|Interview with Gilles de la Bassetiere|
BestChampagne had the pleasure of interviewing Gilles de la Bassetiere, President of the renowned Champagne House DE VENOGE. The House has been established for over 160 years and has since become synonymous with refinement and elegance. They have been consistently recognized in all major international competitions, with their achievements in excellence and quality. Each cuvée in De Venoge's range of champagnes is highly individual, expressing the richness of its terroir and the typicity of a particular grape variety. The trademark vinosity gives champagne Venoge its unique style of freshness.
BestChampagne: Monsieur de la Bassetiere, where did your passion for champagne originate?
Gilles de la BASSETIERE: I was actually born in New York and hold a US passport. I was extremely interested in the wine industry as we have a long heritage in our family. In fact, my grandfather farmed a vineyard in Vendée, a department in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west-central France. I started working for de Venoge in the United States, right after graduating from business school in 1995.
Then I returned to France when Rémy Martin bought the Champagne House. I began as export manager and then in 2003, became General Manager until 2005, when I became CEO. So, in this way, I became devoted and committed to de Venoge.
BC: What is the history of the de Venoge House?
GDLB: Henri Marc de Venoge, a Swiss citizen, founded the House in 1837. That makes us the only big Champagne House with a Swiss history. He left Switzerland due to financial problems and married a wealthy Italian girl, who had invested in Champagne. In 1823, he began buying and selling bottles and started his own house in 1837.
His son, Joseph, was the export manager and, in 1842, de Venoge became one of the first champagnes to be introduced to the States. Famous clients included Sarah Bernhardt, Comtesse de Ségur or Princesse de Ligne.
BC: How would you describe the de Venoge style?
GDLB: Vinosity with freshness. We first make a wine before thinking of making a sparkling wine. We only do first pressing [cuvée], we age our wines for at least 3 years, and use a very low dosage (about 7 grams per liter), and this is where the freshness comes from.
The acidity is the bone of the wine, and as a consequence aging can be longer. What is of utmost importance to us is to maintain the quality of the grapes and the quality of the wines.
BC: Why is it that de Venoge showcases such a wide portfolio of champagne wines?
GDLB: I am a wine lover and we make a wine before making champagne, so we are always looking for the best grapes. With these grapes, I wanted to make all the specialties that champagne could offer. It is extremely important to remember that we can make all these wines in Champagne.
We organize a lot of champagne dinners and people experience the House style throughout an entire meal. So our job is to make wines that can be paired with meals and not only served as an aperitif.
BC: Speaking of grapes, pinot meunier is often regarded as a less noble grape, what is your opinion on this grape?
GDLB: A 100% pinot meunier sparkling wine can sometimes have a "southern European" expression: it is round with honey aromas. Young wines are interesting but pinot meunier doesn’t age as well as chardonnay, oxidation develops quickly. Yet, depending on the terroir, top quality pinot meunier grapes can express great differences and add complexity in your final blend.
BC: There is a trend in Champagne in reintroducing the use of oak barrels, what do you think?
GDLB: I don’t like it. To me, it hides the terroir. If it is used to add another dimension in a small quantity, this is fine. Otherwise, I call it oak juice! It is not my taste. We have more options now in creating wine. Today there is the possibility of using steel vats and that is our method. That's the best way to express the style.
GDLB: We only sell around 700,000 bottles annually and our business is 50% in France and 50% abroad. I think we make a champagne that is marketed at the right price and customers keep on coming back to us for our high quality and for the style we offer.
We are only distributed in restaurants and liquor stores, which allows for a very exclusive distribution. This association with top restaurants creates a strong relationship with connoisseurs for whom we want to deliver the best quality.
BC: Which are the targeted markets for the future?
GDLB: We maintain our volume and methodically build new markets for the future. We are investigating into North America and Asia, as we have to further develop these markets and educate them on our style.
We will continue to develop the brand slowly because, if you develop too quickly, you lose the quality of the champagne. It takes time to have good quality grapes, so if you increase your volume rapidly you might lose quality.
BC: Will there be a de Venoge 2012 vintage?
GDLB: Yes, the year was very good. We had a lot of rain and sun in June with cold nights. It should be an interesting vintage, much better than what we thought at the beginning.
BC: What would be your advice to our readers on how to identify a good champagne?
GDLB: Ask wine stores, read up, look at the BestChampagne.co site…People must develop their own taste. You should taste as much as you can, try and try again, you will then find the brand you love.
BC: What is champagne to you?
GDLB: Champagne is celebration. I remember one of the first tours I made to California, I was with a sales person and he told me champagne is a celebration of good and bad moments - an anniversary, a divorce…In this particular case, he was celebrating his divorce!
Follow the link to discover DE VENOGE champagnes: http://www.bestchampagne.co/houses/de-venoge