That Virginie Taittinger, dubbed the "princess of champagne" and the scion of one of the world's most well-known drinks dynasties, should choose to dedicate her life to producing champagne comes as no surprise. That she should start a company aiming to rival the Taittinger brand is more unexpected.

"Not one grape from my produce comes from the same place as Taittinger champagne," said Ms Taittinger, who has set up Virginie T, selling online to 800 private clients in western Europe. "It tastes different, is marketed differently, and is nothing to do with their product. But, of course, it is still fantastic."

Taittinger, 51, has opened her own winery in Sillery, just 9.6km from Taittinger's cellars in Reims. The Taittinger champagne house is one of the few still owned and managed by the family on the label.

The original house was founded in Reims in 1734. It was sold in 2005 to the American hotel group Starwood then bought back by the family a year later, Ms Taittinger's cousin Pierre-Emmanuel now presiding.


How does her cousin feel about a rival to the Taittinger throne? "He can't do much about it," she laughed. "We're still very close as a family ... But we don't talk about business."

Her small online enterprise of just four people can't compete with her cousin's vast company. It produced 150,000 bottles in its 2009 vintage, plus 12,000 bottles of rose. Taittinger produces five million bottles a year.