Vitalie Taittinger pours into her family’s centuries-old champagne legacy and pays tribute to an iconic Hollywood fundraiser shaping the industry with their efforts for equality.
While most of the U.S. will wind down after the holidays, Los Angeles will just be getting started for its most festive time of the year, “awards season.” From the Golden Globes to the Oscar after-parties, celebrities and the entertainment industry’s’ VIPs will be out in full force. And Champagne—naturally—will continue to be the beverage of choice that will be sparkling as much as the gowns on the carpet.
The French have brought many a high-class tradition to events surrounding celebration and dining. The French city, Lyons, is noted for bringing healthy nouvelle cuisine to the table and some of the most iconic places to enjoy these dishes are off the charming streets of Paris, where gastronomy and vistas of the Eiffel Tower abound. Taking it back stateside, we recognize Hollywood as a legendary locale where famous names regularly sip on the bubbly French spirit, Champagne.
Here is where the Screen Actors Guild Awards take place, which follows the Golden Globes by a week, and is both the ultimate family reunion for Hollywood’s most prominent actors as well as a fundraiser for the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Emergency Assistance Program. This unique program supports SAG-member actors and their families with financial assistance. As a member of one of the world’s great Champagne-producing families and the global ambassador for the Champagne Taittinger brand, Vitalie Taittinger, can thoroughly relate to the underpinnings of SAG’s annual gathering.
2020 will mark Vitalie’s 13th year flying from France to Los Angeles to welcome Hollywood to SAG’s biggest night. In spite of the fact that Los Angeles’ intensified freeway traffic added extra stress to the frenetic weekend during her 2019 visit, Vitalie recently breezed in to the downtown L.A. restaurant, 71Above, looking relaxed and as chic as you would expect a cultured French woman to be. Before she sat down to talk about Taittinger’s alliance with SAG over a glass of NV Brut La Française (served at the ceremony) and shared her serving tips, she snapped a few iPhone shots of the sun setting over the picturesque skyline.
"We express our singularities as a producer within the competitive Champagne industry, much as the actors do in their competitive industry.”
“Champagne Taittinger’s involvement with the SAG awards is important to our legacy,” she explains as she sits back down. “In addition to our objective to craft the best wine possible, our allying with SAG in 2001 presented us with an opportunity to be a brand with real personality. We express our singularities as a producer within the competitive Champagne industry, much as the actors do in their competitive industry.”
When Vitalie assumed the position of Champagne Taittinger’s Director of Communications in 2007, the opening toast was long an institution, but the honors were handled by spokesmodels. However, when Vitalie first arrived in Hollywood to attend the SAG Awards shortly after starting her new job, SAG’s award show decision-makers determined that it was more appropriate for Vitalie to lead the evening and add more authenticity to the proceedings.
“It seemed more fitting that a member of the Taittinger family paid tribute to the ultimate family of actors on this occasion, even though the models did their bit,” says Vitalie, who will assume the role of President of Taittinger Champagne on January 1, 2020, succeeding her father. “In the beginning, the experience of participating felt a little strange. However, SAG has become like extended family. Today, my involvement is not just about my appearance on the red carpet, but also becoming more deeply involved in what the SAG-AFTRA Foundation represents and the causes its members support. The Foundation has taken progressive positions on such issues as providing medical assistance to those in need, women gaining more equal footing with men in the entertainment industry and bringing about societal changes that are meaningful to all of us.”
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"The Foundation has taken progressive positions on such issues as providing medical assistance to those in need, women gaining more equal footing with men in the entertainment industry and bringing about societal changes that are meaningful to all of us.”
Long before Vitalie stepped into the bright lights of Hollywood, she followed the example of her grandmother and great-grandmother, who were both artists, by pursuing painting. She studied art and painted for a number of years, but eventually realized she preferred social interaction to the traditionally solitary artist’s life. She worked at various marketing agencies before returning to the family business. From there, she came full circle.
“To be a full-time artist, one has to be courageous enough to be by themselves and present with their idiosyncrasies all the time,” she muses. “I realized I was a social being and need to be with people on a regular basis. Although I am involved with promoting the Champagne on a daily basis, I don’t see what I do as marketing. I see it as bringing the brand’s history and approach to crafting Champagne to life, which is why I try not to be too technical in describing the Champagne. Whether I am at the SAG Awards in L.A. or at work back in France, it is my goal to create a space that will be very special and emotional to people when they enjoy a glass or bottle of Champagne Taittinger.”
