BestChampagne had the pleasure of interviewing Mr Jean-Jacques Cattier, President of Champagne House Cattier that produces Armand de Brignac.
The Cattier’s have owned and cultivated the family vineyards since 1763. In 2006 the House went onto produce the Armand de Brignac cuvées which today are synonymous with supreme luxury.
Jean-Jacques Cattier was born and raised in Chingy-les-Roses where the Cattier family owns vineyards sine 1763
Today, the house remains independently-owned and has achieved excellence in their quality of wines and also noted for producing several champagnes in spectacular bottles which lends itself to the fine art of champagne presentation.
In 2006 the Cattier Champagne House went onto produce the Armand de Brignac cuvee which today is synonymous with supreme luxury.
BestChampagne: What is the history of the Cattier House?
Jean-Jacques Cattier: There are two important dates in the history of our House. The first was in 1763, when we have found our direct-line ancestors who were owners of vineyards in Chigny les Roses and sold their grapes to the Houses of Reims or Epernay.
The second important date is 1918, at the end of the 1st World War, when my Grandfather began producing his own champagne and selling it under our family name, Cattier.
My parents took over in the late 30’s and appropriately developed the House and acquired further vineyard towards the end of the 2nd World War up to the 60’s.
My brother and I have followed in their footsteps. I personally joined the business in the 70’s, having extended my studies and traveled abroad.
We were récoltant-manipulant i.e. “grower-maker” and considering the commercial possibilities that we had developed to date, I thought best to form a company in 1978 with the “négociant-manipulant” statute i.e. “merchant-maker” to allow us to increase our supply of grapes beyond our own vineyards and therefore increase our production.
Today the Cattier House utilizes 33 hectares of vineyards situated essentially in the Mountain of Reims and produces about one million bottles per year, including the Armand of Brignac range; our sales are a split of 60% export in more than 100 countries and 40% distributed in France.
BC: What that characterizes the Cattier style and the range of Cattier champagnes?
JJC: Essentially our vineyards; they are situated on the Mountain of Reims and are mostly planted with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, our intention is to let the customer discover this in the assemblages of our different cuvées, with the exception of the Blanc de Blancs of course, and our Clos du Moulin.
At Cattier we attain to create champagnes that are marked and characterized by the Pinots: these elements develop champagnes with supremacy, roundness, and vinosity.
All the same; my father always took care to have a slight proportion of the Chardonnay in our vineyards, with which to accentuate the fineness, elegance and lightness which allowed him to resourcefully balance our assemblages.
Simultaneously, our Cattier Blanc de Blancs is made from Chardonnay of the Mountain of Reims; this provides a different perimeter to work with when compared to the Blanc de Blancs from the Côte des Blancs region.
By contrast, our Cattier Blanc de Noirs is composed of 70% of Pinot Noir and 30% of Pinot Meunier, giving generous, winey, very powerful and fruity champagne, which is an ideal accompaniment to a meal for example.
In conclusion our range is exceptional in variety and mainly discernible by our Pinot.
BC: Armand de Brignac, this brand is today known and recognized around the world? How did you succeed imposing your cuvée prestige in such a manner, and so swiftly?
JJC:We are surprised ourselves. This achievement is a result of two men with a similar idea trying to achieve this in two different companies.
In 2000, we had developed a very wide range of Cattier champagnes, some of which were very modern and innovating in design [of the bottle]. We had the impression to have arrived at the end of our expansion.
At the start of the new millennium we asked ourselves: “And now, what else?” This is when I said, in the form of a witticism: “And what if we made the most prestigious, exclusive, expensive champagne in the world and something unique, never seen before?”
The spectacular Armand de Brignac cellars
The foundation of work for this concept was initially oriented towards a metallic bottle that we had already created for the French fashion designer Courrèges ten years earlier.
Alongside that, we were contacted by an American importer, who today is our business partner, that was looking for a Champagne House to produce and launch a very high-end prestige cuvée.
He did a first selection of about fifteen houses, big and small, out of which he retained 4 or 5 houses among which we were included.
Finally, seduced by the fact that we already had innovating bottles in our range and that we already had advanced in developing an identical project, the understanding was natural and prompt.
As soon as the product was made available, he truly launched the brand, in the US first, and from there the notoriety of Armand the Brignac propagated, like a “Big Bang”, around the world.
