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Interview with Jean-Pierre Cointreau

BestChampagne had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Jean-Pierre Cointreau President of Champagne Gosset. This much-admired House was founded in 1584, and is the oldest wine house in Champagne. Acclaimed for prestige and distinction, Gosset is one of Champagne's most recognisable and cherished names.

Olivier-Krug
Jean-Pierre Cointreau was appointed President of Gosset in 2007

Best Champagne: The Gosset House is renowned to be the oldest in Champagne. How does its history shape its current style today?

Jean-Pierre Cointreau: Gosset is indeed the oldest wine house in Champagne. In 1584, the Gosset family was already in the wine business, although at the time producing still wines. Hence we are first and foremost a wine house, before becoming a champagne producer.  Our House signature is to be recognized as a committed wine producer, not just a glamorous champagne producer.  
 
Our brand, similarly to others in Champagne, wishes to distinguish itself not only for the grapes or vintages we release but for the specific style of our champagnes that derives from the skill of our cellar master and the wines he selects, to carefully assemble and produce beautiful cuvees.  
 
Another decision in style is to make champagne that does not undergo malolactic fermentation. This is something that only few champagne houses do nowadays and that allows for producing wines that retain certain crispness and age a great deal longer.  To give you an example on average our cuvée Grande Réserve stays on lees for 4 years and half before being released.
 
BC: Your champagnes have hence a distinctive style, just like your bottles.  What is the origin?
 
JPC: The origin of our bottle dates back to the XVIII century. It is slightly longer, with wider hips, and recalls an exclusive model that was among the house collection. Several decades ago it was decided to bring this bottle back to life and make it the emblem of our champagne range. In this way we not only have a signature style for our wines, but also for our bottle. Also on the habillage, where we use a collerette instead of the standard label. It is a very special way of presenting champagne, which is copyrighted. It shows how Gosset is a brand which is made with care to our highest expectations and singles out connoisseurs of champagne.
 
Gosset champagne does not undergo malolactic fermentation
Other champagne houses have recently decided to introduce distinctive bottles for their unique cuvées. It is necessary to introduce distinctive elements in the very same way that you dress chic for exceptional events. We happy to see that others are following our path: it means that we were right before in being pioneers.  
 
 
BC: Let's talk business. Currently, the traditional export markets are stagnating. Champagne and new markets seem to be taking the relay. What are the markets of today and of the future for Gosset?
 
JPC: At Champagne Gosset we have entered many markets. We are distributed in more than 75 countries around the world; we still have a few more to enter. Nevertheless; we sell a little over a million bottles, so we cannot go everywhere. In addition, we are only distributed in carefully selected channels, therefore countries that have adapted to our type of distribution, with people that are looking for more specific, premium products, with an average selling price slightly higher than the rest.
 
Gosset champagne is a premium champagne; the mature champagne markets are our core. So clearly, this is the Western world and I would even say the countries of Western Europe. Regarding exports outside EU, Russia, the Far East, North America and South America are developing markets.
 
BC: With your production a little more than one million bottles per year. What are your growth ambitions?
 
JPC: The quest for growth is always present because the one that does not goes ahead, goes back. We must seek above all the development of clientele that is loyal to a brand of prestige and of course also being an association to pairing with food, i.e. a quality brand. Besides, I'm not sure that the old school methods we use to produce our champagnes can be applied to companies that produce tens of millions of bottles. We are particularly attached to our roots, our DNA, our know-how. Of course we want to develop our brand but with the certainty of the quality of the wines.
 
With developing markets who are increasingly seeking complex champagnes, our intention is to demonstrate to the customer that they can find increasing pleasure in discovering the different cuvées of the Gosset House.
 
BC: In your experience, what are the main challenges when explaining champagne in these markets?
 
JPC: The challenge of champagne is to explain the specificity of this product and explain in fact why champagne is unique. It takes a certain culture of luxury or premium product to convey the particularity of champagne which is all inclusive of French culture, history and excellence. 
 
The US is very responsive to product knowledge. I love the Anglo-Saxons and the Americans in particular for their pursuit of knowledge, much more than in France, for example. In Asia, a substantive background work should be done in the coming decade’s on the whole French art de vivre. I think that the classification of the French meals by UNESCO was something that will help us for many years, because not only French food and haute cuisine have been distinguished, but also the time for aperitif and for digestives. And champagne finds its place at the aperitif, during a meal and as digestive. It is a recognition that will allow the champagne to go very far in this cultural aspect.
 
BC: Talking gastronomy, why do you think the champagne is often confined to the context of aperitif and is not usually considered a food wine?
 
JPC: Your statement is exciting, because indeed, if you go back half a century or a century ago, champagne was first and foremost a dessert wine. When you look at the way Russian Tsars drank champagne, it was almost syrup champagne given the amount of sugar that was incorporated into the beverage. There was this era of champagnes that could be called sweet.
 
We have a long tradition of Rosé champagne at Gosset
Then the consumption of champagne as an aperitif gained popularity. I think today we have a rather broad range of champagnes with different assemblages, including rosé, with such a range of champagnes; we begin to introduce the idea of an entire meal with champagne. From much experience I can tell you that people love any meal with champagne, provided that the food and wine are adequate.
 
BC: You were talking about very sweet champagnes from the past. Nowadays we witness an ever lowering level of dosage in champagnes in many Champagne Houses. Is dosage essential to champagne or this could disappear with time?
 
JPC: I think dosage is an asset to the cellar master in the elaboration on the blends. We started in the past with very sweet champagnes to arrive today to brut champagnes or extra-brut or even non-dosé.
 
But once arrived at the extra-brut or non dosé, we have reached the end. Perhaps we may want to to go back to something else? The best is to have a range of champagnes with different dosages such as ours, which allow finding the champagne Gosset that suits best the taste of each consumer.
 
