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The Champagne Master's Secret After decades creating one of france's most exquisite champagnes, the retiring cellar master of Perrier-Jouët must pass on HIS secrets to his successor. Their transmission takes them from champagne to the geisha bars in tokyo. Story and Photos by Justin Jin

Back in Epérnay, the cultural heart of Champagne, Deschamps is passing on the baton to his successor, the first female cellar master to run Perrier-Jouët.

It is 8 am, October 15, 2018, and Frerson is driving to the Avenue de Champagne on her first official day at Perrier-Jouet.

There is no elaborate welcoming ceremony, no flowers, not even a glass of Champagne this time. Deschamps offers her something much bigger: the house itself.

When Deschamps shows Frerson her bureau, he presents her with a bronze key to the cellar, holding many thousands of reserve wines in its 10 kilometer chalk tunnels.

“There are not many people who have this key," Deschamps says to a stunned Frerson. She had not expected to be given access to the house’s most prized possessions on day one.

Founded in 1811 in Epernay, the capital of Champagne, Perrier-Jouët’s story begins in a room called Eden, a locked part of the cellar deep in the tunnels 20 meters below ground. Here live the oldest bottles of Champagne in existence today -- two bottles of 1825, verified by the Guinness Book of Records, laying alongside the first bottles of Belle Epoque of the 1864 vintage.

"You're right below our bureau, where the cellar master's spirit comes down to look for inspiration from the most beautiful and the oldest bottles,” Deschamps tells Frerson.

Super Ambassador in osaka

While Frerson has the technical skills to make champagne, she needs to convey her house’s story to the consumers, even if that means sitting as the lone female guest in a club full of suited men and their seductive courtesans.

After dinner in Osaka, the Deschamps and Frerson went on a “market visit” with their Japanese colleagues to the famously expensive bars. Sipping Champagne poured by escort women can cost around USD1,000 per head per hour. The group of five consumed just three bottles of Belle Epoque’s Autumn edition (normally retailing for around USD200-300 per bottle), but because at each bar the head mamasan graced their table with her presence, they paid USD15,000 for the three-hour night out.

“The idea of mamasan is entirely new to me, where you have on the one side the deep respect for tradition and on the other side the sharing of pleasure with a smile,” says Frerson.

From the monastic dark tunnels leading from Eden, the cellar master must remember where the wine will travel. He and she must think of the glitz of Osaka, Tokyo, Shanghai and New York where the bubbly will flow deep into the night.

“When I first joined Perrier-Jouët, my cellar master said to me, ‘remember you are not making a Champagne for the cathedral; it is to be drunk at night’”, Deschamps says with a laugh.

And now, it is Deschamps’ turn to become a ghost of Perrier-Jouët’s past.

“If you need me, I'll come late at night so that nobody can see me coming, and you can keep your position that ‘it's me who decides. I'm the one who make the wines,’" he tells Frerson.

"The king is dead, long live the king” Deschamps says.

And long live the queen.

Copyright 2019 by Justin Jin. Full story text available on request.

Justin Jin photographs and writes long form stories for the world’s leading publications.

International prizes attest to his dedication. He was awarded the Magnum Photography Prize, a place at the World Press Photo Masterclass, Canon Prize, among others.

Speaking five languages -- English, Chinese, Russian, French and Dutch, Justin cuts through cultural barriers to the heart of diverse themes.

He is also a knowledgeable wine-taster, having been in his younger years the prize-winning captain of the Cambridge University blind tasting team.

Justin and his team winning the 1994 Cambridge vs Oxford wine tasting championship.

He splits his time among Brussels, China and wherever the story takes him.