BEST CHAMPAGNE had the pleasure of interviewing Jean-Marc Gallot, President and CEO of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, the second largest Champagne House, and probably the most recognizable champagne brand, thanks to its distinctive yellow (rather orange) identity, and its ever-innovating gift boxes.
The House is among the oldest, being founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, but it was his daughter-in-law Madame Nicole-Barbe Ponsardin who truly expanded the House when she became a young widow and took over the management, something unheard for a woman at that time.
Through her innovative spirit and business acumen, she introduced a number of breakthrough technological advances in champagne making and greatly expanded the international reach and success of her House.
As Gallot explains, Veuve Clicquot’s maverick spirit remains at the very heart of the identity of the House, always combined with his long history, resulting in a mix of innovation and tradition, expressed in everything the House does.
Prior to joining Veuve Clicquot Jean-Marc Gallot headed another great Champagne House: Ruinart
Gallot truly understands what an identity is, having previously headed a number of global luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, together with a strong understanding of champagne and what it represents, having managed another great Champagne House – Ruinart – prior to joining Veuve Cliquot in 2014.
This is why this interview is not only a great way to understand the spirit of Veuve Clicquot and the idea that its wines convey, but also a priceless piece of advice on how to build a world around your brand. Read on and enjoy…
BEST CHAMPAGNE: Before joining Veuve Clicquot, you headed Ruinart, another iconic Champagne House, and managed other luxury brands part of the LVMH group. To you, what does a bottle of champagne represent?
JEAN-MARC GALLOT: When I joined Ruinart in 2009 I discovered the world of champagne, a new universe for me, although I had the experience of the luxury world at Cartier, Christofle, Ferragamo, and Luis Vuitton.
Joining the Champagne world was first a discovery and a way to get into something that I previously just enjoy from the outside, but once inside, you have to understand what is at the heart and soul of the Maison.
For me, a bottle of champagne is first and foremost the idea of sharing. Sharing the experience of the wine itself and its quality, but also sharing the outside, the bottle and what it represents, which brings people having this experience together.
So there is the inside and the outside of the bottle that come to play. This is the complexity of champagne and at Veuve Clicquot, we aim at this double experience.
BC: How do you build the “outside” experience to which you refer?
JMG: You have to build on where you come from and what you are, the so-called DNA of your brand, its mission, and the way it moves forward, with the code and the storytelling that you are able to develop.
On top of that, innovation is a key element. Veuve Clicquot is all about mixing tradition and innovation. Tradition is Madame Clicquot, its the quality of the wine, “only one quality the finest”, and innovation is the creativity and audacity of the things we develop, like our Rich champagne, made to be drunk “piscine” (i.e. on ice in the glass) with cocktail ingredients like cucumber, lime etc.
This year we introduced Extra Brut Extra Old, a champagne made 100% of reserve wines, from 1988 to 2010. The Yellow Label already includes 35% to 40% reserve wines, so with this new cuvée, we want to create the ultimate experience of the Yellow Label. To visually express this twist on the bottle, we inverted the use of the colors on the label, that is black written on yellow for this new champagne. The label is also turned upside down, from horizontal to vertical, like in still wines.
But innovation is also in the way you express your story. Veuve Clicquot brings to the champagne world the idea of being definitely singular, different, by mixing tradition and innovation in an unpredictable way. This is really the expertise and the signature of Veuve Clicquot.
We live in a world that is ever-changing and for us, it is a matter of moving forward, always.
This is why every two years we introduce new collections of gift boxes, always consistent with the DNA of our House and the spirit of Madame Clicquot which truly makes us different.
BC: What is Madame Clicquot’s spirit all about?
JMG: Madame Clicquot’s spirit is innovation without any limit. In the first five years that she joined the House [at the age of 27], she invented the riddling table, she introduced the first vintage champagne and the rosé d’assemblage method. These were major breakthroughs in the champagne making, that were soon adopted by all other Champagne Houses.
This is why, still today, we love to be different.
BC: How do you constantly innovate without damaging your brand?
JMG: We have a guardian of the temple, our Chef de Cave, Mr. Dominique Demarville, meaning that any innovation in the winemaking has to be validated by him.
We also have a committee, and if we feel that we are going against the spirit of Madame Clicquot, we won’t do it: we have to be always consistent with our origins.
BC: Through this permanent reference to Madame Clicquot, isn’t there a risk of being too feminine?
JMG: I don’t think so; our target is as much masculine as feminine.
It is true that with the Veuve Clicquot Business Women Award, we recognize women entrepreneurship, the audacity, and the resilience that characterized Madame Clicquot when she became the first woman to take over a Champagne House at 27.
But at the same time, our wines are dominated by the presence of Pinot Noir grapes. This brings the freshness of champagne, but also a certain strength in the cuvées.
BS: As the second largest Champagne House, you have a certain responsibility to lead the way in the future of your world. How do you see the future of champagne? Is the profile of the champagne consumer changing?
JMG: We are an integral part of the champagne industry and have great respect for our competitors and wish them all the best, as long as we do better than them (chuckle).
It is very difficult to define a specific target or consumer profile. We have a number of very faithful customers who have been drinking champagne forever and will continue to do so, we believe.
However, there could be the risk of an aging customer base, combined with the excitement for spirits and alternative drinks.
For this, Champagne Houses not only must maintain their superior quality but also develop it further. For example, our Yellow Label champagne now ages on lees in the cellars for a minimum of 3 years, when the law requires a minimum of 15 months. Our industry is also progressively moving toward a more sustainable viticulture.
Then we should ensure that champagne maintains its luxury status, by getting rid of extremely aggressive commercial policies implemented by certain producers that result in champagne sold in supermarkets for less than 15 euro. This is killing the aspect of quality and luxury that champagne conveys.
The general focus nowadays is on millennials, but this is limiting I think because anybody has the potential to drink champagne, not only through celebratory moments like wedding or anniversary.
But to get new customers, we have to create new opportunities where we can meet them.
This is why the cornerstone of our business is being present in bars, lounges, restaurants, nightclubs sometimes, where there are moments of sharing.
But we must also bring in experiences in creating new moments. For example, we created the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in New York which attracted close to 10,000 people this year who bought on the net all the available tickets in few minutes. This is a great way to let new people join the Veuve Clicquot’s world.
Then, we have to make sure that consumers keep the excitement. For example, our new Extra Brut Extra Old champagne is a very good alternative for those who are keen of the smaller champagne growers (a growing trend in champagne). Its production and its distribution are limited and it can only be found in certain wine merchants and restaurants. So even if we are a large Maison, we have to be able sometimes to do more intimate things.
BC: How do you see the increasing competition of prosecco and other sparkling wines?
JMG: I respect very much prosecco and the other sparkling wines, but I don’t believe it is the same world as Champagne.
They do not have as much history and creativity. As long as we have this ability, I have good faith in the future of Veuve Clicquot.
BC: How do you feel being the President of a brand that is renowned globally?
JMG: In our group, everything is about creativity. Who is the President of a Maison is not important, what is key is the creation.
My job is to create the conditions for the creative director, in our case the Chef de Cave, Dominique Demarville, to create everything he likes.
Sometimes, my job is also to redirect Demarville in what he does to make sure that it is feasible and sellable.
But we like as well to take some bold decisions for the benefit of our future.
BC: What is champagne to you?
JMG: Champagne is for me a way to create an experience.
My favorite moment is on the weekend with my family when all my children are around (they are all in the age to drink) and we open a bottle of champagne.
Champagne brings joy to life and makes the moment different.