From the world’s best vineyards to Sri Lanka

Friday, 26 April 2013 04:21 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Champagne Cattier President Jean-Jacques Cattier visits Sri Lanka to introduce the luxury brand on its 250th anniversary

There are many sayings about champagne. The drink is known as the wine for kings and the king of wines. Some equal sipping a glass of champagne to tasting the stars. And many years ago, French wine merchant Joseph Dargent summed up its role by saying, “No government could survive without champagne. Champagne in the throats of our diplomatic people is like oil in the wheels of an engine.”

For President of Champagne Cattier, Jean-Jacques Cattier, champagne is a ‘wonderful creation’ associated with happy events and happy memories.

In Sri Lanka to launch one of the world’s most luxurious multiple award winning champagnes in Colombo, Cattier joined the Daily FT for a brief interview to express his views on the business, and the partnership he has formed with Global Brands to introduce the brand to Sri Lanka. The exclusive launch event was held on Sunday at the Hilton Colombo.

He was joined by Champagne Cattier Director Commercial Philippe Bienvenu and Global Brands Managing Director Rahul Kashyap for the interview.

Following are excerpts:

By Cheranka Mendis

Q: Is this your first visit here?

Jean-Jacques Cattier (JJC):
I came to Sri Lanka in 1971/72 but it is like my first visit here because I honestly couldn’t remember anything in Colombo. It is like I came here in another life. I cannot compare or recognise anything. But I am happy to be here again to look at possibilities and promise to come back again in the future.

Q: Where did the story begin, what is the history of the Cattier House?

This is a story of my family and company which is effectively very long – 250 years old. We found that in 1973 our ancestors already owned vineyards in the same village we are still operating in. However, they were not making champagne for mass consumption. An important date in history for us is in 1918 after World War I, when my grandfather began producing champagne and selling it under our family name, Cattier. My parents continued after World War II and I took it in my stride to join the business. My son is the boss of the company now. I am the 10th generation engaged in the business and my son is the 11th. My grandson hopefully will be the 12th .

Another historical day for us is in 2006 when we launched the premier cuvée Armand de Brignac, also known as Ace of Spade, which has become a great success in a very few years.

Q: How many vineyards do you have now and what is your production like in bottle terms?

Today we are the owner of 33 hectares in champagne in the area called Mountain of Reims, one of the best areas for champagne. This is the best place to get the best quality grapes to make champagne. The production of the company is one million bottles per year. We are selling 40% in the French market, while 60% is exported to 120 countries around the world.

Q: What characterises Cattier champagne?

The characteristics come from our vineyards. In fact the area we are located in is mainly planted with black grapes – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Of course in our own vineyards we also have white grapes Chardonnay but the majority are black grapes. It gives champagne a fruitier, more powerful feel, with good structure, and longer possibility of aging as well. Black grapes have the characteristic to give a very fruity, very powerful vinosity, while the Chardonnay gives a touch of something light and elegant. What characterises our champagne is the power and vinosity on one side, and a touch of elegance and lightness on the other.

Q: The presentations of your champagne bottles are also well known. What inspires this?

Philippe Bienvenu (PB):
This is my forte. The presentation is something very traditional. When I started working on this range which is composed of different champagnes, my idea was to bring in a new styles for champagne. In this range there is a rosé which is very sweet, a brut which is longer in aging. So it is not just a question of nice packaging but also a question of bringing to life different kinds of champagne. As French people we are sometimes very traditional in presentation. But I also try to imagine the reaction of consumers around the world – the idea was to bring a vision of champagne. It is to have something no other champagne is bringing to the market. It is something unique and what makes us distinctive.

Q: With Cattier now in Sri Lanka, what is the range that will be available here?

Rahul Kashyap (RK):
What we are focusing on is four to five different varietals – two kinds of rosé champagnes; one is the Rosé Red Kiss and the other is a normal rosé, the Brut Saphir, the Brut 2005 Vintage and the famous Armand de Brignac a.k.a. Ace of Spade. What we want to do is present a whole range of Cattier champagnes.

We believe champagne is not just a drink but drinking stars. It is the ultimate luxury. There are many stars in the sky and there is a variety in Cattier. This is what we want our customers to enjoy. We have from the Brut to the top end, we also have the Ace of Spade Gold, which the ultimate luxury.

Q: What is your target market and when will it be available for purchase?

Our target market is the hotels, restaurants, night clubs and key supermarkets. We have already made the brand available in key five star hotels – they all carry the Ace of Spade. Key supermarkets are also carrying it. The brand has already been well accepted at nightclubs. In fact Amuseum has an exclusive partnership with Cattier champagne.

On 31 December we had our party at Hilton which was done by Colombo Nightlife. This was promoted as an Ace of Spade party. On every table there was a bottle of Ace of Spade, which everyone loved. That was the first introduction to consumers here for Ace of Spade. Likewise at the Galle Face 31 night party, there was a bottle of Cattier on every table (there were said to be some 250 tables). The event was covered by Fashion TV. That was the first time the brand interacted with a bigger audience. It was well accepted by all.

Q: You enter Sri Lanka on your 250th anniversary. What made you consider Sri Lanka?

It is a question of opportunity.

PB: We also have the impression that Sri Lanka is now ready for champagne. In 2012, champagne consumption in Sri Lanka has doubled compared to the previous year. This means the market is now ready to accept champagne. The feedback we received at the dinner at the launch with Cattier also proved this point.

I was very surprised as the Sri Lankans I spoke to seem to like the champagne that was more sophisticated, rich, complex and longer ageing from the four champagnes that were available that night. I expected them to like the lighter champagne which was fresh, lively, refreshing and easy to drink. This means that the people here understand champagne.

Q: What made you pick Global Brands as your partner here?

Here in Sri Lanka we decided to team up with Global Brands because we like to work with people having the same spirit; people looking for the future and understanding luxury brands and brand building. We don’t want to work with case movers. We are not looking at huge numbers, but looking for people who carry the same brand image we try to give to our champagne.

Q: Any initial targets for sales?

We are not in the numbers game; we just want people to enjoy good champagne and talk about it. There are no sales targets. We are not a commercial champagne; we are a luxury champagne and therefore we are not chasing any numbers. But we are very happy with the response we have got and are confident that the future will be bright.

PB: Sri Lanka is not a big market for us and never will be a huge market. But it is a tourist market, attracting people from different parts of the world. It is not the numbers we are looking at. When you build an international brand, you need to be in the right places. Being in Sri Lanka where people can see our champagnes and say ‘wow, this is champagne that is in the best places in the world’ – that is what we are aiming for.

Q: What is your personal advice on how to choose and appreciate champagne?

Consumption of champagne can change with circumstances. If you want to suggest something for a cocktail where many people are talking and drinking without proper attention to champagne, you could suggest a non-vintage champagne. If you want to drink a bottle with a loved one or spouse, you would choose a more sophisticated champagne, vintage probably. If it is to pair with a special dish or meal or dessert, with red fruit for example, you will take a Rosé. Each cuvée has its own circumstance.

Q: What is champagne to you?

My champagne is a wonderful product. I look on it as real luck to have this activity of producing champagne and to sell it all over the world; because it is a product appreciated world over. It is something you share with friends and family for rich, happy events. When we travel all over the world and meet people, when I say I am a champagne producer, you will always see a smile on their face. Can you imagine something more wonderful than champagne?

Pix by Lasantha Kumara