A few days after French bank Credit Agricole pipped Vijay Mallya in the race to acquire Champagne biggie Taittinger from owners Starwood Capital in 2006, news spread that Bangalore’s Richard Branson was likely to buy Bouvet-Ladubay, a relatively unknown wine subsidiary of the same group.
But then, Patrice Monmousseau, the 64-year-old president and director general of Bouvet-Ladubay, hadn’t heard of Vijay Mallya either. Luckily, a quick Internet search showed that the two men had a lot in common, starting with a love for all things mechanical.
Monmousseau says Starwood told him he could pick the next owner of his business from among eight potential bidders. After all, Bouvet-Ladubay, a tiny, artistic winemaker in the Loire Valley which practises the methode traditionnelle, had been run by his family since 1933. And in France, as in India, family matters.
Monmousseau and Mallya share a passion for the good life
The flamboyant Frenchman, a specialist in sparkling wine, chose Mallya in a flash. “I fell in love with him in five minutes. He immediately understood what the company was doing, he appreciated the details, we felt he was the best partner,” says the winemaker.
Monmousseau told Mallya that it would not be a good move to buy Taittinger. “In the Champagne area, grape growers are loyal to the families they’ve been working with for years. If someone comes from outside (and outside includes Luxembourg), they would have felt free to sell their grapes to another family. He would have lost two million bottles of his next harvest in 15 minutes,” says Monmousseau with an exaggerated flourish that’s characteristic of the way he speaks.
Back then, people called the €15 million (approx. Rs86 crore) acquisition Mallya’s “consolation” prize. “The only consolation was that he didn’t make the mistake of buying Taittinger,” says Monmousseau. Several people also offered their sympathy when they heard that the French company had been sold to an Indian. “I told them if it’s Mr Dupont or Mr Mallya, it’s the same for me.”
His eyes pop when I set down my oversized recorder on the table in front of him. “Big bass, big sound,” he pronounces as I switch it on. Monmousseau and his daughter Juliette have just come to Mumbai after spending three days in Bangalore, where United Spirits, his new parent company, is based. Thirteen Bouvet-Ladubay wines were launched in Mumbai earlier this year (a bottle of Bouvet Brut, the flagship which has been drunk at Cannes for some 10 years now, costs around Rs1,500) and the wines are now available in New Delhi and Bangalore too. “Bangalore was magic,” says Monmousseau. “There were lots of trees; it looked like a big garden when we landed at 2am. Then the next day we got out at 10am and understood what they say about the traffic.”
In addition to importing wines from its 100% subsidiary Bouvet-Ladubay, United Spirits will also make its own wines in Nashik and Baramati (Maharashtra). Next month, they will launch two entry-level wines— Zinzi Red (a blend of Shiraz, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) and Zinzi White (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc). Monmousseau has been given a preview of the white, so I ask for a description. “It has a noble acidity and a slight roundness which is sexy,” he says. “It’s gentle, not too overpowering, a wine you have at a Sunday barbecue or when you come home after work,” he says. Sanjay Roy, head of wine sales and marketing, who’s listening, wants Monmousseau’s tasting notes.
It’s his second visit to India, he tells me over coffee. Coincidentally, he was here in 2006, after his firm won a contest and a few months before he first met Mallya. “At that time, we were French,” says Monmousseau.
It’s easy to understand the instant connection between the two men if you know about the new label Monmousseau has made for his wines: “Bouvet-Ladubay. Powered by Passion”. Both men share a passion for the good life.
Mallya’s is well-documented, but over the past three decades, Monmousseau has also associated his wines with mechanized sports and glamourous events such as the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, the Paris-Dakar Rally and the Cannes film festival. He’s a member of the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the largest automotive group in France) owns 117 cars (Aston Martin, Porsche, the works). “When we were racing in Le Mans, I could not imagine that 25 years later we would be part of a group from here that owned Force India, a Formula One team,” he says.
Bouvet-Ladubay’s unusual winery, with its 8km of limestone or tuffeau cellars, attracts 50,000 tourists who buy 2,00,000 bottles every year. Almost on cue, Juliette whips out a piece of tuffeau from a brown paper bag and that triggers a geography lesson from her father. Juliette will handle export sales for India and the UK, together with the sales network of White & Mackay, Mallya’s other recent acquisition. Monmousseau’s other daughter, Marie, is a chef at the trendy London restaurant La Petite Maison.
His firm has also created Bouvet-Ladubay Art Concept, a centre for contemporary art that includes several galleries, a library and a theatre that was built at the end of the last century. It was at that theatre that his staff of 50 celebrated his 60th birthday with a surprise pot-luck dinner buffet and a film about him. “Retirement is not my game. My game is to retire when I touch my target—to double my production to 8 million bottles,” he says.
So Bouvet-Ladubay will raise €10 million from French banks to build a 220m-long, 14,000 sq. m fully automated production facility with the capacity to store 9 million bottles. He takes out the blueprint from his briefcase and holds it across the width of our table. “I call it Bouvet-Ladubay Full Metal,” says Monmousseau, who recently saw the Stanley Kubrick film.
BORN: 17 July 1943 (Montrichard in Loire-cher, France)
EDUCATION: Has a fishing licence, a boat licence and a driving licence. Left school and began working when he was a teenager
WORK PROFILE: He has worked at Bouvet-Ladubay since he was 18. Took over from his father as president and director general of Bouvet-Ladubay in 1972. The company now produces 10 times the amount of wine it did when he began his career
ENJOYS: Collecting cars, tinkering with machines, designing wine labels and painting