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Clovis Taittinger’s Indian Rendezvous

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It’s the autumn of 2012. I, along with my co visitors am in the expansive conference hall of Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), listening intently to a presentation being made by Philippe Wibrotte, in-charge for public relations at  the Champagne regulatory body.  A particular infographic catches our attention. It’s about the Champagne consumption statistics of the world where India is shown as consuming a mere bottle for 5804 people. Despite being aware of India’s nascency as a wine market  and the overall population perspective with relation to such figures, we are still flummoxed to find the stark data looking us into the eyes.

Cut to the autumn of 2016. Clovis Taittinger is on his maiden official visit to India. His aim is to familiarize himself with the country and as he puts it,  “hope to fall in love with India and Indians”.

Clovis Taittinger (centre right) and Sumit Sehgal (centre left) in conversation with wine lovers in New Delhi
Clovis Taittinger (centre right) and Sumit Sehgal (centre left) in conversation with wine lovers in New Delhi

On a  two city business tour to Delhi and Mumbai, Clovis  personally carries a consignment of his single vineyard Champagne Les Folies de la Marquetterie to share with Indian wine lovers, which unfortunately gets entangled in the infamous Customs rigmarole. Nevertheless his other equally famous Champagnes do the rounds, including the ever majestic Comptes de Champagne. I have the privilege to share his table and interact with him first hand amid a well planned dinner at hotel Leela Ambience.

The two narratives above may appear contradictory, where on one hand the Indian market for wine looks anything but rosy and on the other, the scion of a famous Champagne house approaching the country with such interest. But one thing is obvious, the only way for the Indian market for wine is to go upwards!

When the Cellar at Leela Ambience were awash with Taittinger Champagne
When the Cellar at Leela Ambience were awash with Taittinger Champagne

Knowing Taittinger

Many Indians would recognize the Taittinger name instantly courtesy the sensation caused during its unsuccessful acquisition bid in 2005 by the beleaguered liquor baron Vijay Mallya. That happening however, remains a small detail in its rich history which goes back well into the eighteenth century.

Maison Taittinger  was established in 1932 when Pierre Taittinger, a Cavalry officer of the French Army returned after the first world war to fulfil his long cherished dream of acquiring Château de la Marquetterie, a military headquarters where he was posted during the war.  In partnership with his brother in law, he  bought the 1734 established Champagne business of Forest-Forneaux Père & Fils and laid the foundation of the Champagne Taittinger as we know it today. Over the next few decades Taittinger established itself as one of the region’s leading brands, joining the Syndicat des Grandes Marques in the 1950s.

In and around Château de la Marquetterie during my Champagne Scholarship itinerary at Maison Taittinger
In and around Château de la Marquetterie during my Champagne Scholarship itinerary at Maison Taittinger

In  July 2005, the Taittinger family facing a cash crunch as a fallout of its rapid expansion initiated in the nineties,  had little option than to sell the business  to the American-owned Starwood Hotel Group- a happening that put the French wine industry in gloom due to apprehensions related to preservation of its French heritage. Thankfully, the despondency didn’t last long, as in May 2006, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger of the third generation re-acquired  the business, putting the Taittinger family firmly back into the saddle.

In the present day, Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger remains the President of Taittinger Champagne, with his two children- Clovis  as the Director Exports and Vitalie, as Artistic Director. Taittinger champagnes are exported to 150 countries with their top three markets being the United Kingdom, the USA and Germany.

The Indian Market

Despite an encouraging growth rate in the past years (close to 20% annually) the Indian market for wine still has a long way to go before appearing as a significant dot on Taittinger’s  export map. Compared with India’s Spirits consumption which is the fifth largest in the world, the overall market situation looks even more paradoxical.  What then brought Clovis from across the oceans to establish contact with the country’s wine lovers?

Clovis says – “I agree that that the current Champagne and the luxury imported wine market in India is  relatively small, but at the same time it is very much alive and growing. I think that the current trade barriers prevent a greater number of people to enjoy and discover wines.”

Coming specifically to his maiden visit, Clovis adds-  “More importantly than anything else, I really felt the love of your country and the people I met during this visit. I can’t be  happier than sharing with you our culture, experience and products.” On investing further in India, Clovis is optimistic but practical – “Believing and investing in India more in the future is a great and fresh challenge. The complexity of the market nevertheless makes it more fun and exciting.”

Clovis’ impression of the Indian market for wine echoes something similar to  what Miguel Torres (President Torres S.A.), Mario Piccini (Piccini Wines),Willi Klinger (Managing Director Austrian Wine Marketing Board) and Dr. Giuseppe Martelli (President, National wine Committee of Italy) opined when I met them on various occasions during recent times. It  is something that should enthuse the Indian wine lover-  all these global wine leaders see a lot of promise in India on the wine front, translating into a continuing and possibly an increased availability of their wines in the country.

This positive sentiment is also validated through trade forecast figures wherein the  IWSR report for 2012-2017 projects the sparkling wine consumption in India to double and  the overall wine consumption in the country to grow by 73.5% .

The current (Nov 2016) Taittinger portfolio in India includes Brut (₹ 6,100.00) , Prestige Rosé (₹ 8,800.00) and their Prestige Cuvée- Comptes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs (₹ 21,500.00). Taittinger Nocturne Sec (17.5 g/l dosage) was part of the offering sometime back but was discontinued due to business considerations.

Prestige Wines and Spirits Pvt Ltd, the importers of Taittinger wines in India have indicated that they may be adding more Taittinger wines to their portfolio in the near future.

taittinger-in-india

Elaborating on Clovis’ India visit, Sumit Sehgal, Director Prestige Wines and Spirits said ” It was good to have Clovis in India for the first time. He has a lot of faith in India as a Champagne market in future and has been a great support in making Taittinger a popular Champagne brand in India. He is very positive about the country and wants to make the name ‘Taittinger’ synonymous to all kind of celebrations. His idea is to position his family name to be associated with happiness and joy rather than making it complicated for the consumers. We hope to get the similar kind of support and inputs from him in future as well.”

Champagne lovers would welcome such a prospect with raised flutes.

(L) Clovis 'batting' for Taittinger (C) Taittinger sterling silver cuff links that I received as gift during my visit in 2012 & (R) Clovis is happy to pose with me showing off the cuff links during his visit
(L) Clovis ‘batting’ for Taittinger
(C) Taittinger sterling silver cuff links that I received as gift during my visit in 2012 &
(R) Clovis is happy to pose with me showing off the cuff links during his visit
Col Joe
wirtten by: Col Joe
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