BEST CHAMPAGNE met with Philippe BAIJOT, President of LANSON. Founded in 1760, LANSON is one of the oldest and most iconic Champagne houses. In 2006 it was acquired by the Boizel Chanoine Champagne groupe, which became LANSON-BCC. As BAIJOT explains, since then him and his team have been working to bring LANSON and its champagnes, characterised by the absence of malolactic fermentation, back at the top.
In addition to being LANSON’s President, Philippe BAIJOT is also Deputy CEO and Director of LANSON-BCC, the second largest group in Champagne
BestChampagne:Mr BAIJOT, how did you start working in the champagne world?
Philippe BAIJOT: I am not from the Champagne region and I don’t have any family background in the champagne industry. I came to the champagne business out of passion.
When I finished my studies in Reims, I discovered champagne through friends whose parents were working in this industry. I thought it was wonderful! I also love the product and sales.
After working in other Champagnes houses I decided to try my luck with Bruno PAILLARD [LANSON-BCC CEO], 24 years ago.
BC: LANSON, the most prestigious Champagne house within LANSON-BCC, has recently hired a new cellar master and invested 14 million euros in its production line and in wooden vats, which will probably further develop its style. What are your vision and ambitions for LANSON?
PB: My ambition is that LANSON regain its position.
LANSON is a Champagne house which suffered in the past. Since the LANSON family left, the house changed ownership several times and this took its toll on the house.
When we took over we noticed that LANSON was like an old lady people would refer to with emotion, they would say: « My parents used to drink that champagne », « It was my wedding champagne ». But this old lady that we were dusting off had solid basis: its wines, thanks to a great cellar master who has just retired and who managed to keep a course of action and a style that is today the LANSON style, and a beautiful brand, very well known on the British market.
Today we need to get this awareness from other countries.
BC: Which markets are you most ambitious on?
PB: For the past two and a half years we have been working at regaining a position in the American market, which is the second biggest export market for champagne.
We can’t also overlook the French market which is an important showcase and where half of the products are sold, but the purpose of a Champagne house is to promote its product all over the world.
I really believe that export is the key but it is expensive and requires a lot of time. It has to be done little by little and by finding quality partnerships.
We have a subsidiary in Great Britain and we have set up a second subsidiary in the USA which my eldest son looks after. This is a promising market but we need time, money and people.
BC: What are LANSON’s advantages to be successful in the USA?
PB: First of all, we are lucky to have a brand that is very well known in the English-speaking world. LANSON is also easy to say and remember in English.
The American palate is different from the British’s, it is sweeter, but I think we have products that, in my opinion meet this American difference. I noticed that our rosé wine is very popular in the USA, just like in Great Britain.
BC: LANSON is famous for the typicity of its wines which don’t undergo malolactic fermentation, making them crispier compared to other champagnes. Is this style suitable to the American market?
PB: Indeed, that’s why we promote other products in the USA. The Black Label is LANSON’s spearhead because a Champagne house is judged on its brut non-vintage. The Black Label must take its place as much as possible, but on the American market we rely a lot on our rosé, a suppler and rounder wine.
BC: Is this why you recently introduced oak barrels in the ageing process of your reserve wines?
PB: Reserve wines combined with wood will bring us something important for the future. There are a lot of things happening at once in the evolution of the LANSON style. We have a new cellar master, Hervé DANTAN whose vision is different from the one of our previous cellar master. We are not going to rush things, we need to make them evolve. LANSON must remain LANSON. But we can progress in the LANSON style.
BC: What other export markets are you particularly interested in?
PB: We need to think about Asia. I can see how champagne is progressing in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. China is complicated today, but why not tomorrow? We will have to find a way to promote LANSON in Asia. I don’t have a solution yet but it will happen on the medium term.
Within 4-5 years, I think we will start something in Asia, in Hong Kong or Singapore. It could be with a company that is already set up there and that will have to distribute products that complement ours, I am not sure yet but I am confident I will figure it out.
BC: Regarding LANSON’s future, what is the most important aspect of its success?
PB : Distribution. We need to find people that will grow with us and that will believe in us. In my opinion everything is based on people. We need to find people that have the same mindset, that are courageous and ambitious so we can build something with them on the long term.
LANSON-BCC is the second largest group in Champagne but compared to LVMH we are still small. LVMH has immeasurable resources and means, but we have to fight with other means and identify people that we can build the brand with tomorrow.
I am 65 and today I think about preparing the after Philippe BAIJOT era. I have 4-5 years to put people in place (some are already working for us) and give them more responsibilities. I also look for talents that I may come across as I believe that we can’t achieve anything without a team of quality people.
BC: Speaking of quality, what do you think of the success of Prosecco, especially in England where more bottles are sold than champagne?
PB: Prosecco’s success never worried me. We are very lucky to be in the industry of sparkling wines which is growing. Nowadays 3 billion bottles of sparkling wines are sold every year among which 300 million bottles of champagne, which is 10%.
As sparkling wine continues its growth, champagne, in the future, will also experience some growth partly due to the appellation area review. I think that at the moment customers choosing Prosecco are usually younger people who will later on choose more elaborate products like champagne as they have more money.
Prosecco is a nice product which I drink from time to time but I can’t imagine myself inviting someone I love and offering Prosecco; when you want to honour somebody, champagne is much more suitable.
Champagne is a product that everyone dreams about so it has a responsibility towards history to be on top of the sparkling wine pyramid. It has to set an example, be a product that can’t be criticized, be perfect and outstanding but there are steps to reach the top. Champagne must keep this « elite product » image, which is not always simple.
BC: What do you think of 10 euro champagne bottles that we can find in supermarkets?
PB: It’s a must for us to get rid of 10 euro champagne bottles, but it’s complicated. There are certainly people in Champagne that are responsible because bottles without specific destination happen to be sold « on lees » due to cash flow issues. Also in France, supermarkets struggle and buy market shares at a loss.
BC: How do you see champagne’s future considering all this?
PB: I think more and more that champagne will be a two-tier product. On one hand there will be great brands, which I hope we will be part of and on the other hand there will be the rest.
BC: Do you feel you have a responsibility towards champagne and the Champagne region?
PB: I feel I have a responsibility towards the industry, I want to do things right and I want to leave a legacy. We have only a short stay here and I think it’s good to build something and be able to say: « The day I leave, I hope I will be proud of what I have achieved ».
BC: Mr BAIJOT, what would be the world without champagne? What does champagne represent for you?
PB: I think that the world would be a lot less pleasant without champagne.
For me, champagne represents the good things in life. It’s about sharing, it’s friendship, it’s love, it’s gentleness of living, it’s France, the France I love anyway, the one I have in mind. Champagne makes life easier.