Nathalie Doucet became President of Besserat de Bellefon in 2020 after a successful career in marketing champagne, first at Nicolas Feuillatte, the most popular champagne brand in France, and then at Gosset, the oldest wine house of Champagne.
A joyful, gracious, and ambitious lady with a very clear vision, she is coordinating and guiding the rise of her house with determination and elegance, with the management style of an iron hand in a velvet glove.
In this exclusive interview, she reveals the pillars of her strategy to make Besserat de Bellefon one of the finest houses in Champagne: the obsession for quality, a distinctive style of wines characterized by taste with elegance and freshness (and smaller bubbles) for infinite pleasure, and well-thought marketing that communicates wine quality and French joie de vivre simultaneously.
How did you get into the champagne world?
I was born in Champagne, but as my dad was a pilot in the air force, we often moved and traveled. Part of my family is from Champagne and part is from Burgundy where I have an uncle who worked in wine. When I was young, I enjoyed very much tasting wines with him.
After my studies in Paris, I returned to Champagne where I married a Champenois. I obtained a doctorate in the marketing of champagne and started my career with a major brand. Hence, we can say that my path in the world of champagne is not that accidental…
Champagne is often considered a special case among wine regions. Why?
The particularity of Champagne is that it benefits from the strong work and support of the Union of Champagne Houses (UMC) which provides us with management advice, and of the Comité Champagne (CIVC) which oversees and coordinates technical, economic, environmental, and brand issues of champagne. These two organizations make it possible to promote champagne internationally and to protect the appellation (AOC). Other wine regions have their organizations but that of Champagne is a reference in France for its impact; it is a real instrument of progress and development.
What have you learned from your previous experiences in Champagne that you bring to Besserat de Bellefon?
Each experience has allowed me to understand the issues and problems of a Champagne House. First of all, I saw an extraordinary industrial tool at Nicolas Feuillatte which allowed me to better understand the production chain but also understand the strategic importance of the relations with the vine growers. At Champagne Gosset, an haute-couture winemaker, I learned a lot about champagne making: how to find the right balance between grapes, crus, and dosage. Above all, these experiences allowed me to interact with all the positions in champagne making and gave me a 360-degree vision which is essential to managing a house.
With this background, in my job at Besserat de Bellefon I go to the vineyards to meet the vine-growers, I go to the cellars to meet the oenological team, and then I brainstorm with the marketing and sales team on how to best explain and market our wines in France and abroad.
I go to the vineyards to meet the vine-growers, I go to the cellars to meet the oenological team, and then I brainstorm with the marketing and sales team on how to best explain and market our wines.
All this without ever forgetting that champagne is above all a wine! A wine of celebration and sharing. Our mission is to make people want to taste it, understand it, share an oenological experience and ideally build their loyalty to our brand.
We must therefore have a vision of quality that encompasses our supplies, our wines, our communication, our packaging-that should be both creative and eco-friendly-and our marketing. The objective is to be as qualitative as possible at all levels.
Marketing is an integral part of the success of champagne. Is it enough to build a respected and profitable champagne house?
Of course not. The starting point is to have quality wines, it is of the utmost importance.
But marketing plays a very important role because even if we have the best champagne if we don’t know how to position it correctly and have the right distribution networks to the markets, we won’t succeed.
The quality of champagne is obtained with the rigorous selection of the grape supplies, well-defined production steps and standards, and the work of the cellar master (Cédric Thiebault for Besserat de Bellefon) who is the guarantor of the style of a house.
The quality of champagne is obtained with the rigorous selection of the grape supplies, well-defined production steps and standards, and the work of the cellar master who is the guarantor of the style of a house.
But a house does not necessarily have all these components right away, hence the need for a clear vision. And with that vision, work on a long-term marketing strategy.
What is marketing for you?
It’s the right product at the right time, in the right place, at the right price, with the right communication. But one shouldn’t do marketing for the sake of it; one should always let the wine “talk”. And each house has its style of wines, its “signature”, that it should strive to maintain. It is the DNA of a champagne brand.
What is your DNA, the signature of your wines?
The DNA of our brand consists in including ample percentages of pinot meunier in most of our champagnes to get a certain roundness and fruitiness, not to carry out malolactic fermentation (MLF) to preserve the fruity aroma of the grapes, and to have very fine bubbles thanks to a particular process that dates back to the 1930s. Our great wines are also presented in an iconic and distinctive bottle.
The DNA of our brand consists in including ample percentages of pinot meunier in our wines to get a certain roundness and fruitiness, not to carry out malolactic fermentation to preserve the fruity aroma of the grapes, and to have very fine bubbles.
Our champagnes are tasty, but always with a lot of freshness, with a slight salinity, and bubbles that are 30% smaller than traditional champagnes, which is a real signature.
All this makes our champagnes ideal for superior gastronomic experiences; they can be enjoyed from the beginning to the end of a meal without tiring the palate! And their aging potential is exceptional.
Why is champagne not perceived as a wine to accompany a meal but rather as an aperitif drink?
