Enguerrand Baijot – Champagne Lanson Part 2
Oct 29, 2019
In part I of our interview with Enguerrand Baijot, we covered the basics of Champagne as a product and region, Lanson’s brand, and two of their products – Black and Rosé labels. Now it’s time to tell the rest of the Lanson story. Enguerrand takes us through Lanson’s history with Britain and the US, as well as their newest product: Green Label.
INTERVIEW WITH ENGUERRAND BAIJOT
Lanson in America
Lanson in Britain
Lanson Goes Green
What is the history of Lanson in the US?
Being founded in 1760 Lanson has a tremendous history. What makes us a true international French brand is we are selling 80% of our production internationally. Lanson is being sold today within the fifth continent. We reentered the US only eight years ago in 2011; however, Lanson has a very long history with the US, and I discovered that while living in the US.
A few years ago I was in one of my favorite cities—after LA, of course—one of my favorite cities being New Orleans, and I got to get into the oldest restaurant of New Orleans named Antoine. Talking with the sommelier, he showed me their oldest wine list from the ‘20s. I was extremely surprised and honored to see Lanson being featured on that wine list from Antoine, which is one of the oldest cities in the US with the oldest restaurant having Lanson being featured on their oldest wine list. How cool is that!
Another example: while in New York, we work very closely with an independent retailer on Park Ave (very famous) named Sherry Lehmann. The buyer showed me their oldest catalog from 1934, right after the Prohibition. On that catalog, one of the very few Champagne houses to be featured was Lanson. The only one at the time in the city of New York to sell large format was Lanson. We had some brut non-vintage, we had some vintage 1928, and some mag and double magnums. So, already American[s] were drinking Champagne to celebrate the end of Prohibition in New York.
When I was a kid in my family, apart from being Champagne lover[s], we love history — I, myself, studied history. There’s a very famous movie named The Longest Day with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. In that movie, you have that very famous shot of John Wayne on one side and Robert Mitchum on the other, and in the middle of both of them is a magnum of Lanson Black Label.
More recently, At Lanson, we have a few pictures of celebrities having fun with bottles of Lanson. I was surprised to discover a menu — it was from 1961. One of your former presidents, probably the most famous one, JFK came to visit Paris with his wife Jackie, it was actually his last visit to Paris in 1961. He was received by General de Gaulle, the French president at the time. On the menu, the Champagne being served was Lanson 1952. As you can see, Lanson has lots of history with the US market. [Lanson] used to be a very predominant brand in the US market. Most importantly it’s back, and it’s back for good.
As the person who helped launch Lanson in the US market, can you tell us more about that experience?
So I started as a salesperson in Paris for both on and off premise. That was from 2005 up to 2007. In between, my family acquired Lanson in 2006. I moved from our original Champagne house to Lanson. We always had a subsidiary in the UK, so I joined our subsidiary in 2008 right before the crisis start[ed]. During four years I worked in the UK being based in London where I learned a lot about a new country, new mentality, and obviously a new language.
At that time I felt up for a new challenge. Lanson was not in the US, it had no presence. We were waiting for the right time to get back. [The] US, by its size and complexity, is probably the most fascinating but toughest market in the world. So we wanted to make sure that if we did it — and we wanted to do it — to do it right. So in 2011, I felt ready, we felt ready, as a company to reenter the US, to conquer the US market, and I moved from London to New York as US director started from scratch. And here we are, eight years after.
What is the history of Lanson in Britain?
The brand grew first in France domestically and then slowly, mostly, over Europe, over Western Europe, and obviously the UK market — which historically, has always been the biggest export market for Champagne. Lanson has pretty much always been in that market. The style of Lanson has always been beloved by the British. As a sign of recognition, the queen of England which was Queen Victoria at the time chose Lanson in 1900 to be the official Champagne of the court of England. Today there are a few other Champagne houses that have been selected to be the official supplier of the court of England. We can be very proud to be the first one to be selected. As you know, it’s all about being the first one. First Champagne house to be selected as the official Champagne of the court of England.
Maybe something a little bit more lifestyle, but something that is important for us, since it’s our biggest PR event worldwide. Since 1977, Lanson has been the official Champagne of Wimbledon, the famous tennis grand slam. It’s been 42 years in a row that we are the official Champagne being served at Wimbledon, onsite within the nine Champagne bars they have.
Honestly, there is nothing like Wimbledon. Once you enter the arena, you feel like time has stopped. It’s full of history, tradition, everyone is very well dressed up, especially the ladies, it’s all about the hats, and it’s an unforgettable experience, really.
Tell us more about Lanson “going green” with Green Label.
One of our last projects — last but not least — certainly one of the most exciting within the vineyards we own at Champagne Lanson is another single vineyard, slightly bigger than Clos Lanson. It’s actually 16 hectares, 16 times the size of Clos Lanson.
That single vineyard is located in a village named Verneuil in the Heart of Marne valley. What’s extremely interesting [is that] even though it’s a single vineyard, you have those three Champagne grapes on it. Generally [in a] single vineyard there’s one grape. Having the three Champagne grapes onsite, we are able to make wine in a true Lanson style. Pinot Noir dominated, no malolactic fermentation. However, what makes that single vineyard truly unique [is] it is biodynamic. It actually has all of the European organic certifications. We have the NOP certification given by the USDA. That makes us today the only organic Champagne available in the US market. And it gives us the right to put organic on the label. Again, only 16 hectare, Very low production, extremely allocated. We launched in around October of last year. We have amazing interest for that new gem at Champagne Lanson.
Last question: How does Lanson work in fine dining restaurants of all types??
As a whole, I think Champagne goes with everything and can go anywhere. As a brand, I strongly believe you build the brand, you build wellness, you build recognition to the on premise channel. As a result, we decided to work with the on premise channel all across the US and secondly with the independent retailer. Basically, anyone who can hand-sell the brand and tell our story. Our business model in California is 60% on premise and 40% independent.
In terms of brand value, Lanson is family owned and is a very affordable luxury. That affordable luxury, that affordable price point is really something as a company we are proud of and fighting for. Within the on premise world, Lanson is going to be an extremely good fit for the French brasserie style. With the freshness and crispness of our wine, anything seafood driven, sushi, oysters. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to go for a glass of Black Label with some oysters, it’s absolutely delicious.
Most importantly more than fine dining or not, what I would love to achieve for Champagne as a category and Lanson as a brand is trying to reconquer the aperitif moment. Make people realize and understand that their experience, their dining experience, any experience will get better starting with a glass of Champagne. It cleans your palate, it prepares you for food and obviously, it opens your mind for an amazing experience. What I think distinguishes the most to me in the American market and the French market is that approach. Too often Champagne is only seen in the US as a celebration. Yes, it is the perfect drink for celebration, but not just. In France, we love wine as well, but we start much more often — any lunch, dinner, brunch, family time, friend time — with a glass of Champagne. Then we either stick with Champagne or go to our favorite bottle of wine. But I strongly, strongly encourage people rather [than], for instance, starting with a cocktail, start with a glass of Champagne. I promise you: your experience will get better, you won’t be disappointed — trust me.