A warrior, poet and great explorer, he is the most emblematic figure of the comital dynasty of Champagne. The memory of Thibaut IV de Champagne lives on through his seal on one of Maison Taittinger’s most prestigious bottles.
The Comtes de Champagne cuvee is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most legendary of all of the cuvees produced by Maison Taittinger. It represents the quintessential Champagne wine, produced in small quantities from the Chardonnay grape variety and derived from an exceptional terroir, that of the five villages of the Côte des Blancs with a Grands Crus classification: Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger. Bunches of grapes picked at the optimum ripeness, sorted and selected… Blanc de blancs or rosé, the bottles of Comtes de Champagne cuvee lie in the chalk quarries beneath the Hill of Saint-Nicaise for 10 years before they can be uncorked. Certain vintages – of which the first one was produced in 1952 – are today considered “legendary” among lovers of Champagne wine. The name “Comtes de Champagne” is also the expression of a part of history specific to this terroir. While their reign over this land lasted little over three centuries before it was reintegrated back into the Kingdom of France as it had no heirs, the Counts of Champagne nonetheless left their mark on these eastern plains and valleys. The story of the counts began in 956 and continued until 1284, coinciding with the heyday of large annual trading fairs known as Champagne fairs. The counts championed and breathed new life into these fairs, which marked the intersection of the trade routes from the Baltic, England and Byzantium.
In the genealogy of the Counts of Champagne, one figure stands out in particular. The most striking perhaps, the most audacious without a doubt. Son of Thibaut III de Champagne and Blanche de Navarre, Thibaut IV counted Philippe Auguste among his godparents. The highly independent young count was sometimes displeased with his sovereign, as was the case when he departed the crusade against the Albigensians (or Cathars) at the end of his 40 days of compulsory service. He was around 30 years of age when he inherited the Kingdom of Navarre through his mother due to the death of his uncle. Being both Count of Champagne and King of Navarre at the same time, in 1239 he answered Pope Gregory IX’s calls to lead a crusade to protect the Holy Land. Thibaut was promoted to leader and while he did not emerge victorious from the fighting, he nevertheless achieved an advantageous peace.
This is where legend and history intertwine. Indeed, as tradition would have it, Thibaut IV de Champagne returned to France with some ancestral plants of Chardonnay, a grape variety from which the Comtes de Champagne cuvee is made. It is also said that he put a rose in his helmet, known as the Damask rose or the rose of Provins.
He spent the rest of his life making countless trips between Troyes, Champagne and Pamplona. It was there, but in Champagne too, that Thibaut IV wrote the numerous love songs and poems that led to him becoming the most famous “chansonnier” (songwriter) of his time. One of the so-called “Trouvères” (epic poets from Northern France) for his subjects in Champagne, he was a troubadour in Navarre. It is said that his lyrics are as remarkable for their beauty as they are for their freedom of expression. Thibaut IV de Champagne was well-versed in casting an ironic gaze on the rules of love of the era. Dante considered him a pioneer of the time. Born in Troyes, Thibaut IV de Champagne became King of Navarre and died in Pamplona, exhausted from the fatigues of another trip to Champagne. Thibaut le Chansonnier left a prolific and esteemed collection of works to posterity.
His seal proudly adorns every bottle of Comtes de Champagne cuvee to this day still, not only linking the past and present but also paying one last tribute to these counts, and to this count in particular, who is said to have brought the ancestor of Champagne’s leading grape variety back home with him from his faraway campaigns.