On Friday, Moët Hennessy inaugurated its sixth winery outside France that produces sparkling wines. The winery is located near Nashik, the "wine capital" of India, and produces only two labels: Chandon brut and the Chandon brut rose - and no, it's not "champagne" that can be produced only in the Champagne district of France from any or all of the three specific grape varieties grown in that district.
Moët Hennessy was formed in 1971 when Champagne producer Moët & Chandon merged with Cognac producer Hennessy. In 1987, fashion house Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy merged to form LVMH. Total sales of this luxury goods colossus were more than euro 35 billion (Rs 24.5 lakh crore) in 2015. Its spirits brands include Ardbeg and Glenmorangie whiskies from Scotland, Belvedere vodka, and, of course, Hennessy cognac. Wines in its portfolio include iconic labels such as Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau DÂyquem and Cloudy Bay. And its champagne labels define the category: Moët & Chandon, Krug, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon and Ruinart.
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The wineries outside France are all under the "Domaine Chandon" title: Chandon Argentina was set up in 1959; Chandon California (Napa Valley) and Chandon Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul) were started in 1973; Chandon Australia (Yarra Valley, near Melbourne) was founded in 1986, while Chandon China (Ningxia) was established in 2013.
"Wait a minute," you might wonder, "weren't the Chandon wines launched in Mumbai in end-2013?"
Yes, absolutely - and there lies an interesting tale of advance planning and good project management. The traditional method, or methode champenoise, of producing champagne requires the wine to mature for at least one and a half years in the bottle. Since the company wanted to adhere to that international standard for its sparkling wine, it "outsourced" its production to York Winery (adjacent to Sula) for the first three harvests (2011, 2012 and 2013) while its own winery was under construction so that the wine produced in early 2011 could be launched by end-2013.
Actual work on the project had started about two years earlier, in 2009, when Bruno Yvon was the managing director of Moët Hennessy India, and would have involved a capital investment of some euro 8 million (about Rs 50 crore), including the cost of 20 acres of land for the winery, a capacity to produce up to 450 kilolitres of wine and sparkling wine, and a state-of-the-art visitor centre - all of which should take care of its requirements for at least another five years.
And what of the wines themselves?
Blind tests have established both Chandon brut and Chandon brut rose to be the best sparkling wines produced in India - their quality gives even imported champagnes a run for their money. Both are fairly dry, with loads of fruit and vanilla on the nose and the palate. The effervescence is long-lasting, of a type that indicates good quality and is typical of champagnes.
The brut is produced from a blend of chenin blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir, while the rose is from shiraz and pinot noir. I personally prefer the rose, but the brut is also very good. Interestingly, the pricing is identical wherever the wines are available: Rs 1,200 a bottle for the brut and Rs 1,400 for the rose - a huge price differential to the venerable Moet & Chandon brut Imperial, which sells in Bengaluru for Rs 5,200.
Another product that anticipated the "Make in India" campaign by a few years - to which we all add "Vive la France".
Alok Chandra is a Bengaluru-based wine consultant