about Champagne, I started learning from a very nice gentleman from the Champagne Bureau but it wasn’t coming together for me. I thought. Why? How? Where? All I wanted to know about Champagne began with its history. I went through things like its balance, its length and how they get that into the bottle. Why are there so many different styles? How are they created? What are the different regions and how do the grapes express themselves in those different regions? What about the different styles of Chardonnay? The styles from right down south near Chablis, or the Cotes de Blanc, those wonderful Champagne villages like Le Mesnil, Cramant, Oger, Chouilly. It’s just such a vast area, the more I learn about it the more I think there is to learn because things evolve. What happens to those reserve wines that don’t fit into a house style? I’m going to write a piece on that!
Another book, perhaps?
Well, the book took a number of years of my life. Maybe a shorter piece. I’d also like to know more about ‘so-called’ underrated villages, or as Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon (Chef de Cave Louis Roederer) would say, underrated winemakers. Some really do punch above their weight like a favourite of mine Jacques Picard, made by José Lievens. What a delicious quaffer that is! And how it evolves.
Kaaren Palmer and her collection
What is your standout wine moment? Where it all first made sense, your most memorable wine?
I was 23 years old, my husband at the time had just been awarded his masters at Imperial College in London. We were pretty poor but I purchased a half bottle of Piper Heidsieck. That was an ‘Ah’ moment. But I have plenty of ‘Ah’ moments these days. I recently had a Special Club Paul Bara2004. Dom Ruinart 2002 Rosé, oh my goodness that’s just superb. A Bollinger 2002 and 2004 side-by-side. That 2002 is not recently disgorged but it is still holding up with that acid while the 2004 just caresses your tongue, it caresses your whole mouth. A luscious, luscious drop. A lovely Jacquesson 2002 was a highlight a few weeks ago. A Charles Heidsieck 2000. Now 2000 isn’t considered a great year but there are great wines to be had from that year. Pol Roger put some out, Roederer always puts out some. Life’s full of pleasure when you drink Champagne.
“ ...to work where your passions are, what better life could there be? ”
What advice would you give to people looking to break into your part of the wine industry?
You need to be passionate. But to work where your passions are, what better life could there be?
Who is the woman in the wine industry who has influenced you the most?
Kate Laurie from Deviation Road. She trained in Champagne and I’ve had a lot of tastings with her. Pam Dunsford who was the first female graduate from Roseworthy and Dux of the class! A brilliant woman. I’ve worked a lot with the chef Anne Oliver. Anne had Mistress Augustine’s which was legendary in the 1980s in Adelaide.
You’ve had much success in business and made yourself an authority on Champagne in Australia. How do you influence in the wine industry?
At the grassroots level, mainly. But I’m very vigorous at the grassroots level. I’m writing a few pieces for the new Vine & Bubble magazine.
Read more interviews from our Women in Wine series.