Rémy Cointreau is one of the world’s leading spirits companies. It owns an enviable collection of liquor brands, including unique expressions such as the legendary Cognac Louis XIII, Mount Gay Rum and Islays Bruichladdich Distillery.
One of the recurring themes in Rémy Cointreau’s spirit portfolio is the importance of terroirs in defining the character of a brand. It was among the very first spirits companies to explore the role of terroirs in spiritual expression, a focus that no doubt stems from its long history as a leading Cognac producer.
Expanding its terroir focus, the company has just announced a foothold in the Champagne sector through the acquisition of House of Telmont Champagne. The acquisition represents Rémy Cointreau’s first attack on the wine business. Recently, I sat down with Ludovic du Plessis to talk specifically about the acquisitions of Telmont and the company’s plans for its liquor business in general.
Ludovic du Plessis spearheaded the acquisition of Telmont for Rémy Cointreau and has been named Telmont’s chairman and CEO. For the previous six years he was CEO of Cognac House Louis XIII.
JM: Rémy Cointreau currently has no exposure in the wine sector. What made you target Champagne as an area for expansion? You have an extensive background in the Champagne industry, especially a period as brand manager for Dom Perignon. How important was your own familiarity with Champagne in the decision to expand into this sector?
LDP: After my many years in the Rémy Cointreau Group, I recognized that there was an opportunity to expand the company’s portfolio and re-enter the Champagne category after almost a decade. By combining my experience from Louis XIII and other Champagne brands, I began the search to identify a house that would seamlessly complement Rémy Cointreau Group’s values: Terroir, People, Time and Exception.
JM: There are hundreds of champagne producers, but many of the brand names are already part of beverage conglomerates. However, there are several family-owned companies with global brand names that are still independent – Billecart -Salmon, Bollinger, Duval -Leroy, Pol Roger, Taittinger, etc. Do you want to make further acquisitions of “franchise brands” in the Champagne sector? Is this the beginning of another round of consolidation in Champagne?
LDP: Our project does not focus on new Champagne acquisitions, but rather on developing Telmont House in the years, decades and centuries to come – in France and around the world. Our house will develop while maintaining a deep respect for the environment.
We want to convert Telmont to 100% organic farming in the next ten years. Our mission, “In Nomine Terrae” (“In the Mother of Mother Nature”) is ambitious, but it is the path we have chosen and which we believe in.
Our house will meet the significant demands of our customers, who are knowledgeable connoisseurs who prioritize brands with meaning and extraordinary values and experiences. Our customers are looking for alternative wine and champagne brands that share their values and lifestyle.
JM: What was it about Telmont that made it an attractive acquisition for Rémy Cointreau?
LDP: I first identified the House of Telmont in 2019 and made the introduction to the Rémy Cointreau Group, which they welcomed and continued to buy the majority stake. Telmont specifically attracted us at all levels for the following reasons:
· Their family heritage: Since 1912, four generations have contributed to building the house for Telmont. Bertrand Lhôpital is today the cellar master and head of viticulture in the champagne house that his great-grandfather founded. He owes his predecessors his vision, passion and savoir-faire.
· Their values: The house is driven by true core values: loyalty to winemaking, humility towards nature and the courage to commit to the future. They already started the conversation about organic farming.
· The wine: The wine itself stunned me. My first taste of Telmont Champagne was a beautiful discovery, and the wines have a unique personality, presence, complexity and maturity, while retaining a remarkable ethereality. Telmont’s style is defined by its excitement and freshness.
· Their beautiful property: Located in Damery, near Epernay, stretching over 20 acres. I also loved how important steps had already been taken within the property’s vineyards for the transition to organic farming.
JM: Champagne has gotten hotter. So far, this has been good for the industry, but if it continues, it could become a problem. How do you plan to handle a warming Champagne, and how can it affect your strategy towards the Champagne sector?
LDP: We have noticed that our harvest dates have begun early year after year. Since we are committed to organic farming, any evolving weather conditions will naturally affect us directly. The fight against global warming is today a top priority for the planet.
Telmont has decided to face this challenge upside down as Champagne comes off the ground and is in debt to it. The more gratitude and respect we show the earth, the more it will clear the way to excellence in return. This virtuous circle is the decisive feature of the familiar Champagne house Telmont.
Our project ‘In the Mother of Mother Nature’ has 5 central pillars:
1. Convert to 100% Organic Champagne House over the next ten years, as well as requiring all partner winemakers to follow suit.
Replace transparent bottles (made from only 25% recycled glass) with classic green traditional bottles (100% recyclable and made from 85% recycled glass).
Remove packaging or gift boxes to immediately reduce our CO2 footprint. The bottle and nothing but the bottle.
Invest in renewable energy and ban air transport. Renew the logistics chain both upstream and downstream.
5. Go for transparency and traceability. Number each bottle and list all components and methods used to produce Telmont Champagnes on new labels. At Telmont, we have one foot rooted in tradition, one in modernity and both feet on (and in) the earth.
JM: The Rémy Cointreau portfolio is almost exclusively focused on brown spirits that have a very strong sense of terroir (Rémy, Louis XIII) or develop expressions that reflect their iconic terroir (Mount Gay, Bruichladdich).
Even the botanist Gin, who is obviously a white spirit, has a very focused sense of terroir. In fact, you could say that the botanist invented the concept of terroir-centered gins using their local Islay botany. Is the focus on terroir-driven intellectual expression at the heart of Rémy Cointreau’s brand strategy? Is that what sets you apart from other beverage companies?
LDP: Yes, the “sense of place” or origin is the key for Rémy Cointreau, as we believe our spirits have the taste of their terroir. Terroirs mean something. As our customers become increasingly knowledgeable, this sense of place, the origin and quality of our ingredients, the authenticity of our savoir-faire will become even more appreciated.
Telmont fully supports these beliefs. This clearly sets us apart from other wine and spirits companies, as only companies with a value strategy (with a focus on high-end) can afford this. Companies looking for quantities cannot ‘just’ deliver their barley in a country or region (as we do in Scotland for our Scottish single malt or in Washington State for Westland).
JM: Why has Rémy not looked at Calvados or Armagnac to buy brands? These are both terroir-driven spirits with a long history, ripe for award, and often suffering from inadequate distribution. Do they seem to fit perfectly with both Rémy Cointreau’s brand strategy and marketing and distribution strengths?
Yes, Calvados and Armagnac are very interesting spirits, but they are not scalable worldwide at this time as they do not have a strong consciousness (e.g. in the US and in China, our key markets). Similarly, Tequila is an interesting category, but not our priority today.
JM: Thank you.