Ruinart is the sort of brand the other major groups in Champagne would love to own, for its lineage, grand chalk ‘crayères’ – classified as an historical monument in 1931 and arguably still the most impressive to visit in Reims today – plus the quality and appeal of its wines. Unsullied by discounting, it also boasts a famous prestige cuvée, the name a reference to Dom Thierry Ruinart, a contemporary and friend of Dom Pérignon’s. Though not a big brand such as Moët or Clicquot, it’s always had a good image and therefore great potential.
While for 40 years or so owners Moët then LVMH left it alone, over the past decade they’ve transformed the business, concentrating on the premium end. The straight vintage is now barely seen outside France and the well-made ‘R’ de Ruinart non-vintage is no longer a focus. Instead the emphasis is on the Blanc de Blancs NV vintage style, sales of which have grown exponentially over the past few years. And these sales have been at a very premium price level in retail, around the £50 a bottle mark (in the US typically more than US$70), higher still in the on-trade.
There has been more done in 2016 with the NV rosé style and chief executive Frédéris Dufour says: “In 2016 the volume growth was overall balanced between ‘R’, Blanc de Blancs and Rosé demonstrating the desireability of all the product range.” The main problem for chef de cave Frédérick Panaïotis, at the helm with Ruinart for 10 years this summer, is finding enough Chardonnay to cope with this growing demand. While lack of direct competition helps – few other brands make all Chardonnay non-vintage champagne – one of Panaïotis’s secrets is to make the wine appealing.
That is what champagne should be all about and our voting panel clearly approves.