Fabrice Rosset - Lifestyle-Insider.com

Fabrice Rosset

INTERVIEW

Als die deutschen Geschäftspartner William Deutz und Peter Geldermann 1838 Deutz-Champagne in Aÿ gründeten, konnten sie kaum ahnen, dass sie den Grundstein für eine beeindruckende Erfolgstory legten. Wir sprachen mit dem heutigen Deutz-Präsident über die bewegende Geschichte des Champagnerhauses.

19. Dezember 2018

Ich treffe heute Fabrice Rosset, CEO des traditionsreichen, französischen Champagnerhauses Deutz, das in Deutschland durch die Weinhandelsagentur Smart Wines vertreten wird. Im Louis-Hotel in München verkosten wir verschiedene Deutz-Champagner.

Mr. Rosset, could you tell us more about the history of Deutz?

It is a very long story. This year Deutz is celebrating its 180th year of existence. In the 19th century, two young Germans came to the champagne region: William Guillaume Deutz and Peter-Joseph-Hubert Geldermann were very passionate about wine and worked in other champagne houses, before founding this family business in 1838. It remained in the Deutz family’s hands until 1993 - and, despite many ups and downs, the company kept its philosophy and values up until today.

Since 1996 you are CEO at Deutz. What was the company like back then?

I was, first, named member of the board when the owners of Louis Roederer (of which I was vice-president), decided the acquisition of Champagne Deutz in 1993. I was  very excited about it. To me Deutz was a gem, a sleeping beauty. But back then, the financials were bad, which had an impact on the global life of the company. There wasn’t enough money, no investment during many years, so equipment got obsolete, just to mention this. However, and in spite of red figures, there was still a great, but dormant image. The mission with my new team was to capitalize on this. The leitmotiv was - and still is - “quality first”. Although I wasn’t trained as a winemaker, my team and I are sharing a total obsession on that…

How important was autonomy from the shareholders?

In the mid 80’s Deutz was a small production, lacking visibility. But the champagne was highly ranked in quality, price positioning and image. So, before I was appointed as CEO, I sat down with Mr. Jean Claude Rouzaud and his son Frederic (who is currently the CEO at Roederer). We discussed three scenarios of what could happen with Deutz: It was just before the millennium and we were naturally expecting a boom in champagne demand. A wonderful opportunity! So, one option could have been to restore the company’s financials, possibly to sell the company and to keep the vineyards to produce more Roederer champagne. Not my cup of tea! Second option was, to make up Deutz as a second-tier to Roederer. Technically possible, but again, not my cup of tea. Or we could take the third option and have a look into the long history of the company and bring it back to where it had been years before. That was exactly my cup of tea: To do so, we needed total autonomy - from sourcing of the grapes right down to distribution, via investments in production, marketing, human resources, etc. - everything! It was a long-term vision with lots of energies to put into it! The beauty is that it took only two minutes to make that decision - the start of 22 fantastic years.

Since your arrival Deutz has quadrupled its volume from 600.000 to 2,4 million bottles per year. What’s the secret behind this success? 

Quality! We are not geared at all or driven by market shares. When I took over, the company was producing a lot - no less than 30 % of total volume - of other labels, second category champagnes. I got rid of this and set up a target of 1,5 million bottles in my business plan for the next five years. The shareholders said: “Fabrice, you are crazy! That is impossible!” But we did it! To me, the only limiting factor could have been (and could still be for the future): finding the good grapes, as we are very demanding on the origin and the quality of the “raw material”. Roughly 80 % of what we bring to the winery is “Grand Cru” and “Premier Cru” - that speaks for itself.

Approximately 75 % of your volume is the Brut Classic?

More than that. The Brut Classic, the Demi Sec and the Extra Brut are the same blend, only with a different dosage. The three make roughly 85 % of total production. That still gives 15 % of higher quality. The champagne industry produces about 92 % of non-vintage, totally. So, if we have 15 %, it shows that we have a fair amount of higher quality - a pure reflection of the “Grand Cru” and “Premier Cru” situation combined also with “first pressings only”.

You keep your wine three years on the yeast - twice as long, as most producers. Is that the secret behind quality and success?

The crucial aspect is the vineyard. You cannot produce good wine without good grapes. Very simple, but a fundamental we are strict about. There are many regulations in the champagne industry. One of them is a minimum aging process of 15 months in the bottle for non-vintage. So, if you want to come up with better quality, you need much more aging. It gives refinement and complexity in aroma.

Other champagne houses invest a lot in marketing. You chose to invest in the product. So, is quality more important than branding?

Again, we are not driven by market shares. Quality is crucial and consistency in quality and style are the most important things at Deutz. And it pays off - even if your production cost is high (and your product not the cheapest). Our target groups are those who recognize that there is a cost of quality. We have geared all financial resources towards vineyards and winery expansion, better equipment, better quality control and so on. Since 1996 more than 30 million Euros have been pumped mostly into that - and we are very proud, that it all came from our own resources i.e. no need of re-capitalization. The company has bounced back on its feet and is financially very sound.

Deutz is well known for Prestige Cuvées?

We produce 12 different Cuvées, and that includes now 8 vintage-dated champagnes. We try to do the best we can, pushing limits and always keep our significant style. For example, when I created “Amour de Deutz” - a great selection and a great expression of the noble Chardonnay -  the idea was to magnify the existing Blanc de Blancs. Then, the Amour de Deutz Rosé - now the “Hommage to William Deutz” (Pinot Noir from Aÿ). In each stylistic segment, I believe we are a serious player today.

