Hadrien Mouflard was appointed managing director in 2012 after four years as company secretary of Bollinger, the iconic house that bought Ayala in 2005. A distinguished man who just turned 40, he is younger than most of his peers in Champagne, just like the whole Ayala’s team. He is the man coordinating the resurgence and relooking of the houses with its new distinctive black labels and visual identity, and contemporary wines. I met a very well-mannered man with a clear mind and purpose, natural tranquility and self-confidence that he transmits with a smile. His vision and ambitions are already ripping benefits and Ayala is definitely a house on the rise.
How the history of Ayala relates to its current style?
Ayala is not a German or a French name, which is often the case in Champagne; it’s a Spanish name. In fact, it is the only royal name in Champagne. The Aÿalas were a Spanish family appointed to manage the royal archives. In 1750, Don Antonio de Aÿala y Vergara, instead of becoming archivist for the king, was sent to South America as chancellor of New Granada (now Colombia) by Ferdinand VI of Spain. Three generations later, Edmond de Aÿala was invited to Champagne by the Viscount of Mareuil to learn the business. There he fell in love with the Viscount’s niece and this love story marks the beginning of this prestigious house.
Ayala was one of the pioneers in releasing drier champagnes at the end of the 19th century when champagne was very sweet with a lot of added sugar. We lowered the level of sugar in our wines to offer vintage champagne with a drier style, which the future King of England Edward VII was quite fond of. When the Queen Mother visited our house in 1983, she said, “I wanted to visit Ayala because when I was very young it was my father’s favorite champagne.” Today, low dosage remains part of our philosophy.
Ayala was one of the pioneers in releasing drier champagnes at the end of the 19th century.
Is there a link between the quality of champagne and low dosage?
Part of the art of making champagne is to use the dosage as needed. It requires true know-how. It helps in finding the right balance–keeping in mind that our style is all about freshness and lightness–and brings something more to the wine. But the most important thing for high-quality champagne is the quality of the grapes and how you process them. We are lucky to be in Aÿ, the most famous grand cru in Champagne with unique access to top-quality grapes.
Another key point is the control over the winemaking process. From the grapes to bottling, everything is done at our facilities in Aÿ. In 2007, we invested in a brand-new winemaking facility with small stainless-steel tanks that allowed us to improve significantly the quality of our cuvées.
What are your ambitions? Where are you steering Ayala?
We want to reinstate Ayala as a great Champagne house by capitalizing on three key elements: our style, our history, and our location. I like the style of our champagnes that are light and fresh, which I define “pure pleasure.” It is recognizable, and we feel it is the epitome of what a great house’s aromatic signature should be. We want our consumers to know about the great history of the brand and to understand the importance of our prime location. The management of Ayala is relatively young; we trying to move forward and be progressive. We want to refresh things and have a modern style. Our aim is to blend our glorious history with something more contemporary.
We want to reinstate Ayala as a great Champagne house by capitalizing on three key elements: our style, our history, and our location.
You referred to Ayala as “pure pleasure.” What do you mean by that?
I like this motto. It is celebratory and relates to the specific moment when you open a good bottle of champagne with your friends and loved ones, and relax, take the time to stand still for a moment. That is what champagne is all about; it is a wine of celebration.
What is the role of distribution in your increasing success?
For a brand like Ayala, with a presence that is growing but is still limited, we must remain focused. Our duty is to propose a clear and impactful commercial offer to our distributors to be a priority for them. In France and the UK, our priority markets, we own our distribution companies so we can share and align the strategy in a very effective way and have a direct and effective assessment of its implementation on the field.
Will the rising visibility and success of Ayala come with an increase in the price of your champagnes?
Increasing prices is very difficult because of strong competition. We want to be present in key accounts with a brand that offers good value for money. So, prices will increase gradually.
In a marketing effort to stand out, some houses have introduced new bottle shapes for their champagnes. Do you plan on creating a specific bottle for Ayala?
The good news is that we already have a specific bottle for our prestige cuvée. In the future, will we extend this bottle to the full range? I do not know yet. There are many other things to do right now and we are trying to focus on those priorities for the moment.
Do you drink champagne every day?
No, not every day. Every time I open a bottle of champagne, it is a special moment. It should be an occasion, when you drink champagne, of celebrating time together.
Every time I open a bottle of champagne, it is a special moment.
Why is champagne so special compared to other sparkling wines?
We are located in a very northern wine region where it is often cold. This leads to a great acidity in our wines, at the heart of the specificity and quality of great champagnes. When there is not enough acidity, the wine is flat. Great champagnes have a remarkable balance between acidity and fruit; it is an easy wine to drink.
Do you only drink Ayala champagnes?
No. I am a wine lover, so I like to drink other champagnes. Also, it is very important to taste champagnes from other houses to compare styles.
What is champagne to you?
Champagne is a great accompaniment to celebratory moments. You can have a celebration without champagne, but when you bring it in, something new and special is created.