It's been a year since Jean-Guillaume Prats made the switch from winemaker at Chateau Cos d'Estournel to head up Moet Hennessy’s still and sparkling wine division, Estates & Wines. In the role, the 44-year-old is spearheading the launch of the group’s India-sourced sparkling Chandon brands in India and China, while eyeing future opportunities in Africa. just-drinks’ deputy editor, James Wilmore, tackled Prats about his vision for the unit.

just-drinks: How are sales of Chandon Brut and Chandon Brut Rose performing in India since their release? 

Jean-Guillaume Prats: Sales have been above our expectations, which shows that the up-and-coming young professionals want to celebrate life with these products. We've hit all our sales target.

j-d: Which regions are you focussing on in India? 

J-G P: We are only targeting Mumbai and Delhi, not other cities for the time being. India is a country where logistics is an issue and we simply want to get it right, we cannot be everywhere. Plus, we have a limited supply anyway, so if we succeed as we seem to be able to do in the two major markets, then we will see what we do with the rest.

j-d: Is the focus in India limited to those two brands?

J-G P: For the time being, I have no other plans than having Chandon (in the country). I’m not saying we will not do it, but that's not the priority. The priority is to make sure we can handle the first harvest. We have committed to having locals (running the business). There’ll be no ex-pats in any of the top positions, so it's a big challenge to get all that running.

j-d: Why have you started making wine in India now?

For two reasons, clearly there's a demand among the up-and-coming generations for these products and it makes sense to produce locally, as we believe these new generations will favour local domestic Indian products.

j-d: Tell me about your plans for China.

J-G P: The first commercial release (in China) will be in September 2014, from the 2012 vintage. The reason we have postponed the release is to allow for more yeast ageing and to give it some more complexity. Everything we do is about high quality, there's no way we'd put something on the market that we feel is not. Again, we won’t have a single ex-patriot, it’ll be all Chinese employees. We take great pride in the fact that it's all locals running these estates.

Jean-Guillaume Prats, president of Moet Hennessy Estates & Wines

j-d: How is the Estates & Wines unit performing in the US? Are you seeing breakthroughs outside of the east and west coasts? 

J-G P: Absolutely. In the central states and Texas, we are doing well. It’s clearly going up and the US is a prime opportunity for us. We’ve got extraordinary assets - 400 hectares in Napa - and are very optimistic about our Chandon and Newton (brands).

j-d:  How excited are you by the Brazil opportunity? 

J-G P: The market there has been a bit difficult for the last few months, with political uncertainty and the financial slowdown. But, the foundations are good - it’s a very large country, very rich with a large population. They have the Olympics and football (World Cup) coming and we are right where we want to be. So far, we do not export Chandon Brazil, but we are maybe thinking of exporting it to Angola with its links to Portugal, but it’s mainly for the Brazilian market.

j-d: Which other markets are you excited about? 

J-G P: In Africa, we have not yet entered the market with any of our sparkling wines. None of the Chandon brands are there. Clearly Africa is for the future. We are in in the continent with some of our still wines. The biggest markets for us are South Africa and Nigeria. We are also looking at (launches in) Kenya and Tanzania. 

j-d: How about Asia-Pacific? 

J-G P: Asia-Pacific is today our number one market for still wines in the world. It’s growing. I see our business in Australia and New Zealand flying out of the roof. 

There’s great news coming out of Japan. It’s recovering very well, our sparkling portfolio is doing well in the on-trade with Chandon from Australia and Cloudy Bay. We are seeing openings in emerging markets such as Burma and Cambodia and the Philippines is under the radar.

How is your business faring in Europe? 

J-G P: Europe is also doing well for us. We don’t have strong established European brands. We are doing fine with what we have, particularly Cloudy Bay, which is doing well in Scandinavia and Switzerland, but we are looking to try to boost our business in Europe.

j-d: What is your biggest challenge?

J-G P: One of my biggest challenges is to make sure we capture the growth in the US, which I think has the most extraordinary potential today, in both value and volumes. We need to make sure we are there with the right products.

Chandon is also an exciting thing - we now have six estates around the world, no one in the industry has six vineyards around the world under the same brand. So the aim is to establish Chandon as a ‘glocal brand’ with a common platform, a common label with adaptations in each market.  

j-d: What goals were you set when you took the role and how is your progress in reaching those? 

J-G P: Christophe Navarre (Moet Hennessy’s CEO) said that, first, to make sure we continue to develop Estates & Wines - it’s a new company, formed around ten years ago. Just make sure we don’t break it and we continue with our pace of development. Secondly, clearly I come from a world where small is beautiful and to adapt this to this big organisation. And, really, to develop that concept of Chandon being a global brand.

j-d: You had 14 years at your previous job, what prompted the change? 

J-G : I felt I’d done the very best I could at Chateau Cos d'Estournel. The brand was very well established, we were producing good wines, there was a good team in place. It came at a time in my life when this new challenge was perfect. When Christophe Navarre phoned me, I felt very enthusiastic about this new opportunity, as simple as that. 

j-d: Any acquisitions planned for Estates & Wines? 

J-G P: We do want to expand our portfolio. We are not in Italy, so we are looking at that. It’s a very difficult place to buy, as complicated as Burgundy. Local producers have a very strong feeling of protecting their know-how and great terroir, so we are looking at Italy with an extremely modest approach and trying to understand what is feasible and what is not.

I believe we can improve our brand portfolio and vineyard holding in New Zealand, so that’s something we’re looking at, especially the Pinot Noir category. Cloudy Bay is already producing Pinot Noir, but I think we can do more.

Expert analysis

The Future of the Wine Market in China to 2017

The Future of the Wine Market in China to 2017

The report presents detailed data on the Wine consumption trends in China, providing historic and forecast consumption volume and value at market and category level, alcoholic strength (Fortified Wine...read more