Today marks the retirement of longtime winemaker Régis Camus, who has spent nearly three decades crafting the Champagnes of Charles Heidsieck, Piper-Heidsieck and Rare Champagne. It also marks the end of an era that, for me, included some of my most-memorable tastings of special bottles, as well as fascinating conversations and insights from a warm and generous gentleman for whom I developed great respect and fondness.
I first met Régis in 2010, the year I began covering the wines of Champagne for Wine Spectator. The end of that meeting was marked by one of our first tastings together of a special bottle: Régis opened a bottle of Charles Heidsieck’s 1979 Champagne Charlie, and we sipped it down in the house’s underground chalk crayères, a magical setting.
At that time, Régis was well-established in his role as cellar master for both Charles and Piper-Heidsieck Champagnes, which were then owned by Rémy-Cointreau. He’d started in 1994, working alongside his predecessor, Daniel Thibault, until Thibault’s death in 2002.
Régis’ early years at Piper were marked by innovation as he worked on the creation of new labels that expanded the Piper line. In 2001 Piper released Sublime, a demi-sec bottling with additional aging, and in 2004, Sauvage, a deeply-hued rosé with a substantial portion of Pinot Noir vinified as still red wine—unusual for the period, before Champagne houses began adjusting to climate change and before a greater focus on balanced, still red production became a trend. Régis would launch Piper-Heidsieck Essential in 2013, Rare Champagne's Rosé in 2016 and Le Secret in 2018.
Beyond his capacity for thinking outside the box, Régis mastered the challenging task of creating Champagnes for two distinct houses with a laudable headspace. “It's a privilege to make both—because they must stay separate in style," he told me in 2010, "but both come from the same source materials.” It hinted at Régis’ technical ability, while at the same time I also came to understand his passion for the wines he crafted—and a bit of his poetic nature—when he described the two house styles: “Piper is springtime, all floral, citrus and white fruit; Charles is fall—golden—with Mediterranean dates and stone fruits.”
Charles Heidsieck’s vintages 1990 and 1995 ranked among Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year, in 1998 and 2005, respectively; Piper has earned the honor five times. Between the two brands, Wine Spectator editors have awarded the wines more than 40 classic ratings of 95 points or more on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale, with Piper’s tête du cuvée Rare earning many of them.
The past decade plus has been marked by change for Charles and Piper-Heidsieck, which Rémy-Cointreau sold to French luxury goods firm EPI in 2011. They added a modern production facility, introduced new packaging and messaging, and more. Régis was an important constant during that period, but soon after he would begin the process of transmitting his expertise around the two house styles. In 2015 Cyril Brun, formerly of Veuve Clicquot, assumed responsibility for Charles Heidsieck’s production while Régis directed his time solely to Piper-Heidsieck and Rare. And again in 2018 Régis passed the torch at Piper to Émilien Boutillat, who previously worked with Cattier Champagne and Armand de Brignac’s Ace of Spades bottlings.
These transitions allowed Régis to focus exclusively on Piper's Rare Champagne in the final years of his career. “Since 2018, I have worked with [global director] Maud Rabin to turn Rare Champagne into a maison in its own right," Régis said in a press release. "Appreciated, respected and sought-after, Rare Champagne has become the jewel I was hoping for. Today, it is considered a fine Champagne brand, and I am extremely proud of that.”
One of my favorite memories with Régis is of a dinner celebrating his 20th anniversary at Piper, in 2014. The evening included a tasting of every vintage of Rare Champagne, which is only produced in special years. We tasted the 1976, 1979, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1998 (from magnum), 1999 and 2002. It was fascinating to see the consistency of style from release to release, and at the same time to track the evolution of the various vintages.
The Rare bottlings that evening had aged beautifully, a fitting reflection of Régis’ career as I remember them today. Somewhat quiet, always kind and incredibly modest, Régis has made a contribution not just to the two Champagne houses he called home for so many years, but to the region as a whole. Salut Régis!
Follow Alison Napjus on Instagram at @napjuswine.