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Prowine Asia 2016: Armand de Brignac - Cattier Marriage ‘Made in Champagne’

Posted: Friday, 20 May 2016 15:17


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Prowine Asia 2016: Armand de Brignac - Cattier Marriage ‘Made in Champagne’

May 20: Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs introduced in 2015 at an astronomical retail price of $1,000 became one of the highest priced champagnes in the world but the label owned by the rapper Jay Z is produced exclusively by Champagne Cattier in Chigny Les Roses in Champagne and makes truly a world class top quality champagne, writes Subhash Arora who tasted a couple of labels when he met Sebastien Besson, CEO of Armand de Brignac and Jean-Jacques Cattier, owner of Cattier, the two made-for-each-other partners at Prowine Asia 2016 last month in Singapore

Click For Large ViewOne of the tasks on my list before leaving for Singapore to attend the maiden edition of Prowine Asia 2016 last month was to meet the reps of Armand de Brignac and Cattier to clearly understand the relationship between the two entities. I was fortunate to meet Sebastien Besson, CEO of Armand de Brignac at the stand of the local distributor and also Jean-Jacques Cattier, the owner of Domaine Cattier and taste a few of their labels.

Till recently, regular NV Champagne has found it difficult to make inroads into the Indian market because of high import duties. I was surprised therefore, when Besson told me they were very satisfied with the performance of Dhall Foods, the distributors of Brignac in India. I told him that perhaps because of the celebrity rapper Jay Z connection, the Click For Large Viewaffluent Bollywood crowd might be drawn to it. He agreed but said that there were other high rollers who were fans of Brignac too, citing the example of a Mumbai-based real estate developer who had organised a party for his clients and presented each with a bottle of Armand de Brignac Gold, known popularly as the Ace of Spades. It retails for around Rs. 50,000 in Mumbai and Delhi.  Average retail price globally is around US $300; it sells at the Delhi Duty Free shop in Delhi for $345, the second highest priced wine next only to Dom Perignon (DP) Rose Brut 2003 at $397.

He tried to underplay the general impression created by the media that it was the rift with Cristal that made Jay Z boycott it and move to Ace of Spade and popularise it. He used to like Ace of Spades.  DelWine had reported: ‘Frédéric Rouzaud, Managing Director of Louis Roederer, owners of the well-known super premium brand Cristal perhaps rues in private his comments, denigrating the rappers’ love for the Champagne of the erstwhile Russian tsars. When asked by a magazine in 2006 about the uniquely different bling lifestyle of the rapping community which had been enamoured by the Tsar of Bubbles, with the famous rapper Jay Z even praising it in his lyrics, he had reportedly said, That's a good question. But what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it.’

‘Although the company claimed later that the racism charges implied by Jay Z were not true, he was upset enough to boycott the brand openly and actively, resulting in sudden drop in the sales in the USA. He actively endorsed the golden Armand de Brignac from Champagne Cattier and started promoting it in his nightclubs, sports bars and even his music videos and asked his fraternity to boycott (Cristal) because of racist remarks.’

Cattier had introduced the new packaging for Ace of Spades in 2006 with a beautiful metallic bottle and a pewter based label at that time, when Sovereign started the distribution. Jay Z loved the label so much that he decided to buy it in 2014 from Sovereign and Cattier. Besson deflected my query on how much they paid for the label even when I told him there were rumours that the negotiated price was $10-20 million; some had speculated the outrageous figure of $40 million!!

Today, Armand de Brignac has 5 labels, all on allocation-Gold, Rose, Demi-Sec, Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs and is happily and faithfully married to Cattier for production.

Marriage with Cattier

Armand de Brignac is located in Chigny les Roses where Cattier is situated. The Winery is at Rilly de Montagne, close to Reims in Montagne de Reims. The label is completely owned by Jay Z who bought it in November 2014 a month after Sebastien was engaged by Jay Z to scout around and close the deal, says Sebastien Besson who was very upbeat when he talked to me because the 2015 had been a great vintage thanks to climate change.