What are the most important markets for Deutz?

In the 19th century it was Germany, not anymore. But we are happy the way Deutz is bouncing back in Germany. The success comes from the roots. The name helps also. Today the most important thing is to show international visibility and to address to wine and champagne enthusiasts all over the world. The brand has moved up in quality and recognition, and we are growing everywhere

What is your favourite wine, apart from Deutz?

I noticed, you said “wine”, not “champagne”… Our Cuvée “Amour” testifies that my heart is large enough for many products (laughs). Within the empire of the Rouzaud family (Roederer), there are several wineries in different parts of the world and I was lucky enough to get involved with most of them. So, I am very eclectic and I believe I should use a sentence, which is not from me, but from Sir Winston Churchill: “I have a very simple taste: I am happy with the best”. But if I shall be more precise, even if this sounds a bit biased, I love what we grow here and which give great wines in many countries : the pinot noir grape is wonderful, and for the whites, I definitely have preference for chardonnay. Having said that, I love Sangiovese in Italy and very much like the syrah grape. Marsanne and Roussanne for the whites.

Is Deutz’ cellar open to the public?

Deutz is a medium sized company, with  magnificent facilities: caves and mansion house. However, doors are only open upon invitation or recommendation, as there is only so many visitors we can take.  We receive about 1.800 visitors per year from across the world - most of them being business partners: distributors, sales ambassadors, restaurateurs, retailers and many journalists, wine writers and wine producers too! We welcome this, as hospitality is important to us. We love to show the beautiful cellars and we are happy to explain everything - but not within a 10-minute-tour through the cellars with only a splash of champagne afterwards! Therefore, we do have limitations on how many visitors we can entertain in a friendly and professional manner.  Also, there are two other factors here: we are located in the heart of the Champagne region, and we have entered into the era of oeno tourism: This region has been classified as World Heritage by the UNESCO, which we are very proud of. Our beautiful estates of pinot noir grapes are only a stone-throw away from the city of Épernay where, soon, a fantastic museum dedicated to Champagne will be opened. The town of Aÿ is also planning a new facility, to explain champagne in every detail. All this will attract thousands of visitors per year. Since our company is located right in the middle of all this, we plan to have more exposure to the public and will start a programme for renovation next year: A new phase of excitement - not for expanding business: it’s more in terms of visibility, more to offer more to those, who are interested in the history, the culture of the region, of Champagne - and of Deutz!

Do you have a favourite glass manufacturer?

When it comes to tasting still wines - for example, when we organise the blend of cuvees - we use quite ordinary glasses, “tulip-shaped”.  For the finished product, we can enter in a never-ending discussion, given that there are individual preferences, even different schools of thought. Last November we released a new cuvée: a “Tete de Cuvée”, from a single varietal: 100 % pinot noir, from two properties adjacent to our cellars. I named it “Homage to William Deutz”. For that specific product, I wanted a special glass, which would also work for the William Deutz Tête de Cuvée (traditional blend) and other great Cuvées. The glass is called “synergy” and was developed by famous sommelier Philippe Jamesse. It is a wine glass, whose size is “in between” red and white. As much as we like the flute or the tulip shaped glasses, there is a better extraction of aroma, and a wider spectrum of flavours coming out.

Which restaurants in the champagne region can you recommend?

We are blessed by having many top and fine restaurants in the area. If you take “haute cuisine” for instance and the Michelin guide, there is a wonderful three star establishment called “L’Assiette Champenoise” or the very renowned “Les Crayeres” with two stars. I can also recommend “Le Millénaire” in Reims and “Le Grand Cerf” in Montchenot in the outskirts of Reims. There is also many bistro-types here – almost all of them selling Deutz Champagner: The “VO - Version Originale” (“bistronomic”) for example is a great place - or “The Glue Pot”, an irish pub with good food, great atmosphere and an astonishing wine selection. We also couldn’t wait for the new restaurant “Royal Champagne”, which is opening just now, overlooking the city of Épernay, with breathtaking view and an impeccable food and wine programme.

As a CEO you travel a lot. What is your favourite city and do you have hotel tips?

I am a world citizen and feel at ease almost everywhere - from Tokyo to San Francisco. Unfortunately, I don’t know Germany that well, but here in Munich I am very comfortable. I also love Italy, the United States… Regarding hotels, I cannot refrain from mentionning the Peninsula Group. Also, I’d like to recommend the “George V” in Paris, the “Beau Rivage” in Genève… However, as for the restaurants, I admire many other places! Last example, actually, is here, in München (where rivers of champagne are flowing !) experiencing food, wine with Rudi Kull -  not to mention the great atmosphere at Brenner.

What are the plans for the future?

The company has been existing for 180 years. I have been “in the chair” as CEO for 22 years now. That is only slightly more than ten percent of Deutz’ history. I am sure there will be many generations after me who will love this brand as much as I do. Next year, my mandate as Chairman & CEO is up for renewal and if nature gives me good health, I am still very excited about it. Yet, in one way or another, I am convinced that Deutz can continue to make its way up. It’s a pure gem.

Mr. Rosset, thank you very much for this interesting interview and the insights on the history of Deutz.

 

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