Jean-Marc Gallot joined Veuve Clicquot in 2014. An elegant, friendly, even humorous man with a long experience in luxury, he explains with great enthusiasm how Veuve Clicquot’s maverick spirit remains at the heart of the identity of the house. This, combined with its long history, results in a mix of innovation and tradition, expressed in everything the house does. Gallot truly understands what an identity is, having previously headed several global luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, together with a strong understanding of champagne, having managed another great Champagne house–Ruinart. This is why this interview is not only a way to understand this house and the spirit that its wines convey, but also a priceless piece of advice on how to build a world around your brand.
Before joining Veuve Clicquot, you managed Ruinart, another iconic house, and other luxury brands part of LVMH. To you, what does a bottle of champagne represent?
For me, a bottle of champagne is, first and foremost, the idea of sharing.
When I joined Ruinart in 2009, I discovered the world of champagne, a new universe for me, although I had previous experiences in the luxury world at Cartier, Christofle, Ferragamo, and Louis Vuitton. I previously enjoyed champagne from the outside, but once inside, I had to understand what is at the heart and soul of our house. 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. This is the complexity of champagne, and at Veuve Clicquot we aim at this double experience.
How do you build the “outside” experience to which you refer?
You build it with the DNA of your brand: where you come from and what you are, your mission and the storytelling that you are able to develop.
Veuve Clicquot is all about mixing tradition and innovation.
On top of that, innovation is a key element. Veuve Clicquot is all about mixing tradition and innovation. Tradition is Madame Clicquot, it’s 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 on ice with cocktail ingredients like cucumber, lime, etc.
In 2017, we introduced Extra Brut Extra Old, a champagne made 100% of reserve wines, from 1988 to 2010. Yellow Label already includes 35% to 40% reserve wines, so with this new cuvée, we want to create the ultimate experience of 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, unpredictably mixing tradition and innovation. This is the expertise and the signature of Veuve Clicquot. We live in an ever-changing world, 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.
What is Madame Clicquot’s spirit all about?
It is innovation without limits. In the first five years that she joined the house, she invented the riddling table, she introduced the first vintage champagne and the rosé d’assemblage method. These were breakthroughs in champagne making that were soon adopted by all the other houses. This is why, still today, we love to be different.
How do you constantly innovate without damaging your brand?
We have a guardian of the temple, our Chef de Cave 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.
Through this permanent reference to Madame Clicquot, isn’t there a risk of being too feminine?
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, which brings a certain power to champagne.
As the second-largest Champagne house, you are leading the way in the future of your industry. How do you see it? Is the profile of the champagne consumer changing?
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 many 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 other drinks.
Champagne houses not only must maintain their superior quality but also develop it further.
This is why Champagne houses not only must maintain their superior quality but also develop it further. For example, our Yellow Label now ages on lees in the cellars for a minimum of three years, when the law requires a minimum of 15 months. Our industry is also progressively moving toward more sustainable viticulture.
We should also ensure that champagne maintains its luxury status, by getting rid of extremely aggressive promotions implemented by certain producers that result in champagne sold in supermarkets for less than 15 euro. This is killing the idea 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, and not only through celebratory moments like weddings or anniversaries. The cornerstone of our business is being present in bars, lounges, restaurants, nightclubs sometimes, where there are moments of sharing. But to get new customers, we have to create new opportunities where we can meet them; we must bring our experience in creating new moments. For example, we created the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in New York that attracts close to 10,000 people. This is a great way to let new people join the world of Veuve Clicquot.
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 on champagne from growers. Its production and distribution are limited, and it can only be found in certain wine merchants and restaurants. So, even if we are a large house, sometimes we have to do more intimate things.
How do you see the increasing competition of Prosecco and other sparkling wines?
I respect very much Prosecco and the other sparkling wines, but I don’t believe we are in the same world as champagne. They do not have as much history and creativity. As long as we have this competitive edge, I have good faith in the future of Veuve Clicquot.
How do you feel being the president of a brand that is renowned globally?
My job is to create the conditions for the creative director, in our case our chef de cave, to create everything he likes.
In our group, everything is about creativity; who is the president of a maison is not important. My job is to create the conditions for the creative director, in our case our chef de cave, to create everything he likes. Sometimes, my job is also to redirect him in what he does to make sure that it is feasible and sellable. But we also like to take some bold decisions for the benefit of our future.
What does champagne mean to you?
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 of legal drinking age) and we open a bottle of champagne. Champagne brings joy to life and makes the moment different.