Frédéric Mairesse was appointed managing director in 2010. He has a strong track record in both wine and champagne, being previously operations director at LVMH, Mumm and Perrier-Jouët, Pommery and Lanson, and managing director at two wineries in the Rhone Valley. A charismatic, energetic, and jovial man with a permanent smile, he travels non-stop to promote the wines he proudly represents and is the man behind the increasing visibility of this brand.
What is the story behind the involvement of the Rothschild family in the champagne world?
The Rothschild family has been passionate about champagne for a long time. After WW2, when Ruinart was experiencing difficulties, Bertrand Mure, the owner of the house asked Philippe de Rothschild help to support their development. He liked the project very much and invested in the house. Ruinart even made a Baron Philippe de Rothschild cuvée. Then Ruinart got closer to Moët & Chandon and Philippe de Rothschild got closer to Henriot, which made the cuvée Baron Philippe de Rothschild for 15 years. M. Rothschild passed away in 1988, and that halted the family’s ambitions in Champagne. But in the early 2000s, it was Eric de Rothschild who tried to buy a house, Krug. But he finally decided, together with his cousins Benjamin and Philippine, to create their champagne, since they already had a strong name, a developed distribution network, and the means to do things properly.
Since they were not experts in producing champagne, they contacted people in the region and realized that it was easier to produce champagnes with more pinot noir and pinot meunier as these varieties were easier to source. On further consideration, they took the consultants’ opposite view and decided to produce champagnes that were made with a lot of chardonnay, more complicated and expensive to source. When you are Rothschild, you can’t do like everyone else does. But this way they couldn’t produce millions of bottles, which was fine; they preferred producing less but with a focus on very high quality.
The Champagne house Barons de Rothschild was created in 2005. The first grapes supplies were difficult to obtain as there was a strong demand from other buyers, but we received help from the family’s friends at Pol Roger, Billecart-Salmon, and Bollinger. This way we got in contact with vine growers, and the fact that the Rothschild is a family of winegrowers in Bordeaux who has always respected their contracts, reassured them. We made the first vinification in 2005 and we sold the first bottles of Barons de Rothschild champagne in late 2009. Since then the Rothschild family drinks its own champagne whereas before they were more inclined toward Krug, Pol Roger, and Louis Roederer. The family, together with friends and bank customers, consumes 150 bottles a day in 60 countries.
What one finds in a bottle of Barons de Rothschild champagne?
The Rothschild family is passionate about quality and has a clear view: to have a successful Champagne house with small volumes.
He finds the assurance of great quality champagne. The Rothschild family is passionate about quality and has a clear view: to have a successful house with small volumes. The shareholders tell me: “Let’s make great champagnes and not compromise on quality. It doesn’t matter if it’s more expensive to make.” We are a small team, everything is handmade. Our first Chef de Cave Jean Philippe Moulin previously worked in the same position at Ruinart. Highly skilled, he had done almost 40 vinifications before joining Barons de Rothschild. A young enologist, Guillaume Lété worked with him until he retired, becoming chef de cave in 2015 and ensuring continuity in the quality and style of our champagnes.
What are your ambitions?
In the first year, we sold our wines in only three countries: Japan, Australia, and Germany, via a premium distribution on the Rothschild network. In a few months, we sold 15,000 bottles in Japan, 4,000 bottles in Australia, and 8,000 bottles in Germany. In 2010, we made our beginnings in 10 countries, in 2011, in 25 countries, in 2012, in 50 countries, and in 2013, in 55 countries. Today, we produced 500,000 bottles a year and Japan is our biggest market. Others with high potential are the Asian continent, especially China and Hong Kong. In Europe there are important markets such as the UK, Germany, Scandinavia; we also have emerging markets in North and South America. We progress slowly but surely to ensure we have the positioning we want in terms of image and price, similar to that of Ruinart or Bollinger.
How do you see the future of champagne, considering the global economic contexts?
Even if there are uncertainties over global growth, the champagne production of about 300 million bottles is tiny compared to the world’s demand for sparkling wine. Today China, with Hong Kong and Taiwan, consumes 4.5 million bottles of champagne per year, versus 1.5 million a decade ago. We can imagine that in 10 years, China will consume 15 million bottles, which corresponds to the consumption in the US a decade ago (now almost 24 million bottles). I think that our growth will continue to spread worldwide and will allow champagne to maintain a reasonable price to share the profits between vine growers, producers, and traders.
According to several key players in Champagne, brand legitimacy must first be created in France, the main champagne market. What does France represent for Barons de Rothschild?
We started in France later, in 2011, once we had a good exposure abroad with good feedback from our customers. After we sold to the best restaurants in Asia and to the best wine shops and restaurants in Europe outside of France, quite a lot of French people became interested in our champagnes. They saw our wines in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, Malaysia, Seoul, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark. Today France represents a solid market for us.
You worked in Champagne and in other wine regions. Is champagne different from the rest of the wine world?
Yes, the codes are different. Wine carries more technicalities when dealing with consumers. I spent nine years working in the Rhône Valley where I was often asked if Grenaches had 15 or 12-meter long roots, if it was on clay soil or sandy clay soil, if we were to harvest at 5,000 or 4,900 feet/hectare. Champagne consumers don’t have so many technical questions about the wines. They are looking for other things, like the festive spirit, the show, the shining and sparkling aspect of champagne. These codes are closer to the world of spirits rather than wine. But it doesn’t affect the inherent quality of the product. And champagne consumers are becoming more interested in learning the technical notions than before.
Champagne consumers are becoming more interested in learning the technical notions than before
What would life be like without champagne?
Life without champagne would be sad because there is always a special emotion in all the events that are celebrated with champagne, and if we didn’t have it, many people would be unhappy.