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Mark F. Bedingham, regional managing director, Moët Hennessy Asia Pacific, was in Mumbai last month to launch a new bubbly. The drink is called Chandon Brut, and it’s the local version of champagne, made from home-grown Nashik grapes.

We meet on the 16th floor of Mumbai’s Four Seasons hotel, and Bedingham, who had flown in from Berlin, Germany, the day before, was ensconced in the executive suite, looking quite at ease among displays of Chandon Brut and Chandon Brut Rosé. It being 3pm, we elect to drink Darjeeling tea instead, no milk, no sugar.

Bedingham, who is dressed in a pale blue shirt with a white collar, a dark blue suit and black Berluti shoes, says he has no favourite drink—it depends on the occasion. That makes the 58-year-old Englishman a nice advertisement for the Moët Hennessy brands he sells and distributes in the Asia-Pacific region. “I drink Dom Pérignon for special occasions, Hennessy (cognac) after dinner or even at a bar or while clubbing, Glenmorangie (Scotch) and Belvedere (vodka) anytime. I also enjoy wine," he says.

India is on his travel beat, and Bedingham says he has made almost 50 trips here, at the rate of two-three a year, for the last 18 years. The spectacular locations and the high levels of service at the palace hotels in Rajasthan make them great venues for stylish events for the Asia-Pacific region, he says. “My first India trip was to Jaipur in Rajasthan in the late 1990s. We did a Dom Pérignon polo event at the Rambagh palace. A few years ago, we had an event with a cricket match at Devi Garh Palace hotel in Delwara village near Udaipur in Rajasthan, where we brought top Asian executives, some of my French colleagues and a top Japanese architect called Kengo Kuma."

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
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Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Another Moët Hennessy brand ambassador, the Hollywood actor Scarlett Johansson, proved as engaging during their recent interaction in Japan. “We discussed her film Lost in Translation that was filmed in Japan. That was her first trip there and I know Japan well, so we were able to talk quite easily," he elaborates.

Bedingham was born in Malaysia and has always had an affinity for the East. “I left Malaysia when I was 7 to go to boarding school in England, to Brentwood, where my father studied as well. Then I studied biological sciences (master’s) at St John’s College, Oxford University," says Bedingham, who applied to the Hong Kong-based trading house Jardine Matheson after he completed his degree and began working with them in 1977. “I realized I didn’t quite have the dedicated focus you need for a classical scientist. I wanted to explore a wider world and was really attracted to the idea of coming back to Asia," he adds. 

Bedingham was 23 when Jardine Matheson posted him to Tokyo to work in the cosmetics division with brands like Dior. “I fell in love with Japan. I thought it was a wonderful place. That’s when I got involved with wines and spirits as well, as Matheson were agents for the Hennessy brands," he says. Bedingham joined Moët Hennessy in 1995, and has since been with the firm.

Developing overseas locations for local wines is now somewhat of a tradition for Bedingham’s firm—the first overseas Chandon Estate was created in 1959 in Argentina, followed by California, US (1973), Brazil (1973) and Australia (1986). Bedingham is particularly proud of his projects in China and India to develop sparkling wines from local grapes.

Chandon Brut is made from locally developed Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chandon Brut Rosé is made from locally developed Shiraz and Pinot Noir.

These wines are from Moët Hennessy India Pvt. Ltd’s new green field winery in Dindori, a sub-district of Nashik. While the new bubbly has been launched in Mumbai and Delhi, and will be launched in other major cities in 2014, Moët Hennessy will not say anything about volumes or sales. When pressed, Bedingham says LVMH rules forbid him to reveal any numbers but that Moët Hennessy expects Chandon India to become a significant part of their future business in India.

Bedingham prefers instead to dwell on the value proposition of the new drink. “We wanted to create something which is the same quality, that we would be as proud to serve in France as in our own global market and which would be more approachable in terms of price (Chandon will retail for 1,200 for a bottle as opposed to 5,500 for the imported Moët & Chandon champagne)," he says.

Bedingham, who is based in Hong Kong, is divorced and lives alone. He travels widely in the region, spending as many as three weeks on the road, visiting different markets. Besides sales trips, there are international team meetings every quarter, often in exotic locales. Bedingham talks about some of these: “The most spectacular was at the historic site in Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Completely different to that, but as remarkable, was the one we had near the Great Wall of China. It was at a site called The Commune, where 12 of Asia’s greatest architects have built different buildings, that’s about an hour and a half from Beijing."

In India, Bedingham says, he enjoys the level of social interaction. The Indian market, he says, is growing. “The young urban professional is clearly a growing segment. There are successful entrepreneurs who clearly enjoy the kind of champagne brands we have," he says. Besides these, there is the classic urban elite which appreciates Scottish malts like Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, as well as the more traditional customers, many from the south, who like Hennessy cognac.

With all these labels, Bedingham is quite clearly a brand man, both professionally and personally. He drives a dark green Jaguar XJ to work, and even has his kimonos custom-made. “They’re made by a family firm in Kyoto that has been around since 1668. The really good brands are still repositories of good manufacturing and good design," he concludes.

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