At the London launch of its new look Castelnau Champagne, Victor Smart, hears from managing director Pascal Prudhomme about why he is favouring an ‘audacious’ approach to future growth – an influence already of new President-elect of France, Emmanuel Macron.
One year on from its centenary, Castelnau Champagne has ambitious expansion plans, targeting threefold growth in the next eight years.
The time-honoured Champagne method now has a new element, Macronisation. Nothing to do with maceration, Macronisation is about casting off the old staid approach and embracing the future in a fresh, youthful way. It was a defining theme at the launch of de Castelnau Champagne’s rebranding in Mayfair’s swish Japanese restaurant Sakagura.
Out goes the stuffy aristocratic ‘de’ prefix in the wine’s name, so the product is now simply Castelnau. And a bold, much cleaner and more modern design, adorns the bottles.
Addressing the assorted MWs, buyers, and hipsters thronging the restaurant’s basement lined with bottles of premium sake, Pascal Prudhomme, managing director of Champagne Castelnau, explains that boldness is the new order of things. “Emmanuel Macron mentioned ‘audacity’ several times in his speech on Sunday. So we don’t seek to imitate – we will stand out from the crowd”.
Castelnau had already taken a big step towards modernity: its chef de caves is a woman, Elisabeth Sarcelet, something rare in the Champagne region. Now, on its novel packaging, it has deliberately moved away from the traditional Champagne ‘cues’ with the different styles of the wine are identified via different colours.
Prudhomme says,”Celebrating our centenary last year gave us the opportunity to reflect. Our ambition is to sell one million bottles by 2020 and two million by 2025.” Currently they sell about 800,000 bottles a year, so that will indeed require a fair degree of boldness. But one thing they won’t be doing is heading to the discount aisles of supermarkets.
In France cavistes, or independent wine merchants, are a big outlet. In the UK they are planning to steadily increase brand awareness and sales, especially to the on-trade, not by competing on price but by getting the brand seen in the right contexts.
Castelnau fills those dinky quarter bottles on British Airways’ Club Europe flights and the Wine Society is a big customer. Castelnau is also big in duty free.
Located in the heart of Reims, Castelnau’s growers own more than 900 hectares of vineyards across the Champagne region in 149 different crus. Castlenau uses extensive lees ageing. Brut Réserve spends six years on lees, Brut Rosé four years, and Blanc de Blancs and Brut Vintage no fewer than 12 years. It also boasts a high content of Chardonnay grapes. For me the standout is the Blanc de Blancs which is aptly described as having lemony, digestive biscuit notes.
Meanwhile, the new livery will be shown off at the London Wine Fair (22 May-24 May).
Incidentally, I was intrigued to see how Castelnau would declare itself on the great debate on the appropriateness of the Champagne flute. Some other houses have turned their backs on flutes and use glasses very like still wine glasses for tastings. Castelnau, I discovered, seems to have opted for a flute with wine glass characteristics – in other words, a flute that is a bit more “tulipy” in the bowl but not in the stem.