HAUTVILLERS, France — Moët Hennessy marked the end of its grape harvest by inviting a handful of guests, including actress Katie Holmes and chef Alain Ducasse, to pick the last remaining grapes on Saturday at its Dom Pérignon vineyard in Hautvillers in the heart of France’s Champagne region.
Philippe Schaus, chief executive officer of the wines and spirits division of luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, greeted the group of journalists and influencers on a terrace overlooking acres of rolling vineyards and flanked by the historic Abbey of Hautvillers, where Dom Pérignon — the monk who pioneered several key winemaking techniques — is buried.
“The quality is exceptionally good this year,” Schaus said. “The climate was particularly good in the sense that it was very warm, it was relatively dry — not too dry.”
Moët Hennessy began harvesting its 2,000 hectares of vineyards on Sept. 5, 10 days ahead of schedule, after three successive heatwaves hastened the maturing of the grapes. Mindful of the impact of global warming, LVMH is putting a lot of effort into sustainable wine-growing, Schaus said.
“These days with all the climate situations and the protests and all that, it’s so important that we make our share of the effort toward improving man’s impact on the environment,” he said, adding that taking part in the harvest gives people a connection to the soil.
“Having done it a couple of times, it changed my personal relationship to the whole world of Champagne,” he noted.
Holmes gamely picked up a pair of gloves, cutting shears and plastic basket, and set to work on the historic plot known as the Clos Sacré, or Sacred Vineyard. “I was surprised by the bitterness of the red grapes and the sweetness of the white grapes,” she said after tasting the pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.
“It’s good to get stuck in,” added the actress, who earlier in the week sat front-row at the Fendi show in Milan.
“Après l’effort, le réconfort,” as the French saying goes, which roughly translates as “payback time”: after filling vats with their grapes, guests were treated to a tasting of exceptional vintages, including the 2002 Plénitude P2.
Vincent Chaperon, Dom Pérignon’s cellar master, explained that the wine had been allowed to mature for 15 years. “The last couple of decades have been a golden age for Champagne,” he extolled.
Guests repaired to the shade of an arched passageway for a lunch of local specialties washed down with pink Champagne. Ducasse had flown in overnight from Tokyo, where he had dinner with Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio. He revealed his trick for beating jet lag: drink lots of water, and never eat on a plane.
The Michelin-starred chef said he was in talks to develop a passage dedicated to French gastronomy at a major hotel in Shanghai, and will devise the menu for the first electric hybrid sailing ship being developed by Ponant, the French cruise line owned by billionaire François Pinault.
Since 2016, Ducasse has conceived a series of exceptional dinners around Dom Pérignon’s P2 vintages, holding them in locations including the Château de Versailles. “Each dinner features a combination of factors that can never be repeated,” he said. “Those 40 guests will never forget it for the rest of their lives.”
Schaus said experience played an increasingly important role in marketing Champagne, as LVMH seeks to conquer new markets and customers. The group last year bought luxury travel group Belmond for $2.6 billion in a bid to position itself as a leading player in experiential luxury.
“It’s very positive for us,” the executive told WWD. “Through the group’s investments and excellence, the Belmond hotels will grow, and gain prestige and visibility. We have our part to play in these projects, so they will be new places for our customers to discover our products in absolutely spectacular settings.”
But Moët Hennessy is also keen to promote its wares in more accessible locales. In Italy, for instance, it is expanding its offering of Champagne by the glass in restaurants, trattorias and upscale pizzerias.
“People often think that Champagne is much more expensive than it actually is. They think it’s totally unaffordable, whereas a glass of Champagne in many restaurants is perfectly affordable,” Schaus noted. “Champagne is not just something you drink [only] in Michelin-starred restaurants.”
LVMH is still working out how to introduce bubbly to China.
“The Chinese today don’t drink Champagne. Their consumption is tiny, but we believe that China could one day follow the example of Japan,” said Schaus, noting that Japan had become an important market for Champagne in the space of just two decades.
“We are exploring how to introduce Champagne to China, and to find moments in the life of Chinese consumers where Champagne would have its place,” he added.
To that end, Moët & Chandon partnered with Lang Lang for his wedding to fellow classical pianist Gina Alice at the Château de Versailles in June. The newlyweds gave a toast in front of a towering pyramid of Champagne — the ultimate in influencer marketing.