BEST CHAMPAGNE interviewed Frédéric Dufour, President of RUINART, the oldest established Champagne House founded in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart.
His uncle Dom Thierry Ruinart, a visionary Benedictine monk contemporary of Louis XIV, understood the promising future of the “wine with bubbles” produced from the vines of his native Champagne and passed his intuition to his nephew.
After a glorious past and a number of vicissitudes, RUINART has joined the LVMH luxury group and has since become one of the most appreciated and respected champagne brands in France.
RUINART champagnes are characterized by an unusually high percentage of Chardonnay in the blends, resulting in a fine freshness and elegance, with a certain power.
Dufour, a stylish and warm man, close to the art world, perfectly incarnates the House’s DNA. In his own words, he explains the success of RUINART, based on a profound belief in quality.
He also shares the House’s ambitions become the most exclusive champagne brand. Chapeau to that! Read on and enjoy.
BEST CHAMPAGNE: Mr. Dufour, does the fact that Ruinart is the oldest established Champagne House contribute to a specific style? How would you describe Ruinart to someone who is not familiar with it?
Prior to heading RUINART Frédéric Dufour was International Director at VEUVE CLICQUOT.
FREDERIC DUFOUR: The fact that Ruinart is the first established Champagne House gives us a unique legitimacy and imparts us strong identity in France, although not yet internationally.
Ruinart is a wine with a great history, a product and a style that focuses on Chardonnay, which is directly connected to our success.
This style of Ruinart is characterized by fine freshness and elegance, with a certain power.
This style was strengthened with the release of our Blanc de Blancs [100% Chardonnay], the ultimate symbol of purity.
We rely on reserve wines to help counterbalance the difficulties of certain harvests and to maintain the aromatic freshness, yet, to a much lesser extent than other Champagne Houses.
Whether the consumer is a sommelier or a savvy consumer who loves wine, he/she will find a finesse and elegance in Ruinart that is unique.
Our deep chalk pits are also critical in preserving our wines and in ensuring quality during bottle aging.
BC: Ruinart is part of the LVMH group, the world leader in luxury, which also owns other superb Champagne Houses. What does it mean to be part of this group?
FD: The strength of LVMH gives us the means to invest in quality. Our group believes deeply in quality, yet quality is expensive, hence the advantage of being part of a larger group.
Also, LVMH brings in the quality of its distribution network, with a very strong global presence.
BC: You mentioned quality, but brand and distribution are also part of the success of champagne. In your opinion, what is the order of importance of these three components and how do they come to play in the success of Ruinart?
FD: For me, quality is by far the most important aspect. Then, a balanced distribution and good marketing follow.
Ruinart is one of the most exclusive brands in terms of distribution. Our champagnes are found in restaurants and wine shops and it cannot be found in supermarkets.
Another large proportion of our sales is direct B-to-C, which is quite unique in champagne, to loyal Ruinart consumers who order large volumes.
Ruinart was built on a model of finding friends of the House, who know us well. This helps to establish the reputation of the product.
Ruinart has grown from a relatively small brand twenty years ago to the strong brand it is today, whose perception is probably well beyond the reality of our volumes.
BC: The unusual shape of the Ruinart bottle allow for an immediate recognition of the product. Other houses have turned to this strategy to distinguish their champagnes. How important is the bottle in positioning a champagne?
FD: The bottle is one of the elements, but there are many pretty bottles of champagne that may not have a good wine inside.
You really have to focus on the quality of the product. The sum of these elements must also be associated with the distribution, the capacity to supply the product.
BC: How many bottles do you sell each year? What are your ambitions in terms of volumes and markets?
FD: At Moët Hennessy [part of LVMH] we never release figures by brand, only the total numbers of the group.
We are probably one of the largest champagne brands distributed in stores but not a widely distributed champagne.
The prospects for growth are huge for Ruinart because the brand is ubiquitous today in France, but not yet internationally.
We have a strong historical presence in Germany and Italy, but with the exclusion of these, the rest of Western Europe has the potential for fairly strong growth, especially England and Belgium.
We have also seen some growth in the United States and Asia, and to a smaller extent in Latin America.
However, our strategy is not to enter one continent and put all our eggs in one basket; there are pockets of growth and our search is comprehensive and extremely focused.
We aspire to be the most exclusive brand in the market and to do this, we must look at the emerging markets of champagne.
We also have a nest in the contemporary art world. This is of specific interest because this world often includes people who love quality products, luxury, and good wines.
It’s a work of seduction because once they have tasted Ruinart, three out of four people will not forget it and will continue to drink it.
In this context of growth, the goal is to ensure that our style remains modern and chardonnay is key to that. But the work we do in associating our brand with the contemporary art world aides considerably too. The concept of “art of French living” for me is absolutely central in this context.
Yet, there will always be a limit to our growth because we always put quality over quantity and we never compromise on this. Chardonnay grapes are limited in quantity in Champagne, making them also the most expensive variety.
At Ruinart, we have a price positioning that is quite unique. We fall halfway between the wholesale market of champagnes sold at 25€ to 35€ [in France], and the prestige brands at 130€ to 150€, like Dom Perignon and Krug.
Ruinart is positioned as a champagne of extremely high quality for a price that remains accessible to consumers between 50€ and 60€ for Blanc de Blancs or Rosé.
BC: So are you looking to increase the volume of sales or the sale price?
DF: We are looking at a mix of both. There is a natural inflation in France: grapes are becoming more expensive and wages are rising, so our costs increase and we are forced to increase our prices to offset that. Do not forget that champagne must remain exclusive and positioned at the high end.
BC: Mr. Dufour, do you drink only Ruinart or do you also drink other champagnes?
FD: 90% of the time I drink Ruinart but I also like other champagnes, in styles somewhat comparable to ours.
But when I bring a bottle of Ruinart to share with friends, it’s just amazing how people look at you. That’s part of the magic of the brand that we have been able to create.
BC: What would be life without champagne?
FD: Sad, very sad. Of course, one can live without champagne but it’s a superficial necessity, a tasting pleasure that is absolutely unique.