|Interview with Hadrien Mouflard|
BestChampagne had the pleasure of interviewing Hadrien Mouflard of the prestigious Champagne House AYALA. He was appointed Managing Director of Ayala in September 2012. Mouflard was previously Administrator at Bollinger, another historic House, which today owns Ayala. Ayala offers some of the highest quality champagnes, in limited volumes, and are considered the ‘Haute Couture’ of champagne. The House was the first in Champagne history to release a low dosage champagne, with their 1865 vintage (22g/l). Ayala pioneered the movement for dry champagnes and continues to preserve the purity and elegance in all their wines. In this interview, Hadrien Mouflard explains the unique style of Ayala and his vision for the further development of the Ayala brand.
BestChampagne: What is the history of the Ayala Champagne House and how is it related to the House’s current style?
Hadrien MOUFLARD: Ayala is not a German or a French name, which is often the case in Champagne, it’s a Spanish name. In fact, it is the only royal name in Champagne. Edmond de Ayala, a Frenchman and a son of a diplomat, founded Ayala in 1860. The Ayala family was important in Spanish history as they were initially appointed to manage the royal archives. In 1750, Don Antonio de Ayala y Vergara, instead of becoming archivist for the King, was sent to South America as chancellor of New Granada, (now Colombia), by King Ferdinand VI of Spain. Three generations later, Edmond de Ayala (1831-1902) was invited to the Champagne region by the Viscount of Mareuil to learn the business. He fell in love with the Viscount’s niece, Gabrielle d ‘Albrecht. As the dowry for their wedding in 1860, he received the magnificent Château of Aÿ as well as some prime vineyards located in Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. This love story is also the beginning of this prestigious Champagne House.
Ayala developed rapidly in Great Britain, thanks to Edmond’s brother who was based in London and who became well acquainted with the Prince of Wales. In 1882, Ayala was one of the 18 founding members of the Syndicat des Grandes Marques, which brought together some of the most well known Champagne Houses. Before the 2nd World War, Ayala was an official supplier for the courts of Great Britain and Spain.
Ayala was one of the pioneers in releasing drier Champagnes at the end the 19th century. At the time, champagne was very sweet with a lot of sugar added in the blend. We lowered the sugar level in our wines in order to offer a vintage with a drier style, which the future King of England Edward VII was quite fond of. When the Queen Mum visited our House in 1983, she said, “I wanted to visit Ayala because when I was very young it was my father’s favourite Champagne”.
In 2005, Ayala was purchased by Société Jacques Bollinger, and is still owned by the Bollinger family today.
BC: How would you explain to someone who is not familiar with champagne the difference between a high quality and standard champagne?
HM: High quality champagnes starts with a high quality of grape supply. We are lucky enough to be in Aÿ, the most famous Grand Cru village in Champagne with a unique access to top quality grapes. Another key point is the control you have over the process of making champagne. From the grapes, to the labelling, the bottling and the shipment...everything is done in our facilities in Aÿ. In 2007, we invested in a brand new wine making house with very small stainless steel tanks that allowed us to improve significantly the quality of our cuvées. For high quality champagne, you need top quality grapes and you need to thoroughly control the process of wine making.
BC: You explained that you went for a lower dosage champagne. Is there a real link between the quality of champagne and the level of sugar added in the dosage?
HM: Part of the art of making champagne is to use the dosage as needed. It requires a true know-how. It helps finding the right balance and brings something more to wine. Ayalas’s style is all about freshness and lightness. Low dosage is part of our philosophy.
BC: So, is dosage really necessary?
HM: The most important thing is the quality of the grapes and how you process them. Adding the right level of sugar can definitely bring a sense a balance, that is one of the key elements that we are constantly looking for.
BC: What are the key components of your communications strategy? What do you want to say through your brand?
HM: We want to reinstate Ayala as the great Champagne House that it is, by capitalizing on 3 key elements: the style, the history and the location. I like the style of Ayala’s champagnes, which are light and fresh, which I like to define as “pure pleasure”. It is recognizable and we feel like it is the epitome of what a great House’s aromatic signature should be. But more importantly, we want our consumers to know about the great history of the brand and to understand the importance of our prime location. The management of Ayala is now quite young, so we are trying to move forward and be more progressive. We want to refresh things and have a contemporary style. I like the history of Ayala and our aim to blend this with something more contemporary.
BC: What role does the Internet plays for your brand?
HM: There is no question about it: everyone is now using the Internet to be informed about brands, the latest news, future events, etc. We need a strong presence online. It is an efficient way to develop a special link with our customers.
BC: How important is distribution?
HM: We mainly work with independent distributors, which adds your products into their global wine portfolios. The risk is to be invisible. For a brand like Ayala, with a presence that is growing but still low, we need to be focused. Our duty is to propose a clear and impactful commercial offer to our distributors to be considered as a priority. In France and the UK, which are the priority markets for Ayala, we own our distribution companies so we can share and align the strategy in a very effective way and have a direct and effective assessment of its implementation on the fields.
BC: Do you foresee an increase in the price of Ayala Champagnes within your strategy?
HM: Increasing the price is very difficult due to strong competition. I want to be present in key accounts with a brand that offers good value for money. So the price will increase gradually.
BC: In a marketing effort to stand out, some Houses have been introducing new shapes of bottles for their champagnes. Do you plan on creating a specific bottle for your champagnes?
HM: The good news is that we have a specific bottle for our prestige cuvée. In the future, will we extend this bottle to the full range? I do not know yet. There are many other things to do right now and we are trying to focus on those priorities for the moment.
BC: You referred to Alaya as “Pure Pleasure”, what do you mean by that?
HM: I like this motto. It is celebratory and relates to the specific moment when you open a good bottle of champagne with your friends and loved ones and relax…to have time stand still for a moment. That is what champagne is all about; it is a wine of celebration.
BC: What would you say to someone who likes champagne but is not an expert about why champagne is so special as compared to other sparkling wines?
HM: We are located in a very northern wine region where it is often cold. This leads to a great acidity in our wines, at the heart of the specificity and quality for great champagnes. When there is not enough acidity, the wine is flat. Great champagnes have a remarkable balance between acidity and fruit; it is an easy wine to drink.
BC: Do you drink champagne every day?
HM: No, not every day. Yet, every time I open a bottle of champagne, it is special. It should be an occasion when you drink champagne of celebrating a time together.
BC: Do you only drink Ayala champagne?
HM: No, it is very important to taste wines from other Champagne Houses as well. I am a wine lover so I like to drink other champagnes. It allows me to compare styles.
BC: What does champagne represent to you?
HM: That is interesting. Of course, you can live without champagne. I think champagne is an accompaniment in celebratory moments. You can have a celebration without champagne but when you bring it into celebration, something new and special is created in the occasion. It becomes part of the celebration.
Follow the link to discover AYALA champagnes: http://www.bestchampagne.co/houses/ayala