A pretty different interview from the others because it was shot outside, in Sannomiya, central Kobe. On the other side of the street some workers were doing stuff so there is a lot of noise (that’s also why I was holding the mic in my hand), but the wall on the background gives a very “European” flavor.
The guest this time was Frank Protin, global brand director of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte. The basic cuvée of this cooperative is one of the very few champagnes I have ever been able to find on hard discounts here in Japan, at less than 4,000 yen on the shelf I think it is one of the cheapest available to the big public. Anyway I have always been pretty satisfied by the quality, especially the Brut Grande Reserve and of course Palmes d’Or.
How would you describe the style of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne to someone who has never had one?
To start with, Nicolas Feuillatte style is very fresh with good balance and good fruitiness. In opposition with many champagnes that you find on the market, we do the first fermentation at very low temperature to retain as much fruitiness as possible. So if I can define it very quickly: fresh, very well balanced and lot of fruit.
I know that you are quite a big company, a big player in Champagne. You sell more than 10 million bottles a year and your Grande Réserve is one of the best selling champagnes in the World with the likes of Moet et Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. However you are very young as a company, so how could you become such a power in Champagne while maintaining quality in such a brief time?
This all comes from the beginnings of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte. Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte is technically a cooperative, that means that we work right now with 4500 growers, so we are able to control from the beginning the quality of the grapes that we use in order to make Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte. So even though at the beginning we started very little, gradually, and very quickly actually, [we grew].
Controlling the quality has always been a key principle, so even though we sell a lot of Champagne, especially the Grande Réserve and Brut Réserve, the quality is always on a high level because we have a very strong connection with the growers. We don’t go to the market and buy grapes. Every single champagne that you have tasted today is a champagne that we make ourselves, that we produce ourselves.
So being a cooperative you can also make quite a reasonably priced champagne.
That’s one of the characteristics of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte. It’s cost efficient: you get a really high quality Champagne and at the same time we are able to control the price, because we are involved from the beginning, from the production. So that’s one more reason why Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte has been so successful for the last 40 years. We are just 40 years old.
I had the chance to taste your champagnes and of course my favorite is Palmes d’Or, the most expensive. Now  we have the 2006 vintage, but have you already planned the next one? What will you release?
I can already tell you that the next vintage will be 2008, that’s for sure. Nevertheless for the following vintages the cellar master is still monitoring the ageing in the cellar, so I cannot tell you right now if we will release the following vintages or not. But what I know for sure is that the next step will be 2008.
What kind of vintage has been 2008? Fresh, more hot?
Yes, fresher than 2006 and 2005 for example, much fresher. But so far it is still ageing. You see, Palmes d’Or can age from 8 to 12 years in the cellar, so it is very difficult to know exactly what it will be. This all depends on what the cellar master will decide.
Most Nicolas Feuillatte champagnes are aged for a long time in the cellar: the French law says the for a non-vintage we have to age for a minimum of 15 months, we go from 2 to 4 years at Nicolas Feuillatte and for the vintages we go from 4 years up to 12 years. It is a longer time in comparison to other champagnes that you can find on the market. More complexity, more character, more finesse on the bubble.
I also noticed that you have this new release in Japan, the Graphic Ice. When you make a champagne to be drank on ice, what do you do differently from a standard cuvée?
It is a very good question. At the beginning I was telling you that one of the characteristics of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte is lot of fruitiness. What we try to do both on the [Graphic Ice] rosé and the brut is really working on the fruitiness. Even though it is a trend and the market is asking for something new, you will find in the bottle a very fruity champagne that can be enjoyed both on ice or with fruits. It is a very versatile champagne, it is something that you can really use in order to enjoy when it’s so hot outside, especially here in Japan.
You can enjoy it with cocktails for example: with the rosé you make a purée of red fruits, you mix it with the champagne and it is absolutely lovely. A little bit of lemon and that’s delicious.
What world would it be without Champagne?
It is very interesting to be in Japan and to enjoy the Champagne market. I mean the Champagne consumers are very very much aware of the Champagne. We say that it is a very mature market. It is a real pleasure to be working and enjoying, sharing the knowledge of Champagne with Japanese consumers. In the future it is very difficult to know what is going to happen, there is a lot of competition, we all know that. Nevertheless Champagne will always be Champagne.
We [Champagne producers] have been working on this field for a couple of hundred years now. The quality of champagne has to remain always on the top and champagne will always be only from Champagne.
There is no World without Champagne.
In my opinion it is very difficult to imagine. You know I was born and raised in Champagne, so it is like I have bubbles in my blood. It is very difficult for me to imagine one day without champagne or one without enjoying a special moment. And champagne is part of that, definitively.