Full speed ahead at LVMH3rd June, 2013 by Gabriel Stone
Jean-Guillaume Prats, the new head of Moët Hennessy’s Estates & Wines division, has outlined an ambitious timetable for its new Indian and Chinese wine projects.
July is due to see the official investiture of a new winery for Domaine Chandon’s Chinese outpost, while Domaine Chandon in India is set to unveil its inaugural wine in October. 2013 will also mark Moët Hennessy’s first harvest for its red wine project in China.
Turning first to Chandon’s Chinese operation, which is located beside the Yellow River in Ningxia Province, close to the Mongolian border, Prats described this warm, dry area with light, fairly acidic soils as “extremely suitable for our sparkling wine project.”
Having produced its first vintage in 2012, the result will “probably” appear on the market in 2014 after further maturation in bottle, Prats told the drinks business.
Reminding that “Moët was the first to go to the New World,” he noted that 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley, California.
Since then, the Chandon name has expanded to wineries in Argentina, Brazil and Australia, with these latest projects in China and India marking the next phase of Moët Hennessy’s pioneering ethos.
“Moët has always been a forward thinker,” emphasised Prats, who joined the luxury drinks subsidiary of LVMH in February from his previous role as managing director of Bordeaux second growth Château Cos D’Estournel. “It’s really part of our DNA that is based on two pillars: long established brands and innovation.”
Prats described one of his priorities in this new role as being to strengthen the Chandon brand across these various sources and its primarily local distribution markets.
“Soon we will have six estates with a common packaging, style and market dedication to feed the young, up and coming consumers who want great bubbles, but maybe don’t want to spend quite the same money as Champagne,” he told db.
Although acknowledging the €500-a-bottle red wine launched this year by Chandon’s Ningxia neighbour Château Hansen, Prats confirmed that, in this location at least, “we will not go into the still wine business.”
That’s not to suggest that Moët Hennessy is ignoring the huge popularity of red wines in the Chinese market – this autumn it will harvest the first grapes from its other estate, this time 2,600m up in the Shangri-La mountains of Hunan Province, close to Tibet.
Here, at the same latitude at Morocco, on a site founded upon gravel washed down by the Mekong River, the focus is on red wine from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.
With no winemaking facility or brand name yet in place, Prats will not even confirm whether this year’s harvest will even go on sale. “We will only put something onto the market that we are proud of,” he insists, while adding by way of reassurance: “I think we have something exceptional.”
In addition to these two major Chinese projects, construction is already well underway near Nashik, Maharashtra, for Moët Hennessy’s first winery in India.
Having produced its first vintage in 2012 at a separate facility, the initial result is due to launch this October in Mumbai as the sixth piece in the Chandon jigsaw.
Drawing a diplomatic comparison between the challenges of producing wines in India and China, Prats remarked: “Things take more time in India.” However, with India’s federal and state import duty structure proving prohibitive for many foreign wine brands, he balanced this with the observation that “clearly there is an advantage to being a local producer.”
Highlighting a further appeal presented by India for the Chandon brand, Prats noted: “In India today there is a slightly more love for bubbles than there is in China.”
From a broader perspective, Prats pointed to the strategic thinking behind this strengthening and expansion of the Chandon brand. “We’re exactly where the market is going,” he emphasised.
“The market wants great bubbles of two types: celebration wines like Veuve Clicquot or Moët & Chandon and then with Chandon we are just below that for a young, upcoming people who maybe don’t want to spend quite that much.”
A full interview with Jean-Guillaume Prats, including his plans for the rest of the Estates & Wines portfolio, potential gaps to be filled and where Bordeaux is going wrong, will appear in July’s issue of the drinks business.