Leading by design

Pol Roger’s Patrice Noyelle talks openly to Chris Orr about the difficulties in modernising a long established Champagne brand, while maintaining an image of luxury

Patrice Noyelle is skilled in the art of diplomacy.  Over the last five years at the helm of Champagne Pol Roger, he’s had to tread a careful path in helping modernise the company and manage the expectations of the family that own it.  A path that has not always been easy.

"It’s always difficult talking about this," he says, resigned to the fact that whichever way he puts it, he risks offending someone.  Noyelle was headhunted from Burgundy producer Mommessin in 1997, when Christian de Billy decided to retire.

"He was 68 and had given enough of his life to the business. I think he wanted to enjoy life a bit.  The problem was, that left a vacancy of power.  They looked in the Champagne region but did not find anyone suitable.

We had just sold Mommessin to Boisset, and to be honest I was not happy with the decision, so frankly it was a glorious day for me when the call came through.  "Pol Roger were looking for someone to manage the company.

The goal given to me by Christian was to take the reins for the next 10 to 15 years, until the point when Hubert de Billy was ready to take over.  That was my brief.  The company needed some fresh air and some new thinking.

But it is difficult to talk about because the inference, immediately, is that the company was badly run.  Which is not the case at all. It simply needed some fresh air.  "They had a great product, a lovely wine, but it needed some fresh blood in the company.  I really think it was as simple as that."

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