Frédéric Dufour was appointed president in 2011. Before that, he was international director at Veuve Clicquot. A stylish and warm man, close to the world of art, he perfectly incarnates the house’s spirit. He explains the success of Ruinart, based on a profound belief in quality, and shares the house’s ambitions to become the most exclusive champagne brand.
How does the fact that Ruinart is the oldest established Champagne house contribute to its success? How would you describe Ruinart to someone who is not familiar with it?
The fact that we are the first established Champagne house gives us a unique legitimacy and a strong identity in France.
The fact that we are the first established Champagne house gives us a unique legitimacy and a strong identity in France, although not yet internationally.
Ruinart is a wine with a great history, a product and a style that focuses on chardonnay, which is directly connected to our success. This style is characterized by freshness and elegance, with a certain power, and was strengthened with the release of our Blanc de Blancs, the ultimate symbol of purity. We rely on reserve wines to help counterbalance the difficulties of certain harvests and to maintain the aromatic freshness yet to a much lesser extent than other Champagne houses. Whether the consumer is a sommelier or a wine lover, he/she will find unique finesse and elegance in Ruinart. Our deep chalk pits are also critical in ensuring quality during bottle aging.
Ruinart is part of the LVMH, the world’s leader in luxury, which also owns other superb Champagne houses. What does it mean to be part of this group?
The strength of the LVMH group gives us the means to invest in quality.
The strength of LVMH gives us the means to invest in quality. Our group believes deeply in quality yet it is expensive, hence the advantage of being part of a larger group. Also, LVMH brings in its distribution network, with a very strong global presence.
Quality, distribution, but also brand, are all part of the success of champagne. In your opinion, what is the order of importance of these three components and how do they come to play in the success of Ruinart?
For me, quality is by far the most important aspect. Then, a balanced distribution and good marketing follow.
For me, quality is by far the most important aspect. Then, a balanced distribution and good marketing follow. Ruinart is one of the most exclusive brands in terms of distribution and our champagnes are found in restaurants and wine shops and not in supermarkets. Another large proportion of our sales is direct B-to-C, which is rare in champagne, to loyal consumers who order large volumes. Ruinart was built on a model of finding friends of the house who know us well. This helps to establish the reputation of the product. Ruinart has grown from a relatively small brand 30 years ago to the strong brand it is today, whose perception is probably well beyond the reality of our volumes.
The unusual shape of your bottles allows for immediate recognition of the product. Other houses have turned to this strategy to distinguish their champagnes. How important is the bottle in positioning a champagne?
The bottle is one of the elements, but many pretty bottles of champagne may not have a good wine inside. You have to focus on the quality of the product. The sum of these elements must also be associated with the distribution, the capacity to supply the product.
You mentioned that you are strongly recognized in France. What are your ambitions abroad?
The prospects for growth are huge for Ruinart because the brand is ubiquitous today in France, but not yet internationally. We have a strong historical presence in Germany and Italy, but with the exclusion of these, the rest of Western Europe has the potential for fairly strong growth, especially the UK and Belgium. We have also seen some growth in the US and Asia, and to a smaller extent in Latin America.
We aspire to be the most exclusive brand in the market.
However, our strategy is not to enter one continent and put all our eggs in one basket; there are pockets of growth, and our search is comprehensive and extremely focused. We aspire to be the most exclusive brand in the market and to do this, we must look at the emerging markets of champagne.
We also have a nest in the contemporary art world. The work we do in associating our brand with it aids considerably. The concept of “art of French living” is central in this context. The art world often includes people who love quality products, luxury, and good wines. It’s a work of seduction because once they have tasted Ruinart, three out of four people will not forget it and will continue to drink it.
In this context of growth, the goal is to ensure that our style remains modern and chardonnay is key to that, yet there will always be a limit to our growth because we always put quality over quantity. Chardonnay grapes are limited in quantity in Champagne, making them also the most expensive variety. Our price positioning is peculiar; we fall halfway between the market of champagnes sold at a retail price of 25 to 35 euro [in France], and the prestige brands at 150 to 200 euros, like Dom Pérignon and Krug. Ruinart is positioned as a champagne of extremely high quality for a price that remains accessible to consumers, between 50 euro and 60 euro for our Blanc de Blancs or Rosé.
So, are you looking to increase volumes or sale price?
We are looking at a mix of both. There is natural inflation in France: grapes are becoming more expensive and wages are rising, so our costs increase, and we are forced to increase our prices to offset that. Do not forget that champagne must remain exclusive and positioned at the high end.
Do you drink only Ruinart or other champagnes too?
When I bring a bottle of Ruinart to share with friends, it’s just amazing how people look at you.
Most of the time I drink Ruinart, but I also like other champagnes, in styles somewhat comparable to ours. But when I bring a bottle of Ruinart to share with friends, it’s just amazing how people look at you. That’s part of the magic of the brand that we have been able to create.
What would life be like without champagne?
Sad, very sad. Of course, one can live without champagne but it’s a superficial necessity, a unique tasting pleasure.