BC: Is Armand the Brignac representative of the Cattier style or is it a style on its own?
JJC: It is a different style to the extent that the assemblages are not the same.
We began Armand de Brignac with the Gold bottle and a traditional assemblage of the 3 grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) exclusively from Grand Crus.
Part of the grapes come from our own vineyards and we purchase the rest from Pinot Grand Crus like Mailly, Verzenay, Verzy, Bouzy… and Chardonnay Grand Crus like Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil… this is to say; Crus you find in the Armand de Brignac range are not necessarily present in other Cattier champagnes.
In light of the brand’s success, we widened the champagne range for this cuvée with a Blanc de Blancs, presented in metallic silver bottle, and with a Rosé in pink metallic bottle.
Armand de Brignac Blanc de Blancs is elaborated with 50% of Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and 50% from our own vineyards as opposed to the Cattier Blanc de Blancs produced primarily from Chardonnay from the Mountain of Reims.
The same principle applies equally for the Rosé which allows for different assemblages between Armand de Brignac and Cattier and therefore a totally different identity.
On the other hand the two brands help and complete themselves. Cattier brought authenticity and credibility to a new and innovating brand, thanks to the image and the notoriety it already enjoyed in Champagne and in the wine world.
Inversely, Armand de Brignac today opens doors to Cattier that would not routinely open in other circumstances. The two brands do not compete with each other but harmoniously complete themselves.
BC: There are controversial opinions on Armand de Brignac when discussing its quality and its price. How do you reply to these comments?
JJC: To give a clear example not be biased to my own opinion, the international Fine Champagne Magazine organized a blind tasting of more than 1,000 champagnes in 2010. This tasting was carried out by sommeliers, enologists, experts, Masters of Wine. Armand de Brignac ranked first.
Undoubtedly tasting is not an exact science and we could well have ranked 2nd or 3rd which would have been exceptional nonetheless but the fact is that we finished 1st and that we are among the very best prestige cuvées.
We worked persistently on the quality of the product and not only on the quality of the presentation. Concerning the price, the cost of the bottle itself is the highest in Champagne, including the tin label and logo, the same applies to the grapes used, the most expensive in Champagne.
One should not forget the entire production process for Armand de Brignac is carried out by hand. Just to give you an example: our [bottle] dressing chains for standard bottles makes about 2,500 bottles/hour.
For the Armand of Brignac bottle, a person does by hand 20 bottles/hour. Armand de Brignac is the ultimate, absolute champagne, unique in Champagne and in the world.
Its price is the value of the excellence, exclusivity, supreme luxury, aestheticism and of dreams.
BC: Mr. Cattier, what is your personal advice on how to choose and appreciate champagne?
JJC: We are often asked this. Our customers ask us: “What do you suggest?” I often say, every champagne has its own circumstance of consumption.
For example; a cocktail, a reception or a ceremony the Brut Non-Vintage is champagne of very good quality that guests enjoy without having to concentrate on tasting, as they are at a social gathering.
For a whole meal to consume only with champagne, I would suggest a Blanc de Blancs, lively and light, for the aperitif or to accompany an entrée, a Blanc de Noirs, more winey, for the main dish, a Rosé, round and fruity, to accompany a dessert of red fruits for example.
Finally, a Grande Cuvée for a head to head between lovers! Other associations are possible; there is no universal way.
BC: Mr Cattier, what is champagne for you?
JJC: Champagne is a wonderful creation. We are extremely lucky to be in this world.
Some years ago, at Vinexpo [key wine and spirits event in Bordeaux], I was marked by an observation of a producer of wines from another French region. She had said to me: “The difference between us, is that we sell wine, while in Champagne, you sell dreams”.
I found this comment to be incredibly pertinent. Champagne is a fabulous celebratory product, for exchange and friendship.
BC: Which is the nicest thing of your work?
JJC: We work in a fascinating industry; every day is a day of joy and surprises. Drinking champagne is one of the most beautiful things of our life.
Traveling around the world to meet our importers, distributors and customers, restaurant owners, hotels, club owners etc is a great source of pleasure.
I am 68 years old and I lived all my life in this business, this passion that will accompany me until my last days.
Follow the link to discover Cattier House and champagnes.
Follow the link to discover Armand de Brignac and its champagnes.