Vitalie explains that the process of creating compelling images and copy for Champagne Taittinger involves much preparation and forethought, much like actors preparing for certain roles. In the case of Champagne, which is aged for three to four years before it goes to market, she will direct the artwork and messaging to adapt to the way Champagne drinkers will view the product over time. Just as an actor has to truly understand the script and the director’s vision, she needs to have a fix on the terroir and the impact of the weather on the final product. Like a good film crew, there is a cohesive nature among the employees and winemakers that she draws inspiration and direction from.
Just like the Screen Actors Guild, Champagne Taittinger had its own periods of challenge and turmoil. In 2005, after some turbulent years, the house was sold to a large hospitality corporation. However, Vitalie, who beams with pride as she remembers the events, says that her father had great reservations about the sale to a firm expert in international travel but less so in crafting Champagne. Sensing the buyers would realize their mistake, he drafted a proposal to be able to buy back the company as he was concerned the quality of the Champagne would suffer and a legacy dating back to the 18th century would be lost to the vicissitudes of modern commerce.
“He did it very discreetly as he sensed not all of the family members would agree with his decisions,” she recalls. “When he succeeded in buying back the company in July 2006, I was so impressed. This was the moment I decided to work with him to bring Champagne Taittinger back to its esteemed place in the Champagne world. I wanted to learn all about the process of creating our family Champagne as well as communicating what Taittinger represents. It is a very complex job with many particularities with working in the vineyards, cellars, and cuvées.”
Between the 2019 and 2020 SAG Awards ceremonies, Vitalie turned her attention to updating another Taittinger tradition developed 52 years ago. The international culinary competition, which extends over the course of about six months, is dedicated to helping young chefs find their voice in the broader world of gastronomy, through the creations of dishes that are paired with none other than her family’s Champagne. For the consumer, Vitalie explains the contest also served to draw attention to the way the public can connect gastronomy to the way they entertain at home and seek out inspirational restaurants.
“The gastronomic context is different than it was 52 years ago, and as the approaches to cooking have changed a lot, there is always the question of what exists now in culinary knowledge and how we need to adapt,” she says. “In future competitions, we will be paying more attention to the energy chefs from around the world put into their work, the twists, lightheartedness and contrasts they are bringing into their work. We also need to move forward in the way we are communicating our messages to the public and the industry, as we’re now living in a digital world that did not exist 52 years ago.”
“The job I am in today is not the same job I was doing in 2007, and it’s not just about adjusting to digital media,” she points out. “We are trying to reduce our packaging and be more precise in the way we are doing our communications."
By the same token, her professional outlook is also changing. “The job I am in today is not the same job I was doing in 2007, and it’s not just about adjusting to digital media,” she points out. “We are trying to reduce our packaging and be more precise in the way we are doing our communications (with consumers and trade), and in the way we are approaching customers and environmental issues. After we’ve concentrated on producing the best wine, we are trying to bring that mindset forward in how we get our message and product to our fans.”
Encourage evening wear: While your guests may not be delivering acceptance speeches to millions of viewers nationwide, there’s no reason for the cast of characters on your guest list not to look their best, especially as it is the holiday season. Have your friends don their most fabulous apparel so everyone can feel glamorous.
Lay down the red carpet: Consider rolling out the red carpet—literally—for your guests in your walkway or foyer. Hang a tinsel backdrop and take photos as everyone arrives. This will make for memorable social media posts. Don’t forget to create your own hashtag!
Create a delectable spread: Prepare a spread of light bites that are easily enjoyed while socializing, or come next year, host your own award show screening parties. Favor items that can be eaten in one or two bites without utensils, such as charcuterie and satay skewers. Don’t forget everyone’s favorite movie-viewing snack — popcorn. Elevate this theater favorite by dusting it with herb and spice combinations like paprika and sea salt, truffle, or chives.
Add bubbly to the equation: Whether you pour the livel Prestige Rose NV or delicate Brut La Française NV, serving partygoers these signature selections will mean that they’re enjoying the same bubbles as all their favorite actors. Celebrate your favorite celebs and toast to the winners with a bottle of Champagne Taittinger, one of the last family-owned Grand Marque Champagne houses.