Not being part of a multigenerational family business has spared him a myopic view of winemaking. “People can be a little narrow-minded and try to continue doing things the way they’ve always been done without understanding why,” Gouez says. “They call this tradition, but I call it folklore. Tradition is something that you have to keep alive.”
As custodian of the 274-year-old grand house, Gouez is acutely aware of this, particularly with regards to producing non-vintage champagnes such as the flagship Brut Impérial. This, the most challenging part of his job, involves the tasting and blending of the current year’s wines, together with reserve wines, to produce a consistent signature style.
Despite having the greatest technical facilities, every decision is ultimately based on blind tasting. While convention decrees that we wait until noon before indulging Gouez and his tasting panel of 10 meet ritually at the etiquette-busting time of 11.30am. “It’s physiological. It’s just before lunch, so you start getting hungry and your senses are open and tuned,” he says.
During blind tastings, the idea is to make quick, instinctive decisions. “We taste 25 to 30 base wines within about 50 minutes. We know exactly what we are looking for — it’s about identifying the defects, strengths, and weaknesses, and being able to classify them.” While one or two people may have an off day, the size of the team ensures this won’t have an effect on the final results.
As fastidious as he is regarding consistency and style, Gouez is equally fearless in his pursuit of innovation. A great example is Moët & Chandon Ice Impérial, released in 2011 — it was the first champagne designed to be drunk over ice. “Today there are a lot of people in the ice category, copying exactly what we have done. Yes, it’s new, it’s disruptive, it’s against tradition, but if you look at history, things have always changed,” he says.
Gouez, who is visiting South Africa to introduce the pioneering prestige cuvée MCIII, says it’s been a 16-year project. “The idea was to create a state-of-the-art champagne that encapsulates all of our elements over the centuries.”
The concept of MCIII, whose unique character lies in its texture and complexity, is to use vintage blends that have been aged in three universes: stainless steel, oak casks, or glass bottles on the lees. The most innovative part of this wine for the third millennium is the addition of mature grand vintage champagnes from 1993, 1998, and 1999, aged in bottle, disgorged, and “remises en cercle” (returned to the vat).
“That technique has always been used in champagne, but usually when the finished bottle wasn’t good enough to be released. So this was a first,” he says. Although unlike anything available, it’s been well received.
For Gouez the magic of champagne remains the same. “When we make decisions, we don’t make them on the final product — 95% of the decisions are made at blending time. It’s like a negative of the future champagne. Someone with experience will know that all the elements are in place. I still find that exciting, because it’s immeasurable. It’s just something you feel.”