When champagne patriarch Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger joked that he was paid to drink, eat and make love, little did he imagine those exploits would embroil him in a court case against an ex-mistress who pursued him with a knife and threatened to cut off his penis.
At the end of August, Samira L, 48, was given a suspended one-year prison sentence for chasing him with the weapon outside the family home in Rheims, making death threats and harassing him. She also harassed his wife Claire, 76, daughter Vitalie, the current boss of the champagne house, and another alleged mistress.
Yet she used the trial to relate lurid allegations about their sex and champagne-fueled lives together that will haunt what he had planned as a peaceful retirement that would “make his wife happy”.
Taittinger, 70, a flamboyant figure in the champagne world who bought the grand firm back from an American investment fund in 2006, went to the police in 2017 to report three years of harassment by an accountant, named Samira L.
The pair had begun a relationship in 2011, which he ended in 2014. After his complaint, Samira L bombarded Taittinger with text messages threatening to emasculate and kill him, then took a train to Rheims to confront him at the family home. She pulled out a knife and began chasing him in the street, the Paris court heard. “If I had running shoes on, I would have caught you and I would have murdered you,” she texted afterwards.
Samira L admitted that she hounded Taittinger because she felt abused and manipulated when he broke up with her, having kept her in a flat in the opulent 16th arrondissement of Paris, she said. She also attempted to blacken his name in the business world by trying to spread baseless claims of pedophilia and pimping.
In court she accused Taittinger of forcing her into a dissolute life of heavy champagne consumption and visits to Paris’s libertine (sex clubs).
“He chose the outfits I had to wear as well as the make-up and the hair removal,” she said. “He chose the men I had to have sex with,” she alleged. She also claimed to have been raped there. The managers of the clubs told police that they had received no complaints from her and they described the couple as “loving and libertine clients”.
“If I had running shoes on, I would have caught you and I would have murdered you.”
With his long hair and colorful style, Taittinger, grandson of Pierre Taittinger, the brand’s founder, has long cut a dash in the tight-knit champagne world. In a 2021 profile, Le Monde described him as “an exuberant playboy” and “a slightly Rabelaisian party animal”. He made news in 2016 when he briefly entered the race for the 2017 presidential election, withdrawing after only two days because of “a serious personal event”.
The Taittinger company site describes him as “an aesthete, a hedonist and a humanist, at the same time a dreamer and a determined man”.
Tom Michel, Samira L’s lawyer, said Taittinger had exerted toxic control over her. “There was not a loving man on one side and a manipulating woman on the other. Her existence was devoted to Taittinger … He controlled her whole life,” the lawyer said in Le Parisien newspaper. “She felt that she had been sullied. She wanted to do the same back to him.”
Taittinger, who is now honorary chairman of the company and head of its new Evremond brand, a joint Franco-British sparkling wine vineyard in Kent, was not in court but Nicolas Hubsch, his lawyer, said the judges had clearly disbelieved Samira L’s claims of abuse.
“None of this lady’s claims have led to prosecution,” he said. “This lady has used slander to damage my client, to intimidate him and put him under pressure,” Hubsch told Journal L’Union, the Champagne region newspaper. “This six-year-old affair has profoundly affected my client morally and psychologically.”
“An aesthete, a hedonist and a humanist, at the same time a dreamer and a determined man.”
Taittinger had “enormously suffered from all these attacks”, the lawyer said. He had been “stupidly in love” with Samira L and had tried to calm her anger, agreeing to pay her $3,340 monthly rent for four more years in return for an end to her campaign.
When she sent text messages including “I want to kill you” and “I want you to die. Am I clear?”, he replied kindly: “Darling Samira. Did you write that because you were drinking your medicine again? Take care of me like I take care of you. I love you.”
A psychiatrist’s report to the court said the former mistress had a “histrionic personality”, a disorder defined as exaggerated emotionality and attention-seeking behavior.
Taittinger staff told Le Parisien that her campaign against their boss, who stepped down in 2020, had led to a “threatening atmosphere” in the company, which he bought back from Starwood Capital in 2006 for $940 million. The sale in 2005 had caused deep divisions in the family.
Taittinger, who began working life in his early 20s selling champagne in Alpine resorts out of a Citroen 2CV, has sometimes associated champagne with sex. He once compared the sparkling wine to Viagra, noting that a mistress of King Louis XV had claimed that the king was a better lover when he was drinking champagne.
“I am paid to drink, I am paid to eat and make love sometimes, and drink wonderful champagne sometimes,” he told The Irish Times in 2016. “Champagne is not only a wine, it is a symbol of happiness, a symbol of delicacy, of elegance.”
Talking of his future retirement, he added: “It will be a beautiful day. They will offer me two little dogs because I want to take care of two dogs. The conversation will be superb. I will have no mistress anymore. My wife will be happy.”
Charles Bremner is the Paris correspondent for The Times of London