Patrice Noyelle: last of the Mohicans

Noyelle’s influence over the management of Pol Roger’s sales and distribution has also benefited the house. In particular, his handling of the financial crisis after the Lehmann Brothers collapse in late 2008 was key to the long-term health of the brand. As orders dried up immediately following the headlines, Noyelle was concerned, but didn’t panic, and hence turned down offers to take stock at lower prices and sell Pol Roger on discount. “I remember sales by June 2009 had dropped 50% but we still made a profit that year because we never gave up in price,” he recalls.

ROYAL PRIVILEGE

More recently, Pol Roger has benefited from its association with British royalty. Chosen Champagne for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Noyelle expresses incredulity at the effect of this decision on the brand and sales, from the UK to Japan. In fact, it was during Noyelle’s tenure that the brand regained its Royal Warrant – having lost it in the 1950s – allowing it to be considered for the wedding. Noyelle remembers the satisfaction of being the first new warrant holder “for some years” when the brand was told it could once more state its association with the British monarchy on 23 December 2003.

As for the selection of pol roger logo for the wedding, Noyelle says the brand was chosen during a blind tasting in 2010. Once he was informed of the decision – which he had to keep secret – an order came through for 75cl bottles of Pol Roger Brut Reserve. Noyelle, remarking that his own children had enjoyed Champagne from magnums at their wedding, changed the order to the equivalent amount in the larger format. Noyelle has also been active when it comes to improving Pol Roger’s global distribution.

Exports are key for the business, with over four-fifths of Pol Roger’s turnover coming from outside its domestic market. In the UK, Pol Roger has its own distributor with Pol Roger Portfolio, an operation that has steadily grown to become an important player not just for the Pol Roger brand, but other wine and spirits brands from Drouhin to Hine Cognac and Glenfarclas Whisky. The Champagne house also has a share of its distributor in Japan, while in other markets, it has worked hard to improve its spread, and has recently changed its importer in Italy to maximise the brand’s position in this key Champagne market.

Securing supply has also been important, and in 2012 Pol Roger acquired 3.5 hectares, and at the start of this year bought a further 1.5ha to take its total ownership in Champagne to 90ha. In terms of production, Noyelle admits he’d like Pol Roger to become a two million- bottle business, but that’s the maximum the operation can accommodate.

“Pol Roger is the last jewel in Champagne, and there is no stress – Christian de Billy is zen and Hubert [Christian’s son] is relaxed,” says Noyelle, implying that the management aren’t pressurising staff unreasonably to meet short- term sales targets. Speaking of himself, Noyelle adds, “And even if I have been pushy, people love to be led.”

So what of d’Harcourt’s appointment? Noyelle explains that d’Harcourt was chosen seven years ago to replace him. “In January 2006, the day Laurent arrived, I said to myself he would be my successor, and I had said to the headhunter [who was used to find a new staff member], I want to hire my successor, but the person has to run exports first, because that accounts for 82% of our turnover.”

Laurent d'Harcourt

Laurent d’Harcourt

Continuing, Noyelle says, referring to the seven-year period d’Harcourt has worked at Pol Roger before his promotion to the top job, “Our business is built over time, so for me it was important to prepare my succession. When I started Christian just gave me the keys and I went on my own – I didn’t want Laurent thrown to the wild like I was [as the first non-family member ever to head the company].”

MOVING ASIDE

Outwardly they appear different. Noyelle, slightly rotund with a full head of grey hair stands in contrast to d’Harcourt, who is thin, very tall – over 6ft 3” – and almost bald.

However, D’Harcourt, coincidentally, has much in common with Noyelle. Both had previously worked and lived in Burgundy for négociants and both admit to a nervous concern when it came to moving to Champagne for their careers. Furthermore, d’Harcourt comes from the same town where Noyelle’s mother was born – Châtillon-sur-Seine – while both enjoy a cigarette, although Noyelle has recently given up the strong tobacco he used to smoke, and blames his weight gain on the change.

They are also both blessed with a generous spirit, a gregarious nature, and a healthy sense of fun. And, seeing them together, it seems a friendship has formed founded on mutual respect. “I was given a lovely jewel and I’m giving it back to the family and Laurent even lovelier,” says Noyelle, recalling his period at Pol Roger. Later, d’Harcourt responds, looking at Noyelle, “If I have the ability to preserve Pol Roger at the top of the first league, I will be very proud.”

One Response to “Patrice Noyelle: last of the Mohicans”

  1. Lori Pedersen Harrison says:

    Dear sirs, I am writing from Mexico and am late, ever so late in congratulating Patrice Noyelle of his past year retirement FROM pol Roger.
    Do you have a recommendation of how I could contact him. I have been trying to locate him following the sad events last week in Paris. WITH SINCERE THANKS FOR YOUR HELP.. Lori Pedersen Harrison

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