The House takes the ‘art’ in Ruinart very seriously and the fine art of making Champagne is also celebrated through close association with the art and design worlds. President and CEO Frédéric Dufour attended the Cape Town Art Fair earlier this year to present the delicate pieces by glass artist Herbert Le Gall. I asked Dufour about the business of Champagne and the importance of art.
On a personal note, you studied engineering then shifted your focus to International Finance at the esteemed HEC in Paris. They are both about carefully honed calculations but why the change of course? Not such a change. At that time, and still now, a lot of engineers go to work into financial markets, thanks to their mathematic skills. And that was my objective at that time.
What first attracted you to the Moët Hennessy Group and premium alcohol brands? I was attracted by the lifestyle and the French L’Art de Vivre (The Art of Living) that Moët Hennessy conveys, especially with its Champagne brands.
Champagne is always the liveliest personality in the room. The life and soul of a party. In the case of Ruinart, how would you best describe this ‘character’? Ruinart brings refinement and timeless elegance.
Some experts in the medical fraternity believe that a glass or two of bubbly a day will keep the doctor at bay. The release of nitric oxide apparently reduces heart problems. I believe that this has been a topic of conversation that goes back to the courts of Louis XIV. At the very least, it is guaranteed to lift your spirits. What, in your view makes Champagne so special? Having a glass of Champagne is always synonymous with celebrating something, even if it’s just being with good friends. It’s always about conviviality and sharing L’Art de Vivre.
Champagne is all about experience and the new generation of consumers are expecting even more. Ruinart has a great provenance and consistently delivers top quality wines. As a brand, what do you do to remain front of mind or relevant to these consumers? As you say, our wines are recognised for their constant quality but also for their freshness and elegance. And this is relevant for all around the world. Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is recognisable everywhere with its transparent bottle and its colour and luminosity. When our consumers are having a glass of Ruinart, they are having a part of L’Art de Vivre. With elegance.
What is the total area of the Ruinart estate? It represent about 15% of our needs. Our historical vineyards are situated at Sillery on the Montagne de Reims. We also partner with farmers with whom we’ve been working for years and have a long-term commitment. We choose our grapes very carefully. They come from the Premiers Crus, Grands Crus de la Cote des Blancs, and the Montagne de Reims.
There has been talk of including neighbouring areas into the administrative region of Champagne. With an ever-expanding global population and demand for product, given that growth is limited in the region, how can the company grow and expand its production to meet this demand? Moët Hennessy only represents 20% of total Champagne volume, so Ruinart growth only relies on our ability to buy additional Chardonnay grapes of the right quality.
What is it about the Ruinart estate, the actual soils and region within Champagne that adds this unique character to your wines? It’s not only the estate. We do a sharp selection of Chardonnay grapes and it comes specifically from the Montagne de Reims or on top of the Cote des Blancs.
Ruinart was the first Maison but there are many stories on who made the first Champagne. Gosset claim to be the oldest but Dom Perignon is also said to have been the first. Are you brave enough to set the records straight for us? Gosset is the oldest house producing wines from the Champagne region. Monk Dom Perignon perfected the art of blending, and Ruinart is the first established House of Champagne.
Why the focus on Chardonnay? The vision of the Ruinart family post World War II was to produce a Champagne that combined elegance and freshness. They wanted to have a Ruinart ‘taste’ recognisable all over the world. Furthermore, the family’s historical vineyard were situated in Sillery, one of the best places for Chardonnay.
What is the first experience you have when you take your first sip of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs? A sense of purity.
What do you do to relax or take your mind off things? I drink a glass of Ruinart!
And the second sip? Elegance and refinement.
Is the Ruinart family still involved in the business? No.
What is the secret to those fine, delicate bubbles? Less overwhelmingly robust that other bubblies. [Our] winemaking secret.
Three words to describe what’s in a bottle of Rose? A steady pink colour. Freshness. Fruits. A very greedy cuvée.
On your recent visit to South Africa to attend the Cape Town Art Fair, I’m sure you were more than tempted to try some our local wines. What is you opinion of our Methode Cap Classics and did you find one in particular that you really liked? The team in South Africa had an incredibly full schedule for me, I didn’t have a moment to try anything else. I went from lunches, to media interviews, via the Art Fair and then to dinners with guests. But I am very curious and I loved South Africa, so I do hope to be back to try some in the future.
Connection with the arts goes back to the late 1800s and the poster design by Mucha, which was quite ‘modern’ for the time. What is the significance of the association with the arts? Do you feel it is important just from a marketing point of view and attracting attention or does it go much deeper than that? Much deeper! It has been in our DNA from the Age of Enlightenment period. The Ruinart family have always been collectors. Creativity is required when you are such an old company to keep [up] with your times. The story is the tension between tradition and modernity.
Corporate commissions can be tricky and it is refreshing to see how much freedom you give the artists you have collaborated with. A true reflection of the freedom of the bubbles? We always give carte blanche to the artists we are working with. It’s the ideal way to get the best out of an artist. The only guidance is: highlighting our historical patrimony in their masterpiece.
A recent collaboration was with Hubert Le Gall, who you presented at the Cape Town Art Fair. What is the criteria for being selected to work with Ruinart? It’s an encounter between an artist and Ruinart. Then we define a theme, which always has a link with patrimony. Then, we look for an artist able to express it with elegance.
Are you eying any African artists? Not yet ....
One of your artists India Mahdavi re-interpreted the silver spoon. I don’t know anyone who never finished a bottle of Ruinart. However, this happens. Does a silver spoon in the neck of a bottle really keep the bubbles in? If so why? No, it’s a legend! Technical studies demonstrate it has no impact on the Champagne.
Success stories in Champagne seem to have women involved. In the case of Ruinart, Charlotte turned the company around, there is of course the infamous Madam Clicquot. Is there a balanced presence of women in the Champagne industry these days? Our teams, from wine making to marketing, communication and sales, are built around both men and women competencies.
Ruinart is usually much ‘quieter’ in its exposure to public and media, seen as more discreet and exclusive, compared to the other Maisons in the group. In the new-world it is all about being seen. What is your impression of the South African consumer? Our DNA is to be quieter than most other Champagne. It is in line with our target consumers [who are] more refined, looking more for authenticity and product excellence than for ‘high[ly] marketed brands’.
Focus on Africa: do you see growth opportunities, and if so where? Yes significant mid-to-long term. Especially for us in the historically French influenced parts of Africa, as well as South Africa for its art and wine making environment.