Champagne is perceived as a festive wine, which can be drunk at any time, as an aperitif, or whenever you want to have a good time.
But it is a wine before being a sparkling wine, which can definitely accompany a whole meal.
The consumers, and in particular the French consumers, like red wine with food, with cheese for example. But these are habits, and habits change. In my opinion, white wines accompany cheese much better, especially old champagnes. And if in the past we mainly drank sweet champagne with generous dosage at the end of the meal on desserts, nowadays we prefer extra-brut champagnes at the aperitif. The taste of consumers is ever evolving, nowadays towards drier champagnes with less dosage.
What is your philosophy on dosage?
There is more and more interest in brut nature champagnes, zero-dosage, and extra-brut, which are very suitable at the aperitif because they carry a lot of freshness. But these very low-dose champagnes are not for all palates.
I think that dosage should be based on the balance of the wine and not a trend. For this, each year we make our blends, and our dosages according to the base year in the blends. It’s the wine that guides us: in relation to it, we seek the right balance.
I think that dosage should be based on the balance of the wine and not a trend.
But there is also global warming that comes into play, which means that we have more powerful wines, with less need for dosage. In this context, wines without MLF are ideal with their freshness.
100% of our cuvées are without MLF, for a fabulous freshness on the finish that never tires the palate.
Many houses are now doing partial MLF on their wines. At Besserat de Bellefon, 100% of our cuvées are without MLF, for a fabulous freshness on the finish that never tires the palate.
Who is the typical buyer of Besserat de Bellefon? Where do you want to position your brand in terms of quality and price?
I don’t know if we have a specific buyer persona, but the consumer of Besserat de Bellefon is certainly a connoisseur, an epicurean. He/she is a consumer who appreciates champagnes of great finesse and elegance, fruity and fresh.
The consumer of Besserat de Bellefon is certainly a connoisseur, an epicurean. He/she is a consumer who appreciates champagnes of great finesse and elegance, fruity and fresh.
That’s why our core target is 30 to 50-year-old individuals, with some knowledge of wine who want to indulge themselves. I think our champagnes meet their expectations with quality wines, contemporary packaging, a special bottle, and good value for money.
I want Besserat de Bellefon to be a reference brand for wine merchants and restaurateurs, with ultra-quality and accessible products.
Consequently, our distribution is only on-trade, in cafes, hotels, restaurants, and deli shops. We also work a lot with the world of bistronomy, which is a little more modern than haute cuisine, and we see more and more young people among our clientele who ask very relevant questions during our tastings.
We have the vision, means, and tools to be a great Champagne house.
We have the vision, means, and tools to be a great Champagne house. For this, we continue to work on the quality of our wines and their communication, so that in a few years, Besserat de Bellefon will become an iconic champagne brand. Our Blanc de Blancs Grands Crus will be our workhorse as well as our Brut and our Rosé Brut.
You sell around 800,000 bottles per year of which 70% in France and the rest abroad. What are your ambitions for the years ahead?
Having a strong positioning in France is very important to shine internationally. In France, we still have room for progress, particularly in Paris and the West Coast where we are not present enough. Paris is an unmissable tourist spot with beautiful restaurants, in which we are going to invest.
As for exports, international growth will be our roadmap for the years to come. We are already present in high-potential markets that we will continue to develop such as the United States, Australia, the UK, and Italy. We are much interested in Asia and South Korea, the Caribbean, and South America, but also in important proximity markets such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Austria. We are going to give ourselves the means and, in this exercise, being part of the second-largest group of Champagne gives us a strong advantage.
Our ambition is also to have our mansion in Épernay to welcome our customers, importers, and the public.
Our ambition is also to have our mansion in Épernay to welcome our customers, importers, and the public, to present and explain our wines with visits and tastings; therefore have a proper site for enotourism to make us known in Champagne.
Organic and sustainable viticulture are increasingly relevant issues among consumers and Champenois. However, the part of organic vineyards and cuvées remains tiny. What is your stance on these environmental issues?
We are very sensitive about sustainable development and the impact of our industry on the environment. And that goes beyond making organic champagne, which by the way we are doing already with our Triple B vintage cuvée.
Wine labels and packaging have an impact on the environment. Previously, in Champagne, the codes of luxury required a lot of gilding and elaborate packaging that were mainly sourced from Asia. Now, the trend leans towards a more sober and “natural” way of presenting champagne. And we work with much closer suppliers, based either in France or in Europe, and we sell a lot of bottles without cases, which are 100% recyclable anyway.
To conclude, what is champagne for you?
For me, it’s the opportunity to have a good time sharing a bottle with people who appreciate it. Champagne is associated with all the events of life: marriage, baptism, graduation, or simply when we receive friends…Champagne is truly a wine of conviviality.
Champagne is the opportunity to have a good time sharing a bottle with people who appreciate it.
If you weren’t at the head of a fine champagne house, what would you be doing?
Ha ha ha! I might have bought an estate to make my wine, because I love it.