Jean-Pierre Cointreau has been heading the house since 2007 when he succeeded his sister Béatrice Cointreau. A poised man of great elegance, he caught my attention me for his sense of joy when talking of his house and for stressing the role of the chef de cave in the crafting of great champagnes.
Gosset is the oldest wine house of Champagne. How did its history shape its current style?
We are first and foremost winemakers, before becoming champagne producers, and that is the signature of our house.
In 1584, the Gosset family was already in the wine business, although at the time, we were producing still wines. Hence, we are first and foremost winemakers, before becoming champagne producers, and that is the signature of our house.
Another aspect that makes our style distinctive is that our wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation.
Our brand, similar to others in Champagne, wishes to distinguish itself, but not merely for the way we use the three grape varieties of Champagne, but for the style of our champagnes that derives from the skill of our chef de cave and the wines he selects and carefully blend to produce beautiful cuvées. Another aspect that makes our style distinctive is that our wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation. This is something that only a few Champagne houses do nowadays and that results in wines that retain a certain crispness and age much longer. To give you an example, on average our brut non-vintage Grande Réserve champagne stays on lees for four years before being released.
Your bottle, just like your style, is also very distinctive. What is its origin?
The origin of the shape of our bottle dates back to the 18th century. It is slightly longer, with wider hips and recalls an exclusive model that was among the house’s collection. Several decades ago, we decided to bring this bottle back to life and make it the emblem of our champagne range. This way, we not only have a signature style for our wines but also our bottle. The same applies to the habillage (the overall labeling of the champagne bottle), where we use a collerette instead of the standard label. It is a very special way of presenting champagne, which is copyrighted. It shows how Gosset is a brand that is built on great care to meet the highest expectations of champagne connoisseurs.
The traditional export markets are stagnating, and new far markets are in part taking the relay. What are the markets of today and tomorrow for Gosset? What are your growth ambitions?
We have entered many markets and are distributed in more than 75 countries around the world, but we still have a few more to enter. Nevertheless, we sell just over 1 million bottles, so we cannot go everywhere. Besides, we are only distributed in carefully selected channels, therefore, in countries where people look for superior products, with an average selling price slightly higher than the rest. Gosset are premium champagnes and the mature champagne markets are our core; so clearly, this is the Western world and Western Europe in particular. Outside of Europe, Russia and the Far East, North America and South America are developing markets for us.
The quest for growth is always present because Qui n’avance pas, recule (a French proverb that translates “Who does not move forward, recedes”). We must seek, above all, the development of our clientele that is loyal to a brand of prestige and of champagnes associated with food. But I’m not sure that the old school methods we use to produce our champagnes can be applied to produce several million bottles. We are particularly attached to our roots, our DNA, our know-how. Of course, we want to develop our brand, but with the certainty of the quality of our wines. With developing markets that are increasingly seeking complex champagnes, our intention is to show the customers that they can find increasing pleasure in discovering our different cuvées.
In your experience, what are the main challenges when explaining champagne in new markets?
The challenge of champagne is to explain the specificity of this product and explain in fact why champagne is unique.
The challenge of champagne is to explain the specificity of this product and explain in fact why champagne is unique. It takes a certain culture of luxury, of premium products to convey the particularity of champagne, which is all-inclusive of the French culture, history, and excellence. I love the Anglo-Saxons and the Americans in particular for their pursuit of knowledge. In Asia, there is a substantial background work to be done on the whole French art de vivre. I think that the inscription of the French gastronomic meal in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is something that helps. Because not only French food and haute cuisine have been distinguished, but also the time for aperitif and digestives. And champagne finds its place at the aperitif, during a meal, and as a digestive. It is a recognition that will allow champagne to go very far in this cultural aspect.
Why do you think that champagne is often confined to the context of aperitif and is not usually considered a food wine?
Today, there is such a broad variety of champagnes that we begin to introduce the idea of an entire meal with champagne.
