Jean-Jacques Cattier was born and raised in Chingy-les-Roses where the family is based since the 17th century. A charming and graceful man–just like his wines–he talks of his house and the spectacular success of Armand de Brignac with much openness and humbleness, an interesting contradiction with the bling connotation of this champagne.
The Cattier was a family of vine growers who became a house? How did it happen?
There are two important dates in the history of our family. The first is 1763, when we have found that our direct-line ancestors were owners of vineyards in Chigny-les-Roses and sold their grapes to the houses of Reims and Epernay. The second important date is 1918, at the end of WW1, when my grandfather began producing his own champagne and selling it under our family name, Cattier. My parents took over in the late 1930s and developed the business, and acquired further vineyard toward the end of WW2 up to the 1960s. My brother and I have followed in their footsteps. I joined the firm in the 1970s, after my studies and travels abroad.
We were growers (RM), and considering the commercial possibilities before us, I thought it was best to establish a house; in 1978 we acquired the house (NM) status to increase the supply of grapes beyond our own vineyards and therefore increase production. Today, we use our vineyard of 33 ha and those of other vine growers, situated essentially in the Montagne de Reims, to produce about 1 million bottles per year, including Armand de Brignac. Our sales are a split 60% export in over 100 countries and 40% in France.
What characterizes the Cattier style?
Our vineyards are situated in the Montagne de Reims and are mostly planted with pinot noir and pinot meunier. Our intention is to let the customers discover this in the assemblages of our different cuvées, with the exception of the blanc de blancs of course, and Clos du Moulin. At Cattier, we aim to create champagnes that are marked and characterized by the pinots: these elements develop champagnes with supremacy, roundness and vinosity. Our blanc de noirs is composed of 70% of pinot noir and 30% of pinot meunier, giving a generous, winey, very powerful and fruity champagne, which is an ideal accompaniment to a meal, for example.
At the same time, my father always took care to have a slight proportion of chardonnay in our vineyards, to add finesse, elegance, lightness, and balance our assemblages. Our blanc de blancs is made with chardonnays from the Montagne de Reims, different from those in the Côte des Blancs.
Our range of champagnes is exceptional in variety but is mainly discernible by our pinots.
Armand de Brignac is known and recognized around the world. How did you succeed in imposing this prestige champagne so swiftly?
We are surprised ourselves. This achievement results from two men with a similar idea trying to achieve it in two different companies. In 2000, we had developed a very wide range of champagnes, some of which were very modern and innovating in design [of the bottle]. We had the impression to have arrived at the end of our expansion. At the start of the new millennium, we asked ourselves: “And now what?” This is when I thought: “What if we made the most prestigious, exclusive, expensive champagne in the world and something unique, never seen before?” The foundation of work for this concept was initially oriented toward a metallic bottle that we had already created for the French fashion designer Courage’s 10 years earlier. Alongside that, we were contacted by an American importer–today our business partner–who was looking for a Champagne house to produce and launch a very high-end prestige cuvée. He did a first selection of about 15 Champagne houses, big and small, out of which he retained five among which we were included. Finally, seduced by the fact that we had innovative bottles in our range and that we already had advanced in developing an identical project, the understanding was natural and prompt. Once the champagne was ready, our partner launched the brand, in the US first, and from there the notoriety of Armand de Brignac propagated, like a Big Bang, around the world.
Is Armand de Brignac representative of the Cattier style or is it a style on its own?
It is a different style to the extent that the assemblages are not the same. We began Armand de Brignac with Brut Gold, a traditional assemblage of the three grapes of Champagne, only from grands crus. Part of the grapes comes from our vineyards and we purchase the rest from pinot grand cru like Mailly, Verzenay, Verzy, Bouzy, and chardonnay grand cru like Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. So, the crus you find in Armand de Brignac are not necessarily present in other Cattier champagnes. In light of the success of this brand, we widened our champagne range.
Cattier brought authenticity and credibility to a new and innovative brand, thanks to the image and the notoriety it already enjoyed in Champagne and in the wine world. Simultaneously, Armand de Brignac opens doors to Cattier that would not routinely open in other circumstances. The two brands do not compete but harmoniously complete themselves.
Cattier brought authenticity and credibility to a new and innovative brand.
There are controversial opinions on Armand de Brignac when discussing its quality and price. How do you reply to these comments?
The Fine Champagne Magazine organized a blind tasting of over 1,000 champagnes in 2010. The judges included sommeliers, enologists, experts, and Masters of Wine (MW). Armand de Brignac Brut Gold ranked first. Undoubtedly tasting is not an exact science and we could well have ranked second or third which would have been exceptional nonetheless, but the fact is that we finished first and that we are among the very best prestige cuvées. We worked persistently on the quality of the product and not only on the quality of the presentation. Concerning the price, the cost of the bottle itself is the highest in Champagne, including the tin label and logo, and the same applies to the grapes used, the most expensive in Champagne. One should not forget that the entire production process for Armand de Brignac is carried out by hand. Just to give you an example: our dressing chain for standard bottles handles about 2,500 bottles/hour. For the Armand de Brignac bottle, a person does 20 bottles/hour. Armand de Brignac is the ultimate, absolute champagne, unique in Champagne and in the world. Its price is the value of excellence, exclusivity, supreme luxury, aestheticism, and of dreams.
Armand de Brignac is the ultimate, absolute champagne, unique in Champagne and in the world. Its price is the value of excellence, exclusivity, supreme luxury, aestheticism, and of dreams.
What is your advice on how to choose and appreciate champagne?
Each champagne has its own circumstance of consumption. For a cocktail, a reception or a ceremony, brut non-vintage is a champagne of very good quality that guests enjoy without having to concentrate on tasting. For a meal to consume only with champagne, I would suggest a blanc de blancs, lively and light, for the aperitif or to accompany an entrée, a blanc de noirs, more winey, for the main dish, and a rosé, round and fruity, to accompany a dessert of red fruits for example. Finally, a prestige cuvée is ideal for a head to head between lovers. Other associations are possible; there is no universal way.
What is champagne to you?
Champagne is a wonderful creation. We are extremely lucky to be in this world. Some years ago, at a wine trade-fair, I was marked by an observation of a producer from another French region. She said to me: “The difference between us, is that we sell wine, while in Champagne, you sell dreams.” I found this comment to be incredibly pertinent. Champagne is a fabulous celebratory product for exchange and friendship.
Which is the nicest thing about your job?
Drinking champagne is one of the most beautiful things in our lives.
We work in a fascinating industry; every day is a day of joy and surprises. Drinking champagne is one of the most beautiful things in our lives. Traveling around the world to meet our importers, distributors and customers, restaurant owners, hotels, club owners, is a great source of pleasure. I lived all my life in this business, with a passion for it that will accompany me until my last days.