In other words, the dosage is an essential element of the wine being developed by the cellar master, this is a small element, and it is an essential element in his work. I do not think we will ever see the disappearance of the dosage. However, it is relatively safe to say that a Rosé champagne will often have a slightly higher dosage compared to a Brut Non-Vintage because of the blend of wines used to produce Rosé and the nature of consumption for these cuvées. 
 
We have a long tradition of Rosé champagne at Gosset since in fact, Suzanne Gosset in the 50s, has already developed a Rosé, which was not common at the time. Today we have two rosé champagnes: one in the range Antique and the other in the prestige range Celebris. They are rosé champagnes with a very loyal customer base, which developed progressively over time. Today rosé champagnes represent 13.5% of our production when the market average is 8%. They are d’assemblage made by adding a small amount of red wines mainly from Bouzy, Cumières and Ambonnay. This is a very specific work of our cellar master.
Armand-de-Brignac-Cellars
Celebris prestige cuvee is characterised by its special bottle

BC: You mentioned your Celebris range which include the famous prestige cuvées of your House. What is the source of its success?

JPC: The Celebris range consists of two vintages, the 1998 Extra-Brut and the Vintage Rosé Vintage 2003. 
 
We have put into practice the Trophy Gosset Celebris for 18 successive years which awards many chefs for their cuisine, champagne lists, and gastronomic initiatives. The last two winners; Yannick Alléno and Thierry Marx are prestigious names in French gastronomy. 
 
Gastronomy and gourmet restaurants are clearly the framework for offering our House opportunities and our continuous success with aligning ourselves with the finest gourmet experiences.
 
BC: If we look at the distribution through haute cuisine, the concept of brand and of quality, which of these three parameters according to you makes the difference in the export of champagne?
 
JPC: These three parameters are very important, I would put quality first because it is the quality of our wines that allows us to work on the other two elements, which are key to market entry. Without quality wines, you're not going very far. The work of our cellar master Jean-Pierre Mareigner, at Gosset for 29 years now, is crucial to our development. It has the upper hand on the commercialization of our wines and on the work of all the other winemakers of our house.
 
The brand is the second element in order of importance, provided it is alive, and carries distinctive characteristics such as our Antique bottle that contribute to our identity. When you see a bottle of Gosset on the shelf at a wine merchant or in a restaurant, you immediately identify the brand. So clearly, these two parameters, quality and brand are essential.
 
But what will enable you to succeed is the selection of your importer and the quality of its distribution. We are in selective distribution, i.e. a distribution in the world of gastronomy, and with wine merchants with specific products, and towards customers seeking excellence. We avoid being in supermarkets or in any distribution channel of this type.
 
BC: How has the current economic crunch impacted the champagne world, part of the luxury world?
 
JPC: Crises always impact consumers spending habits: when income is low, expenses are selective. To say that the luxury business is immune against the crisis is true only up to a point. I often tell my friends that I prefer to actually work in the wine and spirits business rather than in the automotive business. What protects the champagne business or other luxury products, is rather the sales breakdown among international market where certain geographical areas that are experiencing economic crisis. The ability to grow our brands, not only in Europe but export market like Asia and the Americas, is very favourable for a European company in the current economic context. The European crisis, may reach the US but not South America or Asia.
 
BC: What is your view on the competition from other sparkling wines?
 
JPC: I think we're on two completely different markets. Intellectually, I'm very interested to see the development of Cava or Prosecco because it is important to see what is going on around. Sales of these sparkling wines are as important as those of Whisky and other drinks. Champagne is a specific product, it is a very special niche wine, there is relatively little interaction between the two markets. 
 
Is Prosecco or sparkling Saumur or Crémant d'Alsace are competing with champagne? I would tend to say no. I am passionate about the development of these products and about the marketing resources that are put behind and the success or failure of particular strategies, but I do not think they are real competitors for champagne. In saying that, I would not look to be self-celebrating. Simply, we are not on the same market. We sell products that have a history, quality, terroir different from all other products we talked about.
 
BC: The Gosset House is part of Renaud-Cointreau Group. What does that mean? 
 
JPC: Our "group" is an unlisted family group, not to be confused with other large groups. Its roots are in Cognac, since Cognac Frapin has been in my mother's family for several centuries. Cognac Frapin and Champagne Gosset are products that have a similar positioning with the main attractiveness coming from champagne in Western countries, and the great strength of Cognac in Asia, so extreme complementarity for the sales team that develops both brands in synergy. 
 
We also have another sales team who takes care of liqueurs, completely different in terms of manufacturing, marketing and commercialization. The advantage is to have three families of products, wines and spirits, all of which are high quality products attached to regions of France, with whom one can have a passionate professional life.
 
BC: To wrap it all up, what is your way of explaining Gosset to someone who has never had the opportunity to enjoy your champagnes?
 
JPC: I guess when such a person arrives at friends and they are about to open a bottle of champagne, before even having a glass of champagne in hand, they see the bottle of Gosset and magic happens already because it is not a standard product.
 
The Gosset bottle is specific enough in its shape and labelling that without tasting the wine, people understand that Gosset is a distinctive brand. This is the first thing. Then, indeed, by sipping the champagne, the person will discover a wine, which certainly is effervescent, with particularly fine bubbles. He will find the aromas that the master cellar carefully prepared for him; this is not simply a sparkling drink.
 
BC: Mr Cointreau, do you drink champagne every day? And if so, always Gosset?
 
JPC: I would say I rather drink champagne several times a week. I mainly drink Gosset but we love to do some comparative tasting. It's always good to compare to others.
 
Follow the link to discover Gosset House and champagnes: http://www.bestchampagne.co/houses/gosset
 
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