Benoit Gouez, cellar master of Moët & Chandon, has spoken out about the LVMH-owned Champagne house, insisting it is not a volume-driven “machine." Speaking to the drinks business during a Moët Brut Impérial base wines tasting in London this week, Gouez said: “We’re not a big industrial machine that only cares about volume; we care about quality and detail.” Gouez was referring to his decision to stop the 2011 harvest for a week and send 800 pickers home while still paying them – a first in Moët’s history – to improve the chances of the vintage.
“I wanted to send a message out to the Champenois that we care about quality. The cost was an issue for financial people – the most important thing was whether I could get a vintage wine out of it. It paid off, but I still haven’t decided if I’m going to declare the 2011 vintage or not.” Gouez did admit however, that being a big company has its advantages.“ Bigger is better because it gives you access to the best grapes and buys you the luxury of choice. We were only able to stop the harvest because we’re big,” he said.
He admitted that he prefers the challenge of more difficult years like 2003 to easy years like 2002.“People should judge winemakers on difficult years – that’s where the skill comes in. It gets boring if things are too easy,” he said. Despite referring to it as “a piece of cake” to work with, Gouez described Chardonnay as the “biggest disappointment” in 2011, Pinot Noir as “light” and Pinot Meunier as a pleasant surprise. “Pinot Meunier developed nicely in 2011 and is showing a lovely purity on the mid-palate,” he said, defending the grape as having “a role to play” in Champagne.
“Pinot Meunier is the bridge between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. You have to adapt your winemaking and treat it like a white grape in order to preserve its freshness and fruitiness,” he revealed. As to whether he would consider putting disgorgement dates on Moët Brut Impérial, Gouez doesn’t feel the public is ready for it. “A lot of consumers don’t even know the difference between vintage and non-vintage Champagne, so disgorgement dates are only going to confuse them further. They might think it’s a bottling date, or, even worse, a best before date,” he said, though did reveal that putting the information on a QR code on the back label was a possibility.
Speaking of the 2012 vintage, Gouez admitted conditions thus far have been challenging. “It won’t be a huge crop, that’s for sure, but the quality of a harvest is decided in the last few weeks before the grapes are picked, so we’ll have to wait and see,” he said. In the meantime, 2004 will be the next Moët vintage release, which will go on sale in the UK late August, with 2004 Rosé following in February 2013. Gouez describes the vintage as “racy, slick and elegant”, but lacking the power of 2003 and the richness of 2002, “dozens of thousands” of bottles of which have been kept back in the Moët cellars to be used in the Vintage Collection series. “We’ll see 2002 again,” he confirmed, revealing 2006 will be a vintage year, but not 2005, as he doesn’t believe the quality is there.
Gouez predicts however, that many Champagne houses will release 2005 to cash in on the success of the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Speaking of the 2009 vintage, Gouez glowingly compared it to 2002: “2009 was an easy year: ripe, clean, well balanced. There were no decisions to make, it’s already bottled. Keen to push Moët rosé in a big way in 2013, Gouez believes the house’s pink offering has been under the radar for too long. “We’re the leader in the category but nobody knows it,” he said.