If you go back 50 years or a century ago, champagne was a dessert wine. When you look at the champagne the Russian Tsars consumed, it was almost syrupy given the amount of sugar that was incorporated into it. Then the consumption of drier champagne at aperitif gained popularity. Today, there is such a broad variety of champagnes that we begin to introduce the idea of an entire meal with champagne. In my experience, people love meals with champagne, provided that the food and wine pairings are adequate.
Gastronomy and gourmet restaurants are the frameworks of opportunities for our house and we continue to align ourselves with the finest gourmet experiences. We have even put in place the Trophy Gosset Celebris that awards many chefs for their cuisine, champagne lists, and gastronomic initiatives.
You mentioned very sweet champagnes from the past. Nowadays we witness an ever-lowering level of dosage. Is it still essential to champagne or it could disappear with time?
I think dosage is an asset for the chef de cave in the elaboration of champagne, a small yet essential element in his work. We started in the past with very sweet champagnes to arrive today to brut champagnes or extra brut or even brut nature. As we have reached the end of the scale, perhaps we may want to go back to something else? The best is to have a range of champagnes with different dosages such as ours to best suit the taste of each consumer.
I do not think we will ever see the disappearance of the dosage. In fact, it is relatively safe to say that rosé champagne will often have a slightly higher dosage compared to brut non-vintage because of the wines used to produce rosé and the nature of consumption of these champagnes.
We have a long tradition of rosé champagne, since Suzanne Gosset, in charge of the houses in the 1950s, developed it.
We have a long tradition of rosé champagne, since Suzanne Gosset, in charge of the houses in the 1950s, developed it. Today, we have two rosé champagnes: one in the Antique range and the other in the prestige range Celebris. These champagnes have a very loyal customer base, which developed progressively over time. Today, rosé champagne represents 13.5% of our production when the market average is 8%. They are made with the assemblage method by adding a small amount of red wines, mainly from Bouzy, Cumières, and Ambonnay, as part of the very precise work of our chef de cave.
If we look at the quality of the wines, the brand, and the distribution, which of these make the greatest difference in the success of Gosset?
Without quality wines, you do not go very far. The work of our chef de cave is crucial to our development.
All these three parameters are very important, but I would put quality first because it is the quality of our wines that allows us to work on the other two elements, which are key to market entry. Without quality wines, you do not go very far. The work of our chef de cave is crucial to our development. He has the upper hand on the commercialization of our wines and the work of all the other winemakers of our house. The brand is the second element in order of importance, provided it is alive and carries distinctive characteristics such as our Antique bottle that contributes to our identity. When you see a bottle of Gosset on the shelf at a wine merchant or in a restaurant, you immediately identify the brand. So, these two parameters, quality and brand, are essential. But what will enable you to succeed is the selection of your importer and the quality of its distribution. We are in selective distribution, in the world of gastronomy, with wine merchants with specific products for customers seeking excellence. We avoid being in supermarkets or any distribution channel of this type.
Gosset is part of the Renaud-Cointreau group. What does it mean?
Our group is unlisted as opposed to other large groups in Champagne. Our roots are in Cognac because Cognac Frapin has been in our family for several centuries. Cognac Frapin and Champagne Gosset are products that have a similar positioning with the main attractiveness coming from France and are complementarity for the sales team that develops both brands in synergy. The advantage is to have two families of products, wines and spirits, that are both high-quality products attached to France.
What is your view on the competition from other sparkling wines?
We sell a product that has a history, quality, and terroir different from all other sparkling wines.
I think we’re in two completely different markets. Intellectually, I’m very interested to see the development of Cava or Prosecco because it is important to see what is going on around. The sales of these sparkling wines are as important as those of whiskey and other drinks. Champagne is a specific product; it is a very special niche wine and there is relatively little interaction with the other markets. Are Prosecco or sparkling saumur or crémant d’Alsace competing with champagne? I would say no. I am passionate about the development of these products and their marketing efforts, but I do not think they are real competitors for champagne. In saying that, I try not to be self-celebrating. Simply, we are not in the same market. We sell a product that has a history, quality, and terroir different from all other sparkling wines.
Do you drink champagne every day, and if so, always Gosset?
I drink champagne several times a week. I mainly drink Gosset, but I love to do some comparative tasting. It’s always good to compare your product to others.