'The working between Armand and Cattier is harmonious, close and very smooth. We have empowered the decision regarding winemaking to both the father and son and their team in France but the duo is on their toes to make it truly top quality champagne. We are competing with the champagnes that have been on the lees for twice as much as ours. We keep them for 3 years followed by 3 months in the bottle. Selection of grapes, aging of the reserve wine are all done by them.’

Explaining the technicalities of the process, he emphasises, ‘Absolutely the first juice of the vintage is used in our champagne. We use only the very first portion of the initial cuvee press. This is the juice with the highest acidity and freshest fruit flavour, an intense selectivity which is possible due to our hands-on small team; only 14 people touch a bottle of Armand de Brignac from pressing to bottling.  Additionally, we do not have the volume pressures that the larger production houses have; so we can afford to be highly selective.’

Variants of de Brignac

Armand de Brignac introduced Demi-Sec variant last year at $365. Besson says, ‘Prestige houses do not produce Demi Sec. But we want our champagnes to be the reference point. We should be able to do what the other can’t. We brought out last year a small quantity of this fruity and sweet champagne that had been on the lees for 6 years and has dosage of 33 g/L- only 1 g/L higher than the minimum requirement of 32 g/L to be classified as Demi Sec. We chose to be on the leaner side. The winemakers did this to allow the elegant fruit characters to shine, since the juice is first press cuvee and the best of the best’.

Click For Large ViewSimilarly Blanc de Noirs, made from the best Pinot Noir grapes was also introduced in Vinexpo in June 2015. On its release in September, Harrods in London was the exclusive seller till December. Now it is being sold worldwide. With only around 2,850 bottles produced and priced at $1000, it is a collectors’ delight. It’s still not the highest priced champagne though- Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs, has an average price of US$2,200 per bottle!

Armand de Brignac Gold is the base model and normally sells for $300 whereas Rose retails for $450. Demi- Sec version costs $365, while Blanc de Blancs retails for $650. ‘It’s the hottest selling brand in the night clubs or restaurants. Monaco is on the top of the list of our sellers. We are not only the top priced champagne but also highly recommended by top sommeliers. Initially known for its chic packaging, Armand de Brignac is now known for what’s inside the bottle’, asserts Sebastien. 

‘By far the biggest seller is Gold but Rose is very successful too though it is more of a seasonal product. Rose is the king on a hot day,’ says Sebastien adding, ‘the Key point is that it is a sophisticated wine to be enjoyed and not complicated.’

While expressing their total support to Cattier for making Armand de Brignac exclusively for them, he says ‘Resources required to produce such quality are too much for a small producer.’

The Cattier Connection

Click For Large ViewCattier family has been the owner of vineyards in Chigny les Roses since 1763, says Jean-Jacques Cattier, owner of the champagne house Champagne Cattier; his son Alexandre Cattier works closely with him. ‘In 1918, after the first war, my grand- father started making champagne as Cattier,' Jean-Jacques tells me. He had taken a stand in the Champagne Lounge with his Commercial Director Philippe Bienvenu at the Prowine Asia 2016, looking for new distributors.

Genesis of Armand de Brignac

‘In the 1950s my parents had a distributor in Paris with exclusive rights. They decided to create a super premium champagne and were looking for an impressive label. My grandmother Nelly was reading a novel where there was a character by the name of de Brignac. So they registered the name ‘Armand de Brignac’ with C.I.V.C. – Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin which is a semi-public body set up under the aegis of the French Government to co-ordinate the common interests of wine growers and producers in Champagne. However, he changed his mind later and never started the project. Towards the end of the 90s, we started thinking of a prestigious-cuvee or high-class champagne for the new millennium. I decided - why not launch that project again and in the beginning of 2000 started the new brand’, Jean-Jacques reminisces.

We worked and focused on blending. The first bottles were started in 2001-2 and were sold in 2006 through our American distributor, Sovereign in 2006. Even then it was retailed for €300, says Jean-Jacques. Sovereign and Cattier shared the same vision about the exclusive top end champagne so we made a collaboration together where he would sell Armand de Brignac exclusively for us’, stressing on the unique high quality of this Prestige champagne.

Click For Large ViewSebastien further expounds, ‘the project of Armand de Brignac was actually already underway around 2000, when Cattier began to put aside some of their best wines to create a prestige for the new millennium, as Jean-Jacques says. The first wines were bottled and put in the cellars for a few years and the first release of the now-iconic gold bottles of Champagne Armand de Brignac, left the cellars in France in the Autumn of 2006.’

Interestingly, the family winery is registered as RM- récoltant-manipulant which signifies it being a grower champagne producer; making champagne only from grapes cultivated in his estate. It then sells to another company with NM- négociant-manipulant classification. Most big champagne houses fall in this category as it provides greater freedom in operations and in any case they buy a majority of grapes. Jean Jacques says with pride that in the 50s they were the biggest RM in Champagne and around 1959-60 became the first RM to sell over a 100,000 bottles.

Cattier is currently in negotiations with an Indian importer who I met in Prowine Asia. The discussions were at advanced stage. Jean-Jacques and the importer were both very excited about the possibility of collaboration. Because of the popularity and status of Armand de Brignac produced by Cattier (many people still believe erroneously that the brand is owned by Cattier) the importer would have a distinct advantage in marketing the product. Jean-Jacques admits that the connection with Brignac is helpful in marketing his own Cattier label but insists that Cattier has earned the distinction by making Armand de Brignac a superlative product from day one. ‘None of the champagnes we produce are close in quality, style or specifications to the iconic label and we guard the exclusivity of the label with great care so no direct comparisons are possible.’

Click For Large ViewHe also knows that people perhaps confuse their name with the famous jewellery firm, Cartier in Paris or the perfumery Must de Cartier. Though implicitly it might have helped somewhat in brand building, he is not complaining.

The congeniality between Cattier and Armand de Brignac makes them a very ‘close couple’ and both defend each other’s role very aggressively. The affluent buyer is assured that the Armand de Brignac he is drinking is a top luxury brand made consistently and with love by the independent company Cattier. Naturally both the labels – Armand de Brignac and Cattier would be marketed independently by two different importers.

Arjun Dhall, partner of Dhall Foods, who looks after the imports for the North while his brother Vikram controls the West from the Bollywood city Mumbai, says, ‘we are very happy with selling Armand de Brignac. We have an annual allocation of about 100 cases (1200 bottles) which we are able to sell out. On the question of selling Blanc de Noirs costing $1000 each, he laughs and says, ‘we shall see when we get that label. Right now we don’t have plans to import and are not sure if Bollywood is ready for a bottle costing around Rs. 150,000 including the duties and taxes!!’

What he could consider importing is the Demi- Sec which is only 20% higher but Indians-rich, super-rich or ultra rich, movie stars or other financial rock stars-all have a sweet tooth and would love to sweeten their taste buds a little, with or without the desserts. With so much hot Indian food on their plates, their palate might welcome the 31 gm/li residual sugar with refreshing acidity of Armand de Brignac Demi Sec.

Subhash Arora

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Tags : Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs, Jay Z, Champagne Cattier, Chigny Les Roses, Champagne, Sebastien Besson, Armand de Brignac, Jean-Jacques Cattier, Cattier, Prowine Asia 2016, Singapore, Prowine Asia, Dhall Foods, Armand de Brignac Gold, Dom Perignon, Cristal, Frédéric Rouzaud, Louis Roederer, Sovereign, Rilly de Montagne, Montagne de Reims, Demi Sec, Blanc de Noirs, Vinexpo, Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs, Alexandre Cattier, Philippe Bienvenu, Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin, Arjun